Thomas Garza

A resident cycles past soldiers in unmarked uniforms standing guard outside the Ukrainian Military Prosecutor’s Office in Simferopol, Crimea, Thursday, March 20, 2014. The lower house of Russian parliament voted Thursday to make Crimea a part of Russia following Sunday’s Crimean referendum in which its residents overwhelmingly backed breaking off from Ukraine and joining Russia.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Political conflict in Eastern Europe has not only affected Russia’s relations with the West, but also UT summer study abroad programs in the region.

Russian Express, a language and culture program that has students spend four weeks in Kiev, Ukraine and four weeks in Moscow during the summer, was forced to move the location from Ukraine three weeks ago after political unrest erupted in the country, according to Elliot Nowacky, administrator and resident director for the program.

The 11 students participating in Russian Express selected Irkutsk, Russia, located in Siberia, as the new destination, Nowacky said.

Nowacky is also the administrator for the Moscow-Texas Connections Program, where students spend 10 weeks in Moscow at the Higher School of Economics. Nowacky said this program will continue as scheduled.

“We’ve gotten no indication from our partners at the Higher School of Economics that it’s going to be a problem getting the visas, which is required for [the students] to go to Russia in order to study,” Nowacky said.

The five-week Moscow Plus Program was canceled on March 6 by Thomas Garza, Slavic languages and literature associate professor, mainly because of a low number of participants, according to Betsy Brown, program and outreach coordinator for the Texas Language Center.

According to Brown, the summer program had more than six applications this year, but participants kept dropping out for personal reasons or to join another program where they could receive grant support, such as Moscow-Texas Connections. Brown said there eventually ended up being only a few participants who had confirmed enrollment by March 1.

“That doesn’t really make a study abroad program,” Brown said. “We thought we would be able to merge [Moscow Plus] with another program, but it just kept getting smaller and smaller.”

Garza said his decision to cancel the Moscow Plus Program was affected by the heated relations between the U.S. and Russia over Russia’s intervention in Crimea and Ukrainian politics.

“The added complication of the Crimea crisis and the effect that it might have on securing visas this spring certainly weighed on my decision, but it was the low [participation] that persuaded me to postpone this year’s program,” Garza said.  “I hope to run the program again in the future.”

Zachary Berru, international relations and global studies sophomore who planned to participate in Moscow Plus, said even if the program is held in the future, he is no longer sure if he wants to travel to Russia.

“This situation [between the U.S. and Russia] is escalating way too rapidly, and I’m fearful things will get only worse,” Berru said. “I personally don’t feel like it would be safe at this point.”

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, “The Master and Margarita,” is a classic piece of Stalin-era literature that was not published until well after Stalin’s time. It is also Thomas Garza’s, professor in the department of Slavic and Eurasian studies, favorite book.

The Daily Texan talked to Garza about the struggle between good and evil, and rereading his favorite book.

The Daily Texan: For those who haven’t read “The Master and Margarita,” how would you describe it?

Thomas Garza: I see the novel as a classic write-up of the struggle between good and evil. That, to me, is the biggest hook: that good and evil doesn’t go away. You can always kind of build a readership on just that. But more than that, what I love about this novel is its focus on the eternal value of art and literature. That famous line, “Manuscripts don’t burn,” is my favorite line from the entire novel. It tells us that once you’ve thought it, you’ve put it down. You can destroy it in any way you want, and it won’t change the fact that that work of art has been created. It’s still art, because it’s there, somewhere. I love that. 

DT: What does “The Master and Margarita” have to say about living now as opposed to the Soviet Union in the Stalin era?

TG: There’s always struggles between good and evil. What I like about the novel that I think is very applicable to 21st century students and their lives is that the struggle doesn’t occur as war, the struggle doesn’t occur as us and them, the struggle is philosophical and ideological. And what I like about it is it encourages us to think about these questions before they turn into hot wars, until they turn into us throwing bombs at each other.

DT: As you’ve reread the novel, how has it changed in your perception?

