University of Belgrade Rector: Serbian Youth Wakes up to Benefits of Studying Russian
A preliminary agreement on establishing the Centre for Studying Russian Language and Science was made at the working meeting of Vladimir Litvinenko and Ivanka Popović, rectors of St. Petersburg Mining University and the University of Belgrade. The Centre will be set up in one of the faculties of the Serbia-based university.
This project has already been approved by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education of the Russian Federation, and it will be financed by private investors, partners of Mining University. The allocated money will be used to buy new equipment and furniture, renovate the premises, and upkeep the staff.
The Serbian side suggested the central part of Belgrade as the location for the new institution, meaning it will be within walking distance of the university dorm and library, close to the Cyril and Methodius and Tašmajdanparks.
Here is an interview of Ivanka Popović for Forpost Press, in which she talks about the prospects the new Centre will open up for Serbian students, along with its possible functions.
Whyis it essential to establish the Centre for Studying Russian Language and Science at the University of Belgrade? What is your opinion?
Ivanka Popović (IP): We are flattered by the proposal of Rector Vladimir Litvinenko, which we see as a vital step in advancing our cooperation. Based on the number of students, the Faculty of Philology is our university's largest one, having almost 10,000 students currently. It is also home to the oldest and highly recognised department of Russian studies, offering courses in the Russian language and literature. So for our students — this is excellent news, sort of a driver for further development, motivating them to enhance their status. The reality is not what it used to be; many Serbs literally know nothing about Russia. The Centre will help them learn more about your country, education opportunities, culture and other aspects.
What could be the role of the Centre for Studying Russian Language and Science?
IP: There are no limitations. It could be the place to introduce people to the Russian language and literature. Yet that is not all — it could provide all kinds of knowledge about Russia, its economic, technological, engineering and scientific capacities. The Centre can also serve as a meeting area for students and professors to share their experiences and exchange ideas. There is even potential for generating more value — by inviting people outside the university to the meetings.
How many students are studying Russian at the University of Belgrade University? Do you think the new Centre will affect the figures positively?
IP: Quite a few students at the Faculty of Philology are studying the Russian language and literature. The Centre will enable future linguists and philologists to gain additional knowledge in this field. They will, in a way, become popularisers of Russia as a country — this is much more than just language and literature. For now, we have to explore the potential capacity of the Centre, define its tasks, understand how many people will be working there. Of course, its programmes could be of interest to students in other faculties, too – not just philologists. Learning Russian could, for instance, broaden their career prospects.
Is it possible to study Russian as a foreign language in Serbian schools? Is it a popular choice nowadays? What level do students reach by the time they enter a higher-educational institution?
IP: One can study English, German, French and Russian at an either elementary or intermediate level. As far as I know, about 15 to 20 per cent of students at schools choose Russian. If a person wants to advance their skills further, they may do it also at the university level. At the University of Belgrade, students can choose Russian as a language course. We also offer free elective courses for anyone willing to study languages. Concerning this aspect, I suppose the Centre will cooperate with the already existing structures to ensure that everyone who wishes to learn Russian is given this opportunity.
Is the Russian language popular in Serbia today?
IP: Its popularity is growing. First, our countries are long-time friends: the Russian labour market has vacancies for our graduates, often requiring them to learn Russian to build a successful career. Hence, our alumni get the idea that having Russian skills is beneficial. Second, there is no use ignoring the fact that Russia is a beautiful country with a rich history. Many students, for example, want to read Russian literature in the original language, so they decide to learn it.
During the working meeting, Rector Vladimir Litvinenko proposed opening a branch campus of the University of Belgrade within St. Petersburg Mining University. What do you think of his proposal?
IP: We haven't had time to discuss it in detail. However, we are a big university, having about 100,000 enrolled students. As an idea, we could create a space within Mining University to showcase our scientific achievements to everyone interested.
Ivanka Popović concluded the interview by mentioning the long shared history of the two universities. For example, many Russian professors, who fled the country following the events of the October Revolution, taught at the Serbian university. All the technical faculties, traditionally favoured by descendants from Russia, are located in the central part of Belgrade. She also noted that Baron Pyotr Wrangel, a graduate of the Mining Institute who had served as Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Army during the Russian Civil War, was buried in Belgrade. The proposed location of the Centre for Studying Russian Language and Science is only a 10-minute walk from his tomb. Therefore an exhibition displaying his military contribution could form part of the project as well.