Russian Tea at Boulder University or
How did Harry Barbak go to the Slavists
From October to December 2018, I often visited the Slavic boulders of the University of Colorado (University of Colorado Boulder).
I attended their Russian Tea public event, designed to enable university students, undergraduates and graduate students to meet
and interact with Russians and Russian-speaking visitors to enhance their knowledge of Russian culture and practice in Russian.
What can I say, in itself, this is a very good thing; communication between students and representatives of the culture being
studied is the best way to study culture and language; such meetings are undoubtedly needed for successful study by Slavic
The event itself is held very simply - the audience opens, everyone comes in, puts the teapot, gives out sweets and cookies, and
you can talk to students and professors in Russian. Who you are is absolutely unimportant, the main thing is knowledge of the
Russian language. The topics of conversations - as it was stated from the very beginning - can be very different, no one has
announced any forbidden topics. No rules are set, but everyone should remember that they should be given an opportunity to speak
to others. Often the theme is set by the event leader, the teacher, the child lotto will bring, then she will tell about the
Russian cuisine, or else she will tell a student to read a report about traveling in Russia or neighboring countries. Other
participants of the event can also set the topic for the conversation - at least, it was originally stated. If she likes her, she
is supported. All this is given only 50 minutes a week during the lunch break.
Being not the only one dissatisfied with such a small amount of time for such an interesting event, I asked if it was possible to
somehow increase this time, then I even offered myself as a volunteer for this, because, after all, I lived in Russia for forty
years I got a diploma of higher education there, I write songs, I keep blogs, but ... as it turned out, there is no way to add
time to conversations with students, neither by the teachers, nor by the volunteers. The proposal to place Russian tea on any
Internet platform, so that students could communicate with Russians in their free time as much as they like - also did not find a
response. According to the professors, this was absolutely useless.
How much can be said for an incomplete hour a week? Probably, this is a new word in the pedagogical business, in the study of
foreign culture, cultural homeopathy.
So what did I see there, with the Slavists, during all these short hours of my visit? A lot of alarming and frightening.
No, I can say right away that in terms of teaching the Russian language itself, the case at the Boulder University at the Slavic
Department was very good, students are getting stronger in the language, but, as for teaching Russian culture, sometimes there are
some rather strange things.
So, for example, one day from the mouth of a teacher in full growth it sounded that the Russian poet Pushkin is not printed in
Europe and is not read because they cannot translate as necessary. When I objected, saying that there are enough translations of
Pushkin, and quite good ones, they don’t read him in Europe because Pushkin in his work mostly rewarded modern European poets to
him, and now the Europeans do not really want to read their own poets in reverse translation - I saw in response ... eyes filled
No, I do not mind at all when Pushkin is served as an important national poet who played a significant role in Russian literature
and the development of the modern literary Russian language. But trying to push it into the international big literature (oh, we
would only find a translator!) Is just ridiculous ...
Gaps in knowledge among students and future specialists in Slavic studies have sometimes been terrific. Well, still, when students
do not know who Russian poet Alexander Bashlachev is, although this is one of the best Russian poets, but when a graduate student
does not know who the Marquis de Custine is! ..
Of course, I didn’t see all the students, and I didn’t spend a deep test of their knowledge, maybe some of the students knew the
great Russian rock poet before I came and spoke about him, but ... something, alas, I did not get these students! In any case,
having spoken several times about Bashlachev and at the event itself, and tete-a-tete on the sidelines, I did not find a single
student there who was in the subject. Then, in an interview with the teachers (everything was under the camera), I presented them
to them several times, and something, none of them took it upon me to object! And to honor the graduate student, who did not
recognize the Marquis de Custine, I can only add that he still remembered Chaadaev.
What did the professorship answer to all this?
When I said during the next Tea, it would not be bad for any student who learned Russian well enough to listen to Bashlachev and
Letov, wonderful Russian poets, perhaps not sharing what they preached, but just to see their magnificent Russian language, its
best examples - they looked at me as insane.
“We better know what our students need!” - so I was amicably told both the leadership of the Slavic department, and the
leadership of the faculty of foreign languages of the university and the host of Russian tea in the final conversation, which I
recorded on my iPhone’s camera and which I was ready need to show anywhere. “They (students) may not know anything!” - And this
was said. Also under the record.
