History of Psychology between Brazil and Russia: Interview with Marina Sorokina and Natalia Masolikova

Marina Sorokina

Marina Sorokina and Natalia Masolikova are Russian researchers. Along with an excellent team of the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre for the Study of the Russian Diaspora and our Brazilian colleague Regina Helena Freitas Campos, they organized a Colloquium in Moscow that was reported here on the blog. The Colloquium served as the basis for a beginning of friendship and especially to initiate a series of exchanges of research. Such exchanges have already begun to prove fruitful: Marina and Natalia were in Belo Horizonte in the month of August for the XXX Encontro Helena Antipoff and kindly granted the following interview.

Natalia Masolikova

The Blog thanks the two and bets on the continuity and development of research agreements between Russia and the countries represented by RIPeHP. The Blog also thanks Cecília Antipoff and Adriana Borges, who collaborated in the interviewing process.

Enjoy your reading!

Could you tell us a little bit about the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre for the Study of the Russian Diaspora?

First of all let us thank you, professor Sergio Cirino, and your colleagues from UMFG and other Brazilian’s universities who had accepted our invitation to participate in the International scientific colloquium “The Global Educational Space and the Academic Migrants: The Legacy of the Russian-Brazilian psychologist Helena Antipoff (1892-1974) in Education and Human Rights in Latin America, Europe and Russia” which held in Moscow (Russia) in June 2012. This group was the first one of the Brazilian academics – psychologists and historians of psychology – who visited Solzhenitsyn Centre and we appreciate your interest to our Centre and its activities very much. Our special thanks to professor Regina Helena de Freitas Campos whose energy, drive and intellectual support was crucial for the success of the June event and for our visit to XXX Antipoff’s Encounter in August. The Solzhenitsyn Centre is a rather new Russian cultural and scholarly institution. It was founded in Moscow in 1995 as the Russia Abroad Library and Foundation (Biblioteka-fond Russkoye Zarubezhye). With Perestroika and the breakup of the former Soviet Union (1991) there has been a revival of research on the relationship between the culture of memory and the trauma of political exile that so marked the country’s twentieth century.  It has made the ‘rediscovery’ of the scientific and intellectual heritage of the Russian émigrés possible, and the Moscow authorities supported the initiative of the Russian diaspora leaders (professor Nikita Struve, Nobel Prize winner writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn) to establish a special centre dealing with the history, experience and practices of the Russia Abroad. It had to focus on the legacy of the Russian refugees of the XXth century who had survived three revolutions, two world wars, civil strife and several changes of political regime. At the same time the mission of the Solzhenitsyn Centre is to promote the studies of the modern Russian diaspora and to support the links and contacts within Russian and international communities all over the world.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008)

Now the Centre has been renamed for the most famous Russian émigré Alexander Solzhenitsyn (died in August 2008), and titled Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre for the Study of the Russian Diaspora (or Alexander Solzhenitsyn Russia Abroad House; Dom Russkogo Zarubezhye imeni Aleksandra Solzhenitsyna). The structure of the Centre reflects its main goals: it consists of library, museum, repository of émigré archives, cultural and scientific centres, film studio, publishing house and a bookstore. Today the Centre has the largest collection of documents and books of the Russian émigré community in Russia. It hosts conferences, exhibitions, lectures, festivals, films and concerts, publishes a wide range of texts.

Which are the main lines of research developed in the Centre?

Due to its mission the Solzhenitsyn Centre is collecting, preserving and studying the archival holdings, literary and historical legacy of the Russian émigré community and presenting it to the Russian and international general public and scholars. The Research Centre is one of the most important divisions of the Solzhenitsyn Centre. It includes three departments – for the history of the Russian diaspora (including history of science), for the history of the Russian émigré literature and for the history of the Russian émigré culture. The research projects are devoted to the various aspects of the émigré experience, both positive and negative, from political activism and economical practices to art and literature, science and scholarship, religion, music and films. Our staff is exploring the impact of World Wars population displacements and refugee experiences in the post-war periods; displaced populations (refugees, migrants, returnees, (re)settlers, etc.) in relation to the emergence of new states and modes of social, cultural, professional and personal identity. The scholarly publications of the émigré archival documents (memoirs, correspondence, scientific works, fiction) is one of the main priorities of the Research centre too. Finally we would like to say a few words about our joint research project – ‘Constructing the Body of Exile: Russian Refugee Academics in the XXth century – the Biographical Lexicon of the Russian Academic Diaspora’. It places the exodus of Russian scholars in the context of the country’s turbulent XXth century experience and traces the displacement and refugee experiences of the Russian academic community as a part of the world migration of intellectuals under the impact of the wars and revolutions. This project is a pioneering one – there has been no scholarly treatment of Russian academic migrations on the basis of archival research.

How has the interest in the research on Helena Antipoff’s  history and work  arisen?

