SLOVAK interest in Russian culture and Russian language is now experiencing a rebirth, but not on the massive scale that it was during the country's communist past. It is more natural and sincere.
The extreme feelings that appeared immediately after the Velvet Revolution, when Slovak society quickly switched from Eastern-orientated education to a more Western one, have now been stabilised.
"The culture in Europe and in Slovakia is starting to have a broader, more European character and, in this context, the Russian culture is perceived as a part of the European one. There has always been a close relationship to Russian culture in Slovakia, and this is coming back," Mária Kusá, an adjunct professor of Russian language and literature at the Commenius University in Bratislava, told The Slovak Spectator.
Before 1989 about 60 people would study the Russian language at the university in one year. Today, an average of about 40-70 people apply every year to study the Russian language and literature. "We usually choose 20 students," added Kusá.
In the past, every student gained a basic knowledge of the Russian language in elementary and secondary school. Learning Russian was compulsory. Today, many people who did not come across Russian at lower schools want to study the language.
"In Bratislava, Russian is only taught at the Trade Academy, the Slavic high school, and maybe one more grammar school. It is different in the other regions. In the east [close to Ukraine and the Russian borders], there is, of course, a bigger interest in studying this language," explained Kusá. The level of knowledge of the people taking Russian language entrance exams is thus very different. According to Kusá, there are some university students who apparently think that it would just be easier to study Russian than another language.
"But some applicants have an advanced knowledge and they are also usually excellent in any second language they might study in combination," she said.
University graduates usually join their study of Russian language and literature with other, mostly Western, languages. Knowledge of such languages creates good opportunities to find an interesting job or to work abroad. It is very often appealing to travel agencies and Western corporations that have business relations with Eastern countries, and it does not matter whether it is Russia or another country of the former Soviet Union. "However, there are, of course, many people who finish the study but do not work with the language," added Kusá.
The increasing stability of Russian culture is also reflected in the appearance of Russian literature in Slovakia. Whereas, before 1989, Slovak linguists would annually translate tens of Russian books, in 1990 there were hardly three new books every year - mostly poetry that could not be published before, e.g. Leon Trotsky, Sergey Yesenin.
Nowadays Kusá sees improvement: "About four or five years ago, the first that appeared were the Russian satirists - Ilf Petrov and [Mikhail] Bulgakov.
"Slovak translations of Russian classical literature like [Fyodor] Dostoevsky, [Leo] Tolstoy, and [Ivan] Turgenev came back to Slovak readers through the satirists. Now, the situation finally resembles the standard in developed cultural societies."
While France and Germany have had cultural centres in Slovakia since the 1990s and they have already become an important part of the cultural life of Bratislava, the Russian centre of science and culture was established only recently and people have just started taking notice of it. Although literature has found its place among Slovak readers, this is not the case with Russian films. "It is different in Czech television, where Russian films are regularly presented among other eastern European films," said Kusá.
23. Feb 2004 at 0:00 | Marta Ďurianová