Guest Speakers

November 29, 2012

"A Tale of Two Aviatrixes: A Nashville Flight Instructor and a Soviet War Hero."

Lecture by Emory Distinguished Alumna Kim Green

Anna Yegorova

Above: Anna Yegorova

Emory REEES alumna Kim Green couldn¿t believe she was drinking vodka out of a canteen with a Soviet war hero! As a Russian major-turned-flight instructor-turned NPR journalist, Green¿s life had taken a number of unexpected turns. Sitting at the dinner table with legendary Russian fighter pilot Anna Yegorova, however, Green realized that her numerous and seemingly disparate passions had found an unlikely union in the story of this most remarkable woman. She shared her journey with a packed house in the hopes of relating a few of the amazing experiences made possible by her degree in Russian.

Following the completion of her Russian studies at Emory, Green joked that she did what most people with a Russian degree do; ¿I took flying lessons!¿ Although her fascination with all things Russian persisted, it was not until attending a 2002 conference of women pilots that she would discover a way to put her language skills to professional use. Much to her astonishment, she learned that thousands of women pilots fought for the Soviet Air Force during World War II. To make a long story short, a mutual acquaintance introduced her to Anna Yegorova, a fearless, ambitious, and according to Green, ¿perversely stubborn¿ Russian woman whose harrowing experiences as a combat pilot needed to be told.

Born in Russia in 1917, Yegorova was truly a child of the Revolution. Her early years were spent in a quiet rural village, but an aptitude for flying led her down a decidedly more adventurous path. Her story culminates during WWII, when she flew in an otherwise all-male combat regiment, piloting the notorious IL-2 (a.k.a. ¿Black Death") tank-buster attack plane.  She was shot down and taken prisoner in 1944, suffering for months in a P.O.W. camp. Upon her return to Russia she was initially treated as a traitor by her own country, but was later honored as a war hero. Amazingly, her sense of duty and patriotism through it all was unwavering.

Yegorova had written her memoir in Russian, but dreamed of sharing her story with an English-speaking audience. Green¿s calling was clear. Together with a Russian co-translator, she set about the task of publishing Red Sky, Black Death: A Soviet Airwoman¿s Memoir of Revolution, War, and Betrayal. Though admittedly not the most lucrative of pursuits, it remains one of Green¿s proudest and most fulfilling accomplishments. ¿If we are to take any lesson from her life,¿ Green offered, ¿it is that extraordinary circumstances produce extraordinary people.¿ Of course, none of this would have been possible were it not for Green¿s training in Russian language at Emory. ¿You don¿t have to be a professor or a scholar for your Russian major to be rewarding,¿ she told the standing-room-only audience. ¿It has given me the gift of fascination that will stay with me always.¿ This event was part of the REEES Distinguished Alumni Series and was sponsored by REEES, REALC, the Journalism Program, and the Student Slavic Club.

October 22, 2012

"Visual Perspecties on Russian Classics: Cutting and Editing in Nikolai Gogol's Marraige"

Lecture by Coca-Cola Chair of Visual Studies at the European University in St. Petersburg, Dr. Natalia Mazur


Published in 1842 after nine years of work, Nikolai Gogol¿s ¿The Marriage¿ is one of his most obscure and possibly least understood works. Characterized by his contemporaries as a droll satire on the institution of marriage, the play has received modern critical recognition as a far more complex social commentary. Dr. Natalia Mazur offered an inspired interpretation of one particular passage in which the main character, Agafya Tikhonova, must choose between four would-be husbands. Agafya muses that she would like to combine the best features of each man into one, thereby easing her choice.  Mazur identifies this proposed assemblage of parts as a topos of ancient origin, which was at the same time a reference to the popular study of physiognomy.

The topos of the creation of an ideal out of the best features of a number of subjects dates most famously to the Greek tale of Zeuxis, who selected the most beautiful physical characteristics of several different models for his image of Helen of Troy. Mazur demonstrated a number of recurrences of this theme in art and literature, ending with a poignant example of Dziga Vertov¿s instructions to his Kino-Glaz group to create a ¿new man¿ through the filmic technique of montage. Gogol not only participates in this tradition, he does so in reference to Johann Caspar Lavater¿s well-known book, Physiognomy, in which human bodily features are presented as having a direct correlation to individual personality traits. Thus, according to Lavater¿s reasoning, a person¿s character can be known by his or her outward appearance. Agafya¿s desire to cut and paste together the most ideal features of her suitors can therefore be viewed as a continuation of Zeuxis¿ harmonious union and as a satirical reinterpretation of Lavater¿s work.