TG: When I first read it, I must have been 19 and still an undergraduate. When I read it again as part of a grad seminar, it suddenly had many more layers. It essentially changes every time. The ending never changes, the characters never change — but the reading does change. I think it has a lot to do both with what’s happening in one’s personal life, and much more on what’s happening around them — the state of the world. There’s a difference from when I was reading it back in the late ’70s, and reading it in the ’80s and ’90s, and reading it today. I was teaching the novel when 9/11 happened, in fact, and so suddenly good and evil had a very different read for my students.

DT: What makes a book like “The Master and Margarita” stay relevant through the years?

TG: So one, you’ve got good themes — things like good and evil and life and death, and that’s timeless. Second, really important for Bulgakov, is good writing. The writing is super. And third, unforgettable characters. I mean, they’re such a part of Russian culture now that one invokes the black cat the way we would invoke a character like Mickey Mouse. They invoke all of the “Master and Margarita” characters in pop culture in Russia.

Ilya Yashin, 29-year-old leader in the People’s Freedom Party and the Solidarnost movement in Russia, delivered a talk titled, “Protesting Po

Photo Credit: Batil Joselevitz | Daily Texan Staff

A month ago, crowds flooded Moscow’s city squares to protest the controversial re-election of Vladimir Putin as Russia’s president. On Monday, the University hosted a key figure in the protest movement that has shaken Russia to its core.

Ilya Yashin, a 29-year-old leader in the People’s Freedom Party and the Solidarnost movement, delivered a talk titled, “Protesting Power: The 2012 Russian Elections and the Legitimacy of the Putin Government.” Thomas Garza, associate professor in the Department for Slavic and Eurasian Studies, hosted the talk.

Speaking through an interpreter throughout the event, Yashin said the purpose of his speech was to give his audience a fair portrayal of what is happening in Russia and what the goals of the opposition movement are.

“I really hope that citizens in the U.S. and around the world will have their own understanding of what’s going on in Russia, not just what’s spread by Putin’s propaganda machine,” Yashin said.

Yashin said Russia is in a political crisis and that a return to the authoritarian status quo is not possible. Russians knew that elections were falsified prior to Putin’s recent victory, but the rise of a young middle-class and Internet-savvy civil society has led to an unprecedented popular protest movement, Yashin said.

“We have a new generation of Russians, those younger than me, the Facebook generation,” he said. “Those young people use social media to not only meet girls and boys but also as a source of information and self organization. It’s exactly those people who came out into the streets to protest elections.”

Using the Internet, that same young urban population has raised awareness about the extent of corruption in Russian society, Yashin said.

“The awareness of this corruption has shocked the Russian middle class,” he said.

Yashin said Putin’s regime is misconstruing the opposition movement as destructive and revolutionary.

“We’re often accused of being revolutionary, but we’re not,” Yashin said. “The dialogue between the government and the opposition goes like this: The opposition says we want elections, free speech and for our laws to work. The government says that we are CIA agents who are trying to destabilize the country. It’s absurd that any attempt to establish laws or make sure they’re enforced is called revolutionary.”

Garza, who studies Russian culture, said Yashin embodies a rejection of the cynicism that has long dominated Russian political culture.

“Previously, there has been apathy among Russia’s youth,” Garza said. “They thought: Putin’s going to win, so why bother voting? Yashin and Solidarnost are the exact opposite. The last thing they want to do is be apathetic. They think that if they raise the flag and get excited, that will lead to change.”

In his pursuit of change, Yashin has been arrested three times and was most recently taken into police custody two weeks ago, Garza said.

Garza said he has been trying to bring Yashin to UT for 10 years. Plan II senior Victoria Hopper has also been eagerly awaiting the young politician’s visit.

“As a charismatic advocate for democracy in Russia, Ilya Yashin is a very important figure in Russian politics today,” Hopper said. “Political dissent is not an easy pursuit in Russia.”

