Recent issues of the Chronicle of Higher Education (20 October 1995) and the Newsletter of the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages (November 1995), announce a 50% drop in Russian enrollments at American colleges and universities in recent years. The articles do not draw the obvious conclusion that the faltering empire caused the decline. Power fascinates, and it was power and not the beauty of Russian literature and language that made thousands of American students scurry to Russian courses. The articles imply that the U.S. government should pour more money into the area.
Our proposed solution to this crisis is different. Without in any way disparaging or diminishing the legitimate place which Russian studies should occupy in American academia, we propose to reactivate and rejuvenate Central and Eastern European studies. American ignorance of Central Europe showed itself in 1995 debates on Bosnia. They were reminiscent of Neville ChamberlainŐs statement concerning Czechoslovakia in 1938: "How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing."
To reactivate C&EE studies, teachers and parents have to raise the issue with college administrators and legislators, and keep raising it until results are achieved. University administrators are perfectly capable, if so urged, to provide resources to the C&EE area. Why is it that the Directors of Russian and East European Institutes at universities invariably specialize in Russian rather than Central European subjects and publish exclusively in the Russian area? Why are the key posts in our profession so seldom occupied by Central European specialists? The Booker Prize Committee has recently awarded one of the lesser prizes to Georgy Vladimov, a Russian novelist. At approximately the same time, the Ingersoll Foundation awarded the T.S. Eliot Prize to Zbigniew Herbert, a Polish poet. The international press agencies picked up and carried the information about Vladimov but not about Herbert. Some academics believe that C&EE studies should consist of hurling insults at the alleged "virulent nationalisms" in Central and Eastern Europe, while treating the nationalisms of the great powers as "legitimate security interests." Such obvious biases make Central and Eastern Europe appear to be a black hole unworthy of academic attention.
I recently assigned to my students an article about Poland in a Russian periodical. While reading it, students revealed unfamiliarity with such concepts as Rzeczpospolita (Jeq Pospolita in Russian), let alone the Rzeczpospolita Obojga Narodow as a major European power for three centuries. They did not sense the nuances of the word pan as used in Russian; nor were they familiar with the role Poland has played in Soviet and Russian political discourse. They were unfamiliar with the Soviet maneuvering not to allow the Poles to be named as one of the six victorious nations in World War II in post-war victory celebrations, a point raised in 1995 by Polish foreign minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. They were amazed to find out that the present Russian government has not condemned the Soviet attack on Poland on 17 September 1939.
Bohemistika, ukrainistyka, polonistyka, srbistika, hrvatska knjizevnost, lituanistika need rejuvenation. For that to happen, academics with Central European interests have to put their reputations on the line and keep raising the issue with academic deans and presidents who often are unaware that Central and Eastern European lacunae exist. A C&EE area of interest has to be carved out in academia if Americans are to develop a less biased perspective on European civilization and politics.