September 24, 2012

"The Buddhist Revival in Siberia and Mongolia Since the End of the Cold War.¿

Lecture by Assistant Professor of History at Wichita State University, Dr. Helen Hundley

Chojin monastery

Above: Chojin Lama Monastery in Ulan-Bator. Photo courtesy of Helen Hundley

Dr. Helen Hundely of Wichita State University kicked off REEES¿ fall semester programing in a colorful fashion, as she presented her ongoing work documenting the Buddhist revival in Siberia and Mongolia. A leading expert in Siberia studies, Dr. Hundley treated the audience to a collection of photos of revitalized Buddhist monasteries gathered from her numerous excursions throughout Inter-Asia.  Just as Russian Orthodoxy is currently experiencing an upsurge in popularity in much of western Russia, Buddhism is reemerging as the dominant religion in post-Soviet Buryat and Mongolian regions.

According to an 1897 Russian census, 91% of all Buryat men were Buddhist, a statistic that speaks to a long history of Mongolian missionary activity in the area. The religious purges under Stalin proved devastating to Buddhist practitioners, however, as tens of thousands of Lamas were killed and their monasteries destroyed. In the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, an urgent campaign to rebuild the sacred spaces of Buddhism is now underway.  Hundley¿s photographs of brightly painted monasteries from Tuva to Kharakorum, stupas dotting the Mongolian landscape, monuments of faith along the roadsides, and even solar-powered dashboard prayer wheels all testify to the success of these efforts. ¿Buddhism is rolling,¿ Hundley exclaimed! ¿It is as much a part of the new Russia and Mongolia as are the skyscrapers popping up everywhere you turn.¿  

This event was sponsored by REEES, REALC, EAS, the Department of Anthropology, the Department of Religion, and the Hershey Fund for Buddhist Studies.

March 9, 2012

"Reflections on the 2011 - 2012 Elections in Russia"

Lecture by Havighurst Postdoctoral Fellow at Miami University and REEES Distintuished Alumnus, Dr. John Reuter


Dr. John Reuter timed his lecture at Emory to coincide with the contentious - but by all accounts predictable - Russian presidential elections of March 4, 2012. Having been awarded the Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize for his work in the areas of historical political science and political history of Russia and the Soviet Union, Reuter's insights into the political drama abruptly unfolding in Russia were particularly insightful. What had thrust Russian politics back into the global consciousness was the sudden and largely unexpected explosion of protests following the State Duma elections of December, 2011 - the largest mass protest activity in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union. Allegations of voter fraud and intimidation were rampant leading up to Vladimir Putin's victory, and protests were ongoing at the time of Reuter's talk, albeit lessening in strength. The question at hand was two-fold: What had caused the United Russia party to lose so much of its seemingly unlimited popularity, and why was there such shock over the result of an election that everyone already knew was rigged?

Reuter proposed four pillars of regime stability: economic performance, intrinsic popularity, repression, and elite unity. Reuter described the fourth of these as, "the least sexy but perhaps the most important...a coalition of powerful elites who had proven successful at mobilizing the people." A slow decline in economic approval and the loss of some middle class support certainly contributed to United Russia's decreasing popularity, but it seems that the tactics used to combat this trend backfired. Surveys conducted by Reuter and his colleagues at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow reveal that 15% of the Russian electorate believed that their jobs were likely to be effected by their vote. Outrage over this type of voter intimidation, as well as ballot box stuffing, were the proximate catalysts for the protests.

Despite the best efforts of the Russian protestors, Putin secured a relatively easy victory in the presidential elections, to the surprise of no one. Reuter maintains, however, that the future of United Russia may be less certain. "Repression is costly in an environment where information is cheap," he explains, citing the widespread use of social media and the Internet as mechanisms of public mobilization in Russia. Simply put, authoritarian regimes cannot continue to flourish in the Internet age.

This event was sponsored by the Russian, East European, and Eurasian program as part of its Brown Bag Friday lecture series.