All this is all the more annoying because the culture of Russian rock itself, of course, is in its best manifestations, being an
integral part of the culture of the best Russian students, the best Russian youth, the culture that brought up our generation, now
in forty, culture, and now educating Russian educated youth - it should be very interesting for American students, and much more
understandable and close to them than, say, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky - our eternal Russian Tolstoy, authors who are generally better
to read from thirty years old and older.
Listening to songs is a very good way to learn a language, and any Slavic should definitely know Alexander Bashlachev, who is an
integral part of the golden fund of Russian culture and an integral part of the cultural baggage of every educated and cultural
Russian, not to mention Astolfo de Custine, a wonderful Frenchman, who wrote a very truthful and sensible book about Russia.
Know and teach if he is a teacher! And when this is absent, when it is said about it - it is impossible to behave this way.
However, I must pay tribute to the students I saw, they listen to Russian songs, they remembered both Vysotsky and Nautilus
Pompilius to my demand, something in this area at the department is still being done, but to say that everything situation is
still impossible. And the point here is not at all in the ignorance of students - this is just a fixable thing, they don’t know -
they will know that way. I immediately told them something about Custine, and about Bashlachev, and they themselves can come
across it by chance ...
Here, after all, the other is bad - the position taken by the teachers - they do not know, and thank God! God forbid if they find
out anything else!
Of course, I can be objected that a student is a free being, and while living in a free country, he can receive as much
information as he wants about Russia and anything else. I believe that it is not. A Slavic student is a creature quite unfree, and
very busy, because he learns a lot, comprehends a very difficult language, and if he has free time, he will probably spend it on
entertainment and personal life. And therefore it is unlikely that he will begin to search for something himself, but will simply
take what the teachers together with the language give. Especially since this is what they will ask from him at the exam. And if
he finds something new on the Internet, then where? In Olgino?
In general, any attempt to introduce a student to something or someone new in the Slavic department of the boulder university, as
I understand it, is completely discouraged. Meanwhile, I, and, probably, not only I, would have found among friends on social
networks a lot of interesting people with whom Slavic students would be able to meet and talk with the greatest benefit for
themselves. Politicians, writers, psychologists, scientists, public figures, people from the arts - and many of them would agree
to talk with American Slavic scholars, students, graduate students and professors. They would agree, but ...
When I offered the students to meet my old acquaintance, a retired lieutenant colonel of the FSIN, Vladimir Rubashny, an
experienced prison psychologist, a wonderful specialist who resigned, because in Russia, in Kazan, where he lives, he was not
allowed to work normally, becoming a human rights defender, a former in Nadezhda Tolokonnikova’s law group at one of her courts,
when I invited students to talk with such an interesting person - the leading event, a professorship in panic, closed her tea.
Meanwhile, who could better explain to students how a Russian person works? For any student who seriously studies Russian culture,
any specialist who seriously teaches it, such a find must be worth its weight in gold! And yet, my proposal was panicked.
If I offered to bring to the "Russian tea" of the present, living hell, as it is - right from the underworld, with horns and
pitchfork, smelling of sulfur and tar - this would not have caused such righteous horror that this honest Russian prison
psychologist would have caused the professorate , with which, I specifically pre-arranged for his meeting with the Slavists. I was
ready to offer other interesting people, but it was clearly visible that in response, the refusal was already ready in advance.
So what were we talking about in Russian tea? What were you talking about? About many things. Only first I will say what we did
NOT talk about. Anyway, in my presence. As far as I could see.
We did not talk about Russian civil and political activists, actionists, political prisoners. We did not talk about the gigantic
embezzlement of Russian officials, about the oligarchs, about the luxury in which they live, about Russian wild poverty, about the
impudent tyranny of the Russian authorities. We did not talk about slavery, which is becoming more and more common in Russia,
especially in the Caucasus, not talking about Kadyrov and other problems of this region. We did not talk about the Kerch conflict,
about the capture of Ukrainian sailors. We did not talk about the “E” center, about torture, about the dispersal of peaceful
demonstrations, when the police beat, and then still persecuted the children, about the bogs, about ... a lot about.
Very few, literally casual, mostly by me, touched upon the topics of the Russian police, Russian prison, Russian dissidents,
Russian human rights activists. When Mikhail Zhlobitsky blew himself up in the building of the FSB headquarters in Arkhangelsk,
when all the media shouted about this event - we were quietly playing children's lotto at Russian tea, and, during the game,
answered such “important” questions as three animals that live in Africa "or" What two things can be found in the attic? "And only
two or three weeks later, at the next Tea I managed to still raise this topic.
