Dozens of students, affiliates, and alumni gathered on campus to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies this weekend.
Established in 1948 at the start of the Cold War, the Davis Center supports social science research on Russia and Eurasia. Its 75th-anniversary celebration on Oct. 27 and Oct. 28 featured research highlights of Harvard affiliates, a gala dinner, and three panels on the war in Ukraine, which began in February 2022 when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of the country.
Yevgenia Albats, a renowned Russian journalist, opened the celebration on Friday by calling for the United States to increase its involvement in the conflict and lend more support to Ukraine. Sergei Guriev, the provost of Sciences Po, delivered the keynote address on Saturday, titled “Past, Present and Future of Putin’s Russia (and What Comes Next).”
During a panel on Saturday, four experts on Russia discussed how politics, culture, and the economy have been impacted by the war.
The panelists included Harvard Government and Russian Studies professor Timothy J. Colton, Amherst College Russian professor Michael M. Kunichika, Harvard History and Russian Studies professor Terry D. Martin ’85, and Centre for East European and International Studies researcher Alexandra Prokopenko.
Martin commented on the complexity of the national identity of Russia from a historical perspective.
“The core of the Russian Empire and its periphery was less clear, obviously, than in an overseas empire,” Martin said.
Kunichika, who is also the director of the Amherst Center for Russian Culture, spoke about the border conflict between Ukraine and Russia through a literary and cultural lens.
“One of the things that we are seeing play out really across the board are questions that we are still grappling with around cultural identity, ethnic identity, and linguistic identity,” Kunichika said. “We’re dealing with kinds of questions as we navigate claims of complicity, freedom, and autonomy.”
Colton told the audience that the role of Russian scholars is not to make predictions about the future but to analyze what has happened and try to understand it.
“It could be that the long-term consequences are going to be very, very significant,” Colton said. “But we’re not in a position to do much more than speculate about it.”
Prokopenko, who previously worked at the Bank of Russia, spoke about Russian economic decisions around military spending.
“Russia is moving away from a market-based system and market-based economy,” Prokopenko said. “Market-based capitalism is abandoned for the sake of mobilizing the wartime economy.”
Catherine V. Mannick, who chairs the Davis Center’s advisory board and served as a lawyer for the U.S. in the Soviet Union for 20 years, said she appreciated how the panels brought together diverse perspectives.
“I think that the whole program has been very, very well organized in that we got multiple perspectives on multiple topics, which is important when you’re looking at such complex issues as the current war in Ukraine,” she said.
Mannick added that the Davis Center plays a significant “national and geopolitical” role on the world stage, particularly in light of the continuing conflict in Ukraine.
Andrew J. Underwood, an alumnus of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and a contributor to the final United States-Russia Strategic Stability Dialogue preceding the outbreak of the war, said the Davis Center helped him build lifelong academic connections.
“That stood out for me as the only time in my life where I believe I had that degree of being able to not just abstractly study a region, but study a place and people with whom I would be interacting later,” he said.
“It’s really important for the United States to have a cohort of area specialists who can help us to understand this part of the world,” she said.
Elizabeth A. Wood ’80, a professor of Russian history at MIT, said the celebration served as a learning experience for scholars of all calibers.
“Even for those of us who work in the field, I learned many new things today,” Wood said. “Whether we’re full professors, or we’re postdocs somewhere, or we’re graduate students or undergraduates, it’s a great way for everybody to learn.”