February 28, 2012

"The Popular Culture of Modern Japan: Kami-shibai and Tsunami"

Lecture by Jumonji University Professor of Japanese Literature, Dr. Shoko Azuma

Azuma flier

Professor Shoko Azuma addressed a standing-room-only crowd Tuesday, February 28, displaying what she described as "fantastic and beautiful kami-shibai" for the enthusiastic audience. Originating in the 17th century, kami-shibai is an early form of Japanese narrative performance combining dramatic storytelling with colorful imagery. The art form experienced its greatest flourishing in the 1930s, when as many as 30,000 storytellers peddaled through the Tokyo streets with illustrated kami-shibai boards strapped  to their bicycles. These mobile art performances were conceived primarily as educational entertainment for children, relating historical or moral lessons through a series of story boards displayed on small, wooden stages.

Dr. Azuma shared a set of kami-shibai pictures from her personal collection with the audience. They depicted a popular story titled "Fire on the Stacks of Rice," the subject of which was especially poignient given the recent devastation of the Great Tohoku Earthquake of March 11, 2011. East Asian Studies Program Director Dr. Cheryl Crowley treated the crowd to a spirited performance of the story, as images of a terrifying tsunami advanced in time with the narrative. Based on the legendary heroism of Hamaguchi Goryo in 1854, the kami-shibai illustrated a tale of self-sacrifice in the face of natural disaster, underscoring the importance of education and preparedness in the event of a tsunami. In that it requires little energy to produce and disseminate, Dr. Azuma maintained that kami-shibai is "the artistic embodiment of the values of sustainability," and should be recognized not only for the enduring appeal of its design, but for its role as a precursor of modern-day animation. This event was sponsored by the Halle Institute for Global Learning, REALC, EASP, Environmental Studies, and the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence.

February 24, 2012

"Why China, Not Russia?: A Question of Emerging Global Economic Power"

Lecture by Georgetown University Professor of Government Harley Balzer

Harley Balzer

"The BRIC is really a BIC," announced Dr. Harley Balzer as he began his presentation. Armed with statistics compiled over much of the past decade, Balzer set out to explain what he called the "mind-boggling reversal" of modernization theory, which would have clearly favored Russia in the global economic race. While it is difficult to argue with the data (China is in far better shape economically than Russia), how things ended up that way is less easy to pinpoint. Balzer shot down a number of popular theories, ultimately focusing  a good deal of the blame on Putin's policies and referring to his time in power as "a lost decade." China, he maintained, has embraced globalization in a way that Russia, espousing a dismissive and rather belligerent attitude toward the benefits of foreign influence, has not. Perhaps the most unfortunate manifestation of this belief is Putin's willingness to abandon Russia's intellectual and creative resources when they challenge his claim to power. This has resulted in a brain drain of near-epic proportions, further isolating Russia from the global community in which China has firmly established itself.

Ultimately, Balzer argued that it was the enthusiastic, and often viscious, competition brought about by a partial opening of China's economy that launched it into the world economic stage. "The key is a partial loss of control," he explained. Russia has either exerted too much or not enough control over its own economy, and has thus not yet achieved its full potential. The good news, Balzer insists, is that the incentive structures and competition currently driving China's markets are options for Russia as well - if only Russia would be willing to learn from China's example.

This event was part of the REEES Brown Bag Lecture Series, and was co-sponsored by the East Asian Studies Program and the Halle Institute for Global Learning.

February 21, 2012

"Song Byeok: At the Crossroads of Propaganda and Pop Art."

Lecture by North Korean artist Song Byeok

Song Byeok

In conjunction with the Atlanta leg of his traveling art exhibit, "Departure," former North Korean propaganda artist, Song Byeok, lectured in front of a packed house Tuesday, Feb. 21 at Emory University. The previous evening, Song treated a group of Emory students to a private tour of his artwork at the Goat Farm as an accompaniment to his lecture, "Song Byeok: At the Crossroads of Propaganda and Pop Art." Identified at an early age as a talended artist, Song was employed as a state propagandist during the regime of former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. Governed by rigid stylistic and thematic standards, artists were not recognized as unique or creative individuals as they are in much of the world today. "In North Korea, it was impossible to distinguish one artist from another by looking at his work," Song explained. He escaped to South Korea in 2002 after having witnessed the death of his father, who drowned while attempting to swim across the North Korean border in search of food. The shock of the modern South Korean way of life was overwhelming. Modern Byeok paintingconveniences such as refrigerators, cell phones, and multiple television chanels made Song feel like he had "arrived on another planet." Bombarded by a steady stream of misinformation from birth, the North Korean people find themselves isolated from their South Korean neighbors. "It is unfortunate that although we share a common anscestry and a common language, we remain a devided people," Song observed.

