Enemy Mine: A Media-Led Cold War Puts American Students at a Disadvantage


ST. PETERSBURG RUSSIA

Dozens of Russian and American college students continue their discussions here at the Track Two conference, Whom Do We Trust?, in St. Petersburg, Russia. The topic has turned from how youth view media, to how their countries see ‘the other.’

Although the young people were mixing easily, they acknowledged that their nations are not in a happy place with each other.

Anya, a 20-year-old student at The Herzen Russian State Pedagogical University (the conference co-host), set the stage, asking about American movies: “Is it true,” she wondered, that “the bad guys are always Russian?”

A few people had to admit that, at least sometimes, it is true.

Igor, 18, who attends St. Petersburg State University, assured the gathering that young Russians “don’t believe the lies about the U.S.” But he went on to note that, so far as he could tell, even well-educated Americans appeared to believe wild stories about Russia, while in Russia only those of “low status” would fall for the exaggerated propaganda that is so often on display on Russia’s state-run Channel One.

Indeed, ‘Channel One’ became shorthand throughout the discussion for the Russians when they referred to bald-faced nationalism. These well-educated young people, as described in yesterday's report, are not about to fall for this type of hate-filled propaganda.

Some Russians said that their families did watch Channel One, and Sawyer, a 20-year-old student at the University of Colorado at Boulder who is here studying Russian through The Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), said his family watched the American channel Fox News. He disdained it in a manner similar to how the Russians felt about Channel One and explained that “people are angry at Russia for trying to manipulate our media.”

When questioned closely, the Russians were surprisingly nonchalant, at least to American ears, about the accusations of Russia meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. They were, perhaps, unaware of the far-reaching implications of these accusations in the U.S.

Moderator Yury Kabanov commented that Russians don’t care about this issue, or else have no opinion on it. He thought that perhaps the U.S. is just too far away to matter very much.

One professor at Herzen University proposed that Americans who are unhappy about the outcome of the election might just be blaming Russia for their bad fortune.

Moderator Nadezhda Azhgikhina said she doesn’t believe anyone is powerful enough to influence the strongest country in world and agreed that liberals may be frustrated with their media. “Hardly anyone cares about the U.S. elections,” she said, because Russians are so preoccupied with their ‘tough life’.

A professor from Herzen University who was attending the conference had a different take on the question of why the Russians were not concerned with American accusations of Russian election rigging. It could be, she thought, that Russians don’t trust the accuracy of their own elections, and so would see manipulation as just part of the system.

One sad outcome of the new “cold war” between the U.S. and Russia is that it has a direct negative outcome – even on these students. Anya was thinking about getting her master’s degree in the U.S., but changed her mind because people now regularly wait up to a year to be granted a visa from the American government. And Destiny, a 20-year-old attending Augustana College in Illinois also studying with CIEE, attempted to get a scholarship to study in Russia.

These types of scholarships used to be available to American students, but with the sanctions, Russia was reclassified by the U.S. State Department, from a “Level 2” country (Exercise Increased Caution: Be aware of heightened risks to safety and security) to a “Level 3” country (Reconsider Travel: Avoid travel due to serious risks to safety and security). While these warnings of danger evoked hearty laughter from the students and everyone else in the room, the change in status meant that this type of scholarship support to study in Russia is no longer available to Americans.

PHOTO CREDITS: Virginia Thomson

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