Volume 52, No. 31
Moscow on the Chattahoochee
By Eric Rangus
The office on the first floor of Bowden Hall, the one at the end of the corridor with an ankle-high view out the window, has been Boris Kashnikov's home away from home.
Very far away from home.
Since August of last year, Kashnikov has been working at Emory under a Fulbright Scholarship. He is chair of the humanities and law department at the Moscow Institute of Internal Affairs in Russia, a post he has held for a year. Though the name is hardly a giveaway, the institute is a school of higher education.
Post-high school education in Russia is highly specialized, and the Institute of Internal Affairs is no exception. It prepares its students for work in law enforcement, and while it is similar to a school such as the FBI Academy, it's different in that graduates serve at all levels of law enforcement, from national agencies to local police stations.
Kashnikov's work at Emory is quite different. In between occasional lectures he spends his days in the office he shares with Nicholas Fotion, associate professor of philosophy, working on drafts for a book the two are co-writing on moral issues of modern war.
The pair met several years ago at a conference at West Point. Kashnikov, whose first trip to the United States was in 1995, was working under a Fulbright at Ohio State University at the time. When 1999 rolled around and he began preparing material for this current book, Kashnikov asked Fotion to sponsor him for another Fulbright. The idea was that spending time in the same city would improve the writing process.
"I was glad to [sponsor Boris]," said Fotion. "I thought it would be nice to have him here." So Fotion opened his office to Kashnikov, and the two have shared the space since.
Kashnikov's work in the United States ends this month, and later in May Fotion will be the one climbing on a plane to visit Russia, something he's never done before. "Boris is picking me up at the airport, and he's going to show me around. I'm looking forward to it."
The book is actually a collaboration among six professors: two from Belgium, two Americans (one of them Fotion) and Kashnikov and another Russian. The idea was hatched by Bruno Coppieters, one of the Belgians.
"The idea is to bring together very different people from the United States, from Europe and from Russia, and try to find some points of mutual understanding," said Kashnikov, a soft-spoken man of 42.
Sometimes the group is successful, and sometimes it isn't.
"We agree on the general principles, like it should be just bombs, and when you go out and wage war it should be proportional, and you should not bring more damage than is necessary to achieve a result," Kashnikov said. "But when it comes to some particular case--like the war in Kosovo, for example--then we disagree strongly. But I think it's possible to discuss these problems."
Unlike his fellow authors--all pointedly from NATO countries--Kashnikov doesn't believe that NATO's military action against Yugoslavia in 1999 was justified. The view is understandable considering his personal ties to the area. Russia is a long-time ally of the Serb-dominated government, and Kashnikov has visited Croatia and Macedonia with UN peacekeeping forces in 1993-94, and the land is beautiful, Kashnikov said.
The discussions aren't always limited to Fotion's office, either. Fotion teaches a class on military ethics, and Kashnikov sometimes sits in.
"I remember we had a public disagreement on Kosovo," Fotion said. "It went on for about 15 minutes. After that he was complaining that I hadn't given him enough time to talk," Fotion laughed. He said the students, however, were entertained.
For the book, Kashnikov is writing chapters on Chechnya, the Gulf War and Kosovo, and the latter is the only one of the three with a polarizing debate. The authors will meet as a group in Moscow for editing and discussion later this month and get together again near Christmas. The hope is that the book will be published early next year.
Kashnikov's writings span a wide variety of subjects: the development of democracy in Russia, several articles on American political philosophy (published in his home country), economic and social problems of transition in Russia, Russian military philosophy, organized crime in Russia and a textbook on Russian history.
During his time in this country Kashnikov has lectured at Emory as well as at universities in California, Missouri and Ohio. Separation from his family is not a problem because they travel with him. His two children, Nicholas, 15, and Anna, 10, attend school in Atlanta, and his wife also has made the trip.
He enjoys America, as do his children, but Kashnikov does not shy away from commenting on some of the county's cultural hiccups.
"The local TV programs, sometimes there's so much violence," said Kashnikov, who speaks excellent English with a slight Russian accent. "Some of the programs just strike me, like the program I saw recently: 'Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire.' I can't imagine this, even in the situation we have in Russia now. It is impossible to find that on TV."
Kashnikov also noted what he sees as America's highly individualized society. "The way of life is different. There are no sidewalks; the streets are different--you cannot go in the street and meet each other," he said. "There is less of a community here. Everyone is so isolated."
Back home, the institute where Kashnikov teaches was formed four years ago, partially in response to the rise of organized crime in Russia. And while Kashnikov readily acknowledged that organized crime is a serious issue, he also said that its supposed stranglehold on Russia is one of America's biggest misconceptions of his home country.
"It's not that there is a culture of criminality in Russia--it's just some temporary disorder," Kashnikov said. "Any state can get in such a situation, particularly when there is dramatic change. The United States, as far as I understand, knew that situation in the 1920s."
Kashnikov is also aware that the U.S. "gangster era" is now viewed with a certain fond nostalgia. "It is romanticized," he said. "Maybe it will be romanticized in Russia as well after 50 years, but it doesn't look very romantic now. I'm sure at the time nobody was romanticizing it."
Soon Kashnikov will be back in his home country, though another visit to this country is not out of the question. This upcoming book may not be the final collaboration between Kashnikov and Fotion, either.
"Our friendship continues," Kashnikov said. "We will probably be involved in some other project. [The ethics of war] is an important problem, but we can think about some other problems as well."