But, at the filing of the professorship, much was said about Russian cuisine, about borscht, okroshka, about all sorts of Russian
products. About who and how has arrived in America, about plans for the future, about medicine, about smoking, about drunkenness,
about parents and children, about unhealthy "junk" food, about who like how spent the holidays, about where You want to go
traveling and other, the same "important" things.
Sometimes we talked about politics, about Trump, Democrats and Republicans, my attitude towards Trump - that was the first thing I
was asked about. By the way, afterwards, it was with an arrogant face and completely opposed to the truth was denied, and I was
blamed that, de, I talk a lot about politics, moreover (I am ready to swear) that the first thing I was asked about was, after
all, The first Russian tea is my attitude to Trump. Subsequently, when I started talking about it myself, this topic was quite
readily supported. About any problems of America could be extended as much as necessary. Well, having seen such a beginning, I
continued, and with such an opportunity, I often spoke about Putin's Russia. I said that there is a war going on, that Russia is a
fascist state and an aggressor, that studying it now is the same as learning the Reich in 1943. I said that you should not bend
over Russia, and in general, you have to be extremely careful with it. And the fact that Russia has yet to win. And again, in
panic, closed Tea.
But what angered the most is the fact that the department arranges and encourages its students to travel to Putin's Russia. In
Russia, which is the aggressor in the new, it is still cold, but in some places it is already a hot world war that is now under
way. It’s not the best idea, to visit a tyrant whose criminal henchmen shed blood in Ukraine, Syria, commit acts of terrorism in
European countries, harm the West with everything they can and are ready for any crime against any country in the civilized world.
And it’s okay when a state man goes there on a state matter, or, even if an individual is most urgently needed, but students ...
Riding to Putin is the same thing as driving to Hitler is very dangerous and very bad. Yes, Russia perfectly accepts foreigners,
Russia is famous for its hospitality, but the trouble is, well, it accepts only those who write and speak only good things about
it, only complementary. So it has long been accepted, and not only in Russia - the guest host treats, and the guest host praises,
and in the house that took him, and beyond.
In general, these are elementary rules of politeness, and it is difficult to object something to this, but, nevertheless, Russia
is a country that with its whole history, all its past and all its present deserves not compliments and praises, but the most
critical approach. , and not only in the field of politics and economics, but also in the field of culture. And if there is no
such approach, Russia will certainly deceive you, it will surely circle anyone around the finger. Russian culture is full of traps
for people who do not have a critical attitude towards it, as I could see from the Slavists I visited. There is one Tolstoevsky
I don’t know exactly what future specialists in Russia are teaching in Boulder, for what purpose, what they will do later, but I
know for sure that whatever the purpose is to mislead students anyway. And in the absence of criticality in the study of Russia -
it certainly will come out.
Still, boulder Slavists send their students to Russia, handing them over to some strange host people who ... well, I don’t have
the facts, I’m not privy to the secrets of the Russian special services, I only know that they are always visiting Americans very
interested. Not to mention that each such trip is a kind of compliment to the vile, fascist regime, which, sitting under
international sanctions, gets into greater and greater isolation and wants to overcome it in every way, in addition, everything is
just dangerous - they will be recruited, they will be taken hostage if the confrontation between Russia and the civilized world
suddenly enters a hot phase! Or they will take it in order to exchange it for their own spy or saboteur - this has often been done
before, with a scoop, and now, judging from the story with Paul Whelan, it is done again.
Russia is a very dangerous country and one should not go to it without special need. And simply providing information about her
to get a visa is not good either.
Still, students are sent there, and in every way they praise and encourage them, and their travel stories are happy to listen to
later. A future young man’s voyage to Russia was discussed right in front of me by a young man who had once reported to us about
his last trip to Russia, receiving the approval and praise of a professorate for this. This time he had the intention to travel
along the route Peter-Vladivostok. Intention, fully supported by the department.
And this is when they literally have a great example under the nose of the American military, who do not allow their Slavic cadets
to travel to Russia, but send them to get acquainted with Russian culture in the Baltic States. And in fact - the Baltic States,
as well as Belarus and Ukraine - are great places for Slavic educational voyage. There are plenty of Russian people and Russian
culture to study everywhere, and there is no such nightmare as in Russia. And if the Slavists need to communicate with the
Russians right in their habitat, then for this it is better for them to come to Kiev, and to communicate. With the best Russian-
those that fought on the Maidan. There, Americans will be accepted no worse, and they will have no need, being at a party, to
curtsy in a country captured by a tyrant and to be tactfully silent when they need to speak. On the contrary, Putin and his regime
there can be a fire on all the crusts. And there is a lot of good and decent. The fact that you can not flinch and praise. This is
not to mention the fact that non-Russian cultures in these countries are also very interesting and good.