His artwork today is a satirical and often disturbing play on his former propaganda pieces, with Kim Jong Il remaining a favorite subject. The painting that helped cement his new artistic career, an iconic image of Marilyn Monroe with the grinning visage of the Dear Leader, was also his most controversial. "I was afraid I would be assassinated," he laughed! While some of his friends cautioned him against displaying the piece in his exhibit, Song embraced his newfound freedom of expression and proceded with the opening as planned. "I went my own way;" he explained with pride, "that is the artist's way." This event was sponsored by REALC, the East Asian Studies Program, The Center for Ethics and Institute for Human Rights, the Visual Arts Department, and the Korean Undergraduate Student Association.

Above - Song Byeok, photo courtesy of MoonYoung Jung.

Right -  Song Byeok, "Take Off Your Clothes," 2010.

Click here for a video of the lecture, featuring translation by Emory student Se Hwan Youn and Assistant Professor Sun-Chul Kim.

November 10, 2011

"Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in Contemporary Society"

Lecture and painting demonstration by Mr. Zhang Jingyao


Chinese landscape artist Zhang Jingyao treated a standing-room-only crowd to a discussion of art in modern-day China and a demonstration of his watercolor painting technique. Growing up in China during the period of the White Terror, Jingyao was forced to learn about art in secret, visiting his instructor in his home where he could avoid suspicion. Today the art market in China is thriving, but Jingyao cautioned that there is much work yet to be done. "The death of a people begins with the extinction of its culture," he explained. "We must elevate our culture to a new level, or face extinction." Jingyao proceeded to unroll a sheet of rice paper and create a freehand painting of sailboats drifting along a winding, picturesque river. He has never forgotten the words of his instructor who insisted, "In order to learn to paint, one must first master calligraphy." Using a variety of traditional Chinese painting strokes, Jingyao evoked his favorite subject, the Yellow River, which he described as "Chinese culture's essence, energy, and spirit." This event was co-sponsored by Emory University's departments of REALC and Visual Arts, and the East Asian Studies Program.

Photo courtesy of Fu Wei Pang.

October 27, 2011

"A Wayward Youth's Coming-of-Age and His writing"

Lecture by Mr. Hwang Chunming

White Hall, 207

Chunming lecture

Pioneering Taiwanese author Huang Chunming captivated a packed auditorium in Emory's White Hall with tales of his life as a self-confessed "wayward youth." He shared his tumultous journey across Taiwan as he drifted in and out of school, earning money repairing electric fans in brothels and dreaming of becoming a pilot, or even a firefighter! "Problems are homework given by life," he mused, reflecting upon the rocky path that eventually let him to international fame as a leading figure in the Taiwanese nativist literary movement. He credited a chance discovery of a cache of banned books at a local library with shaping his interest in social realism. "Books that were not banned had no interest for me," he joked, citing Chekhov, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky as major influences on his own work as a writer. This event was jointly sponsored by Emory University and Morehouse College, with the additional invaluable assistance of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Atlanta.

Photo courtesy of Ing Shaw/NACWA

September 1, 2011

White Hall, 110

REALC's fall semester was inaugurated in an extraordinary fashion, as beloved Russian author Vladimir Voinovich visited Emory for an intimate Q & A session. Voinovich fielded audience questions ranging from his methods as a writer to his experineces as a dissident in Soviet Russia and his predictions about the future of Russian politics. Known for his searing wit and devastating humor, Voinovich held his audience transfixed by his comedic - if often disturbing - tales of his life and work, asserting that "pessimists write funnier stories." With a sagatious grin he explained, "Looking at life with humor frees you from the darkest reality." The Department of REALC and the REES Program, as well as the Halle Institute for Global Learning and the Student Slavic Club all contributed to the event.