Ilya Yashin Partial Transcript

Printed on Tuesday, April 3, 2012 as: Yashin sheds light on Russian election

Trial summer program tests viability of language courses, dean cites successful precedent

Vietnamese language instruction will return to campus next summer as part of an intensive immersion language program that will also include Czech, Russian and Modern Greek.

In an effort to keep UT’s smaller language programs alive, the College of Liberal Arts will launch a new multi-language summer program next year that will bring together students from UT and other universities to learn a year’s worth of foreign languages in two months. Last spring, the University’s Department of Asian Studies cut the Vietnamese language program in response to a state-directed 5-percent budget cut to the University as a whole.

Thomas Garza, associate professor and director of the Texas Language Center, said the multi-language program is a trial balloon and will be open to the public. It will test whether it can generate revenue from the larger fees that non-UT students will pay. Garza said in light of budget cuts, each language department is trying to find ways to get students through their programs more cost effectively without reducing the quality of education, and the new summer program will help keep smaller language courses running if it is continued each summer.

“We have a wonderful Spanish program, but to ignore all those other wonderful languages that are out there would just be a travesty,” he said. “We don’t want to see something as stupid as a budget cut be the reason why we lose all of our incredible intellectual content.”

When UT alumna Nickie Tran learned of the cut in April, she spent the weeks leading up to her May 2010 graduation working with Student Government, Senate of College Councils and
administrators to try to find a way to restore the Vietnamese language program. The new intensive program is a first step toward bringing the language back to students who want to study it, she said.

“This is a good start, and I hope it leads to more Vietnamese courses whether in Asian Studies or other departments,” said Tran, former president of the Vietnamese Student Association. “Right now, things are more geared to China and India, but it would be great to see more diversity in the department.”

Since students interested in studying Vietnamese are used to seeing the programs offered in the fall and spring, not summer, Tran said it might be difficult to get a high level of enrollment to accurately demonstrate students’ interest in the language.

Joel Brereton, chairman of the Department of Asian Studies, is leading the search for a new Vietnamese instructor to replace Hoang Ngo, formerly UT’s only Vietnamese professor. In April, Brereton said cutting the Vietnamese language program would save the University about $50,000.

Costs for the summer language program, which includes instructors’ and teaching assistants’ salaries, are expected to be about $49,000. The funds will come from the college’s $2.6 million summer instructional budget, and any extra revenue the program generates will go back to individual departments, such as French and Italian.

In order to be a flagship university, UT must find a way to offer languages that smaller institutions cannot cover, said Esther Raizen, associate dean for research in the College of Liberal Arts. Raizen said UT’s Arabic Flagship Program serves as a precedent for the new summer program and has proven successful at helping students gain fluency in Arabic.

Helena Schneider, events coordinator for the Arabic program, said almost all students increase a full level in the summer immersion institute, improving from beginner to intermediate or intermediate to advanced.

“Students are eating, breathing, sleeping Arabic. This is all they are doing,” Schneider said. “We recruit directly from the summer institute into the Arabic Flagship Program. Students showing exemplary progress get handpicked.”

Students in the new program will be completely immersed in either Czech, Russian, Modern Greek or Vietnamese. They will live in the Dobie Center on language-specific floors with a paid teaching assistant and other students who are learning the same languages in daily three-hour classes.

Assistant instructor Nicholas Gossett, who will teach the second summer session of Russian, said foreign language courses are taking a hit from upper administrators who believe foreign languages are expendable, but the University should pursue being well-known for its students’ language skills.

“Our students need these languages to prepare them for the job market,” Gossett said.

Russian and Polish sophomore Philip Rychlik said the program would provide a unique and effective alternative for students wishing to learn a language quickly but who lack the time or money to study abroad. Although Rychlik has already completed the first three semesters of Russian and would be ineligible, he said it is a promising option for younger students interested in Russian.

“I’ve been interested in Russia since I was 14, and I’ve planned to study abroad but I just don’t have the money right now,” he said. “Having the ability to work on language skills in an immersion-type environment without having to spend all the money to go to the country is a really great opportunity.”