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Professor Arto Mustajoki: Russian Chose Me

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Professor Arto Mustajoki: Russian Chose Me

27.12.2016


Arto Mustajoki, Photo: Vejkko Somerpuro/ Yle

Last Friday, University of Helsinki honoured a famous academician, Russianist, retiring professor Arto Mustajoki, who headed the Department of Russian Language and Literature at the University of Helsinki. Mustajoki is also the President of International Association of Teachers of Russian Language and the Dean at Faculty of Arts of the University of Helsinki.


At various times, Mustajoki held different administrative offices at the University (including dean’s and principals), as well as offices of state and international levels. For example, he was the Chairman of the Academys of Finland Administration Office, president of Scientific Societies Association and Finnish representative to the European Scientific Fund etc.


Before the seminar held in honour of his retirement, Mustajoki told us why it is worth studying Russian, how Finnish mindset differs from the Russian one and what a Finnish Russianist and a minister from Donald Trumps Administration have in common.


– How did you choose studying Russian? It is not a typical choice for a person from your environment.


Yes, that is right. At first, I started studying German. I lived in a place named Ilmajoki, which is in Southern Pohjanmaa region. Almost everyone hated Russians there and no one spoke Russian, certainly. My father was a Lutheran pastor and I was a very obedient child. At some moment, I expressed my adolescent protest against parents by growing a beard and starting studying Russian.


What other problems you had to face with in studying Russian, apart from your parents, who were dissatisfied with your choice?


Yes, they were not satisfied, but they did not say anything to me. I cant say there were real difficulties, but at times I had to explain to people why I had chosen Russian. If a person studied Russian in Finland then, he or she was considered a communist. I was never a communist, I just liked languages. Russian chose me, eventually.


You have been teaching Russian for years. What was the most difficult for you and your students?


It is a very interesting question. Western Russianists tend to choose the most difficult subjects for research and many researchers choose to study types of verbs they cause the most difficulties for many foreigners. For my PhD thesis, I chose types of stresses. I think that a free stress is a very difficult subject for Russian language students. Spelling and features of stress are usually not paid due attention in teaching, although it is a very important factor for understanding. During one of my experiments, I found out how foreign students stress Russian words and discovered many mistakes.


Finns are usually afraid of Russian phonetics and notorious seven sibilants. In fact, Russian pronunciation is not that difficult six of these sibilants can be met in other Indo-European languages. Pronunciation of any language has its features, but I do not consider Russian pronunciation too difficult.


What moment from your teaching career stuck in your memory the most?


I had plenty of them, but I will name one. There are students, who are not too gifted and people think they will not be able to graduate. And when you see a graduate thesis of such a student a good one, I should add it is a very joyful and vivid moment.


You took administrative offices instead of teaching and directed others activities. As a teacher, you do understand why they criticize administration, especially now, when financing of higher educational institutions has been dramatically reduced. How do you feel being the one, who is criticized?


Teachers at the Faculty have quite a blinkered vision. They do their job well, but they do not usually know how the entire educational system functions and do not usually understand the reasons for administrative decisions.


We had to make the most difficult decisions this year I was the one, who had to decide who to fire. Thank God, the situation in the University is now much better and soon, we will have an opportunity to open new vacant positions for teachers.


Dean has to act as a judge, when two parties have difficulties understanding each other. A judge has to understand both opinions, but understanding and accepting are two different things.


Lets talk about something more positive. Tell us about your students, especially about those, who stuck to your mind for some reason.


I have plenty of them and I am glad that the education they received here gave them an opportunity to do many things. They work in Finnish ministries, firms, organisations, many of them work in schools and universities… they have various functions. I am very pleased when my past students recognize me, call my name and thank me.


What would you say to the people, who are having doubts whether to study Russian or not? Many people may think now that Russian has lost its relevancy or geopolitical environment for such a choice is not the best now.


Russian is worth studying! It is a shame that we have so little people, who speak Russian, only two-three percent, it is a very small amount for Finland. We should know both language and culture better. Russia is our eternal neigbour and we will have to live nearby for many centuries. We should understand Russia better.


When I say “understand”, I do not mean we approve all the Russias efforts. Our recent Nobel winner, economist Bengt Holmström said that we should know our enemy best of all. So even those Finns, who consider Russia an enemy, should have interest in Russia and Russian mindset.


Your new book Storm in a Vodka Cup was just published. What topics are considered there?


It is based on my essays and texts that were previously published in my blog and on the internet. They are about the life in Finland, Russia, sports. I tell about my travels to former Soviet Republics, for example to Turkmenistan. I have also been to Crimea a couple of times.


Russia is certainly a special country and it differs from Finland much. I think it is wealth. Retreating and not looking for a key to other countries is not a good decision for Finland. Of course, there are some things in Russia I am angry about, but there are also such traits, I like and we should learn from them. I write precisely about them. Russians have a special flexibility in decision-making and Finns only follow formal rules, not the best ones sometimes. It is an opportunity to get something new.

Politicians, economists and lawyers make decisions in our society in short, people, who are far from humanities. What is the role of a humanities expert in the modern society then?


If we take large worldwide problems into consideration, there are all united by a so-called human factor. Everything depends on it. I will draw an example. When discussing environmental problems in the Gulf of Finland, people always speak about water pollution. However, in solving this problem, scientists only focus on what is going on with water. But water itself bears no risks, risks are people.


In order to solve this problem, they have to study the behavior of the people, who live in the region.


I believe that in the future, experts of humanities will be asked to participate in solving these problems more actively in order to find decisions for worldwide problems. We, academicians, should see the world with our eyes wide open and find new topics for research.


What are you going to do next, when you will have no professional duties?


I have no certain plans yet. But I am sure about some things I will be writing books, I want to continue studying the most acute problem in the world, which is, as for me misunderstanding between people. I think, I will be going on trips to foreign universities lecturing.


You have been awarded the Order of Friendship by Dmitry Medvedev.


Yes, indeed. The same Order was awarded to future US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. I do not know if I have to be proud or ashamed of that I have the same Order as a new minister from Trumps Administration

Source:Yle

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