Winter Seminar 2016: Russia

This year, our annual Winter Seminar headed off to St. Petersburg—a metropol exceptionally close to Finland both culturally and geographically.

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Choosing St. Petersburg as a Winter Seminar destination had been the long-cherished dream of the Institute’s Director, Risto Heiskala (shown in the middle wearing a black coat in the picture above) since at least 2014!

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The city centre is built around the gigantic river of Neva, which divides further into numerous canals and tributaries interlacing the city.

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If not so much around Jena, then at least on the bus ride to the hotel we had a chance of gaining a glimpse of everyday life in the city…


… as well as the breathtaking beauties of Imperial Russia, including the numerous Orthodox churches in the city (here showing the Peter and Paul Cathedral located in the Peter and Paul fortress, on a small island bordering the city centre) …


In Finnish, there’s a saying that if something takes exceptionally long, it takes as long as to build St. Isaac’s Cathedral—so of course, we had to see this crown jewel of Russian Orthodox churches as well.

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The weather wasn’t the best imaginable, but we didn’t let that distract us from enjoying the city—and certainly for most of us it’s something we’re quite used to!

[Photos by Marjukka Virkajärvi and Jessica de Bloom]

St. Petersburg: Seminars 1/2

The first joint seminar between the IASR Fellows and the local Russian academics circled around the broad theme of Russia in Context.

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Dr. Aleksandr Sherstobitov from St. Petersburg State University presented a network perspective on the public sphere—allegedly in existence, but in actuality struggling to function properly—in contemporary Russia.

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The second local speaker Dr. Irina Lantsova offered insider perspectives to Russian foreign policy, with the special emphasis on the “Orient”, in particular, South Korea.

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Finally, professor Dmitry Lanko‘s talk on Biopolitics and gay rights in Russia bristled with imagination and various humorous quips to the questions posed by the IASR audience after the talk.

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Among the IASR Fellows, papers were given by Risto Heiskala, Ilkka Pietilä and Pia Koivunen. Dr. Pietilä’s insights into the contemporary Russian health care system, in particular, generated fruitful discussion with the local colleagues.

[Photos by Marjukka Virkajärvi]

St. Petersburg: Seminars 2/2

The final day of our Winter Seminar in St. Petersburg found its early climax in an excellent session on democracy and the public sphere in Russia, organized by the two IASR fellows, Jarkko Bamberg and Esa Reunanen (shown in the foreground in the picture below).

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The seminar began with Esa’s excellent meditation on the parallel erosions of journalism and the public, where he diagnosed the sister threats of society’s polarization and marketization as serious challenges to the credibility of journalism.

photo by Jarkko Bamberg]

After this, we had the privilege of hearing a most moving foray into the brief history of contemporary Russian journalism, by Anna Sharogradskaya (Director of the Regional Press Institute in St. Petersburg) who’s been a highly active scholar promoting journalism in difficult times in Russia.

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Dr. Oleg Pachenkov addressed the challenges of public spaces in present Russia vis-à-vis the case of St. Petersburg urban planning.

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Finally, Jarkko offered comparative stances to urban planning in Finland, with examples drawn from Tampere, and the talk was followed by a joint discussion on the overall themes of this concluding session of the IASR Winter Seminar in 2016.

[Photos by Marjukka Virkajärvi, unless otherwise mentioned]

Russian culture

And finally, in what’s often been called
the cultural capital of Russia, there’s a
chance to see pretty much everything,
so we were happy to encounter…

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… high culture in the Hermitage Museum…

… the disproportionate statue of Peter the Great …

… the Swan Lake in the Marinsky Theater …

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… an unexpected balalaika show in a local restaurant …

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… and not-so-high culture in the shape of a hockey match …


Our academic programme began with a session on Russian culture, and Dr. Christian Laes gave an inspiring lecture on the etymological origins of Russia and Russians.


After the first session, appropriately, we went to a restaurant called the Literary Cafe …

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… where the appearances of certain geniuses were not entirely unlikely.


Why is everyone so happy? It’s because they got to color pictures ranging from monastic settings to the logos of Russian sports clubs to get our seminar started!

Thanks to Jessica, Pia and Maiju—the impeccable coordinator of the trip—for the pics!