Of course, the department of Slavic studies is not military command, and students are not Cadets, they should not be ordered, but,
nevertheless, it would make sense for teachers not to encourage or recommend students to visit Putin's Russia. Of course, there is
nothing illegal on such trips, until the American authorities have banned travel to Russia, as they did, for example, with respect
to Cuba - you can go there. But to encourage such trips, to praise them, to help them arrange it is still impossible, in any case.
“Did you not visit Hitler?” I asked that young traveler. And I immediately recommended the Americans to come to Russia to visit
astride tanks and aircraft carriers, as they traveled to fascist Germany in the 1940s.
At the end of the semester, on December 12, 2018, I was invited to the department and there, in the presence of the faculty
leadership, the department leadership and the host of Russian tea, offered me to be quiet and speak with students only on some
everyday and very calm topics, and follow the conversation exclusively in the wake of the leader. (Teachers with whom I spoke:
Elena Kostoglodova, the host of Russian Tea, Laura Olson Osterman, Head of the Slavic Department, Patrick Greeney, Head of the
Faculty of Foreign Languages of the University) I tried to impose rules of conduct that no one at the same time wanted to properly
write on paper, so that it was clear at once and for everyone what can be done at Russian tea, and what is impossible - either by
putting these rules on public display or by submitting to each guest the event signature for signature so that he himself assured
that he is familiar with these rules and will comply with them. Instead, the professorship started referring to some unwritten
rules and regulations that no one had ever seen and demanded that I observe them. Of course, I refused. I do not play with sharps
by their rules. And in general, during the war, to talk only about soup and borsch, when you have to say what is more important -
no, it is not for me, in my opinion, it smells very strongly of betrayal of the country from which I left and the country that
accepted, in which I now live. And to go only in the wake of professors who do not want to give students knowledge, moreover, that
the subject of conversations was initially declared the most free - this is also unacceptable for me. I refused, and they strongly
urged me to leave both the Slavic department and all its events, which I did.
So they flooded me from there, and along with me, Kustin, and Bashlachev, and Letov, and Rubashny, because, after all, I was
there, it seems, the only one who could and wanted to imagine them at least somehow.
How can this behavior of Slavic teachers be explained? Now we will not analyze this issue in detail. What is important for us now
is not HOW the tree of such American Slavistics grows, and from where it draws for itself nourishing juices. Now it is important
for us to realize the fruits that it brings, because every tree is known for its fruits!
So, in the opinion of the Slavists caught by me - Pushkin, a great genius, and the fact that they are not recognized as such in
the world and generally know very little - for purely technical reasons, cannot be translated as they should. But Bashlachev, the
best poet of the Russian underground, for students, as far as I could see, is simply not there, just as there is no Astolph de
Custine for them with his famous critical book about Russia. An employee of the Russian penitentiary system, a human rights
activist, a lawyer and a psychologist Rubashny, a man who knows Russia in earnest - for some reason the devil is more terrible for
those who teach Slavists. None of them wants to seriously talk about Russia and its problems, preferring to talk only about
cooking and other harmless things, at least in the continuation of the event I visit. And while students travel to Russia, that
is, a kind of exercise in tolerance for the Putin regime for good reception and affectionate appeal.
How it all smells bad!
Well, now, the eternal Russian question - what to do? I will try to answer:
In a normal way, the Department of Slavic Studies at Boulder University needs a good and deep revision. The curriculum should be
reasonably supplemented, much in it should be clarified, corrected. Students' communication with representatives of Russian
culture should be expanded, a one-hour stub once a week is window dressing, a paper letter, and not a serious matter. By the way,
it is not necessary to do all this in real life; you can open an Internet platform for this. Internet meetings of students with
Russian writers, philologists, scientists, artists, public figures, and those who are not inclined to excessively praise Russia,
but on the contrary, are critical of it - all this must necessarily be arranged, or should, at least , do not encounter obstacles
from professors. It’s time to stop the students ’travel to lure Putin, into the open arms of his special services. Tallinn -
Odessa is a wonderful route, let it go along it.
