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Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024
The Eagle

Students learn about and experience Russian culture at the Library of Congress

Correction appended

America-Russian relations were on ice Thursday night, though not in the sense they were two decades ago.

AU students experienced Russian culture at the “Role of the Arts in International Relations” event at the Library of Congress on Oct. 25.

The atrium of the Library of Congress was transformed into a winter wonderland with ice skaters gliding on a blue rink surrounded by spruces and lighting mimicking falling snow.

“Culture is a fantastic bridge,” Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak said. “We’re helping the youngsters in this country understand what Russia is and emphasize what Russia is not.”

This was IRC’s second annual event, which included a traditional Russian feast, a musical performance by famed Siberian pianist Denis Matsuev and prominent speakers like Kislyak.

Philanthropist Susan Lehrman founded the Initiative for Russian Culture last year alongside Kislyak and College of Arts and Sciences Dean Peter Starr. The goal of the initiative is to fight stereotypes about U.S.-Russian relations following the Cold War, The Eagle previously reported.

The event emphasized Russian music and culture despite recent tensions between the United States and Russia over the civil war in Syria.

Most attendees were AU students, but others came from Georgetown University, George Washington University and other D.C.-area schools.

For many students at the event, stereotypes left over from the Soviet era linger despite not growing up in the Cold War.

“The Cold War ended two years before I was born, so growing up, [Russia] was this vague, menacing thing,” said School of Communication sophomore Mariel Stratford, who once studied with a violinist from the St. Petersburg Orchestra. “My first real exposure was through Russian music, and it was just completely at odds with the whole "James Bond, communist thing."

“Culture creates a conversation,” says Alex Calta, a 2012 AU alumnus who traveled with IRC to Moscow last year. “We’re definitely not in a bipolar world anymore, but it’s important to engage the Russians because at this time, no one really knows the direction of world politics."

The Library of Congress also brought out original manuscripts from their archives, including pieces from Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff.

Still, some students were glad to partake in stereotypical traditions, such as enjoying good Russian vodka.

“I love Russian culture,” a group of students said, smiling at their icy glasses under the cascade of faux flurries.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that AU professors Eric Lohr and Anton Fedyashin founded the Initiative for Russian Culture. Lohr is the founding director and Fedyashin is the executive director.

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