A week celebrating the art, music and literature of Russia attracted high profile speakers including Andrew Graham Dixon, presenter of the BBC’s The Culture Show, several academics from The Courtauld Institute of Art and leading journalists in Russian politics.
The idea behind the week, which took place from Monday 16 April to Sunday 22 April, came from Conference Co-ordinator Rebecca Emerick’s year abroad: “Lots of people told me in the lead up to it how hostile and lawless Russia would be. It’s certainly not a warm and sentimental place but there was definitely a more insightful story to be told.”
Organised by the Russian Society, the seven event-packed days focused on a different aspect of Russian culture each day, from a nostalgic trip down memory lane on Tuesday, with NPH showing the animated film Anastasia, to a debate on Sunday which saw several important journalists and St Andrews academics, including Bridget Kendall a BBC diplomatic correspondent who was in Moscow during the fall of the Soviet Union, discussing the future of Russian politics. Of particular note were the two days devoted to the art of Russia with a combination of student produced art, a workshop by Aidan Hart on iconography and several lectures from leading academics on the history of Russian art.
The week drew in several other societies’ involvement with the Fine Food and Dining society giving a cookery class to kick start the week on Georgian cuisine and the Art History society hosting a wine and cheese reception so students could meet the high profile guests.
The event was not without its difficulties, double room bookings led to Thursday night’s music event being cancelled and Emerick admits, “The accommodation we had organised withdrew all rooms on Monday morning due to their own financial problems and the event probably came quite close to being cancelled.” Some quick thinking juggling the budget and contacts with a local developer helped save the day.
Despite any behind-the-scenes issues, student reaction was highly positive. Charles Wood, a second year studying Russian said: “It was a fantastic insight into a misunderstood country. There was a great diversity of interesting events from art to contemporary politics. My particular highlight was some humorous Chekhov stories read by the founder of the St Andrean Russian department!”
“The party associated with the week was particularly intriguing. Never has North East Fife seen so many Russians, Kazakhs, Georgians, Ukrainians, Azerbaijanis and many others congregated in one place with dubious amounts of vodka!”
Emerick was ultimately pleased with how the event came together: “I am incredibly proud of the week. I’m flattered that I managed to get and secure the participation of people like Bridget Kendall, George Carey and Andrew Graham Dixon- real media royalty. I’m also chuffed that each of them took it seriously and put real style and gusto into their presentations.”
On the possibility of the event continuing into the future she added: “All of us feel that Russia is grossly misrepresented in the Western world and my only hope is that we can do this on a much grander scale in the future. We would like the Russian Society to keep up the tradition but the effort and scale might be hard to continue year after year – it was meant equally as a precedent for what other student societies can achieve and organise.”