And the most important thing is that the leadership of the Slavic department, and the faculty at which it is located should be
given into the hands of people who are ready to work seriously and in good faith, constantly replenish and improve the curriculum,
do not shy away from the new panic, not arrogant it is better to know how and what to do, looking at the significant shortcomings
in the case that is entrusted to them. Russia is a country that deserves the most critical attitude towards itself, and if someone
who does not teach cannot afford it for some reason, he should not teach.
And I dare to hope that the university rector, in which I had been to visit, and to see everything that I am describing here now,
will one day take appropriate measures for this. And if you do not accept it, then you would have to use the power in relation to
This is what concerns a single institution I have attended, and if we talk about American Slavic studies in general, I have a
serious suspicion that this is not the case only in Boulder. And I have a firm belief that if not all of American Slavistics, then
at least some of them need the closest attention of civil society activists and public organizations, both Russian and American.
Constant monitoring and identification of all the various shortcomings and shortcomings, explanatory work among students is quite
a feasible task for the nascent Russian civil society, and for an already mature American. A crookedly learned Slavicist is not a
gift and not a help for either Russia or America, so there is nothing to do - the curve will have to be straightened!
In order to facilitate the implementation of this really necessary task for both America and Russia, I open a special resource on
civic Slavistics on Facebook, this will be a club for Americans learning Russian language and culture. Let those of my readers who
consider it necessary to take part in this matter enter into it. We will work together to collect critical materials on existing
Slavic studies outside of Russia, primarily in America, to interview students and graduates. We will communicate with them, help
them practice the Russian language, we will provide them with critical materials about Russia, acquaint them with Russian culture
at its best, we will work with Russian and American social activists, with various media.
Therefore, citizens, if this is interesting to you and if you have a Facebook resource, join our group. Call your friends there
who are interested in this, and of course, invite Americans and other foreigners you know and speak Russian. And so that no
Vatnikov and Olgins - I immediately calculate them and ban them!
Of course, at the time of publication of this article and for the first time after that, the group will look empty - no people, no
materials. Do not let this confuse you, lay out there what you think would be useful for Americans who study Russian culture, add
there yourself and call friends, send your recommendations for the development of the group. Over time, all swing and work fine.
Indeed, in the end, to communicate with foreigners is always good and interesting. And with those who are interested in your
language and culture - even more so. So, dare, gentlemen! Enter and act. The main thing is that an intelligent group of Russian
citizens, namely citizens, should gather in the group, and the Americans will certainly come there as soon as it becomes
Group Link –
Now there is a war. The fourth world, while cold. Russia is the instigator and the aggressor in this war, and if it wins, the
world will be plunged into chaos.
But the war is not only between Russia and the world, there is also opposition inside Russia. Between those who wish Russia to be
a peaceful, rich European country and those who want a "great empire" and war with the whole world. And if we, those who are
fighting in this war now for the future of Russia, are fighting, who, how and with what they can, if we, in our war, are waiting
for help from the West, and without it, of course, not a damn thing will come out of us - so what will we wait from there, with
such Slavicism? Very afraid that nothing useful! And what decisions on what to do with Russia will America take, having listened
to specialists brought up in the manner described here? I am afraid that only the most stupid and inadequate!
So, in order to do everything in our power so that the help we need would not be bullshit - it is time for us to take this matter
in our hands - the work of the new Civil Slavistics.
This article contains a number of value judgments of a private person, who perfectly understands that he may be mistaken and in no
case claims to be the ultimate truth. Described here was as of December 12, 2018.
February 15, 2018 - July 15, 2019 (including late edits)
Denis Barmin (Harry Barbak), Westminster, Colorado
P. S. What can be said now, a few months after what happened, when I described everything that was with me a long time ago and now
publish it on the Internet? Yes, the fact that the "Russian tea" among the activities of the Department of Slavic Studies of the
Boulder University is no longer. I, in any case, did not see it anywhere else on their website. In both! Not only they flooded me,
but the event itself was hacked to pieces! And really, why leave him living on? Suddenly, not me, so someone else will start
talking there too much and cause problems?
I can also say that having written this all, I was not at all eager to publish this report immediately, at first I sent it to the
university rector’s office in the hope that some measures would still be taken. I received no answer from there, and did not
notice any measures taken. Well, let them read it now on the Internet. Let now other bloggers, newsmen take this material for
their publications, let now everyone get acquainted with these materials. And draw conclusions!
July 15, 2019
Barmin Denis (Harry Barbak)
Denis Barmin (Harry Barbak) -
Vladimir Rubashny -
The teachers we had to deal with