To say truth, we’ve never heard about Helena Antipoff a few years ago. Her name and works were absolutely unknown even for historians of psychology and education in Russia. For the first time Antipoff’s name has appeared in our research agenda during the start of our above mentioned project ‘Russian Refugee Academics in the XXth century’ when we tried to compile a list of the refugee psychologists. The source of information – a very brief article about Antipoff – sounded not satisfactory and we didn’t trust to ‘a myth’ about the Russian woman coming to Brazil, creating an educational system and awarded many Brazilian rewards but decided to check the information in more respectable manuals. We could not imagine that such an extraordinary life story was waiting for us. At that time our focus was on the fate of the Russian academic community on the level of personal biographies after the Bolshevik revolution (1917) and the Civil war in Russia (1917-1921) when a lot of Russian intellectuals, including psychologists and educators, as representatives of the «bourgeois class» were displaced, exiled or repressed. Some of them «voluntarily» emigrated and actively participated in the creation of Russia Abroad. Some, like Helena Antipoff’s husband Viktor Iretzky, – were exiled by the Bolshevik government. According to our data, at the first half of the XXth century, psychologists of the Russian origin had been working in more than thirty countries around the world. The geography of migration covers all continents – from South America and Australia to Eurasia and Africa. This “scattering” of psychologists reflects, on the one hand, the complexity of professional devices, and on the other hand, the high mobility and adaptability of the Russian psychological diaspora. Small in size, it managed not only to survive in a new geographical, social, linguistic, cultural and professional environment, but – like Helena Antipoff – became founders of the new research and educational institutions, scientific directions and schools which survived till now and provided the base for both national and international scientific and scholarly networks. Helena Antipoff’s life and professional career is very important in this perspective. As such, it contributes to gender and refugee history, to the social history of psychology and human rights. But Antipoff’s case also demonstrates the ways of formation of persistent transnational and/or international networks of scholars whose professional biographies – on the level of concepts and ideas – grew up from multicultural intellectual components and traditions. At the same time working with Antipoff’s data, works and activities we were amazed by her personality, professional skills and achievements and realized the necessity to change our research plans.

What is the importance of this educator’s work for the Russian current scenario? Do you believe that the knowledge of Helena Antipoff’s work may bring any kind of contribution to Russia nowadays?

As we said earlier, Russia had survived many political cataclysms in the XXth century which strongly influenced both the development of the educational system of the country and of the science and scholarship, the study of the child in particular. Pedology, a complex science of child development, developed in Russia as a wide public and professional movement including medical doctors, educators, psychologists, philosophers etc., was banned in 1936 in the USSR. Since that time the subjects of ‘abnormal’ kids, dispossessed and abandoned children, as other ‘hidden groups’ – invalids, for example, were ignored by the Soviet authorities, civil society and public memory. Today when the Russian educational system has been modernized the Russian psychological and pedagogical communities only starting to rethink the past negative experience and to discuss professional issues regarding the multilevel problems of education of the different groups of kids. It looks like that there is no common understanding of the ways of transformation of the national educational system within the experts. That is why such topics as psychological instrumentarium, approaches and techniques, testing are the most urgent for the modern Russian psychologists and educators. Helena Antipoff’s contribution to the special education is of high interest and importance for Russians too. Her ideas about the training of school teachers and educational specialists may be applied to the Russian reality. And, of course, Antipoff’s strong personal concern and belief to the scientific knowledge as an instrument for recharging personal life of individual and social life of the society is of vast importance for Russian intellectuals.

How important are for you the close ties that have been established  between the Russian and Brazilian researchers?

These contacts are absolutely precious. In some sense we, Russians and Brazilians, restore the transnational network established many years ago by Helena Antipoff and it opened to all of us a new window of opportunities – not only in the professional environment but in better understanding of ‘strangers’ and their cultures, motives, views. Brazil is still a new country to Russian intellectuals and general public and we hope to re-open its rich, interesting and hospitable culture and distinguished scholarship, especially in the fields of psychology and education, to Russians through a special program in Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre for the Study of the Russian Diaspora in Moscow.

Helena Antipoff (1892-1974)

The history of science suggests a lot of examples how the personal and professional contacts of scholars are bridging not only their institutions, national scientific communities but the whole globe, cultures and nations. The impact of the professionals, academics, experts on the modern world is very strong and deep. Their wills changes it. And Helena Antipoff demonstrated by her life and activities how productive and fruitful may be the dialogue of the different cultures. We’re sure that the value of her personality would only increase from year to year.  Our experience of personal contacts in Belo Horizonte is fascinating. We made our acquaintance with UFMG colleagues in a very modern and fashionable way – through Internet and felt very satisfied. But only personal contact, exchange of professional views and ideas, papers and information, smiles and joint lunches provides a relaxing atmosphere of real international cooperation where everyone feels itself a full member of the joint scientific community.

What are your future plans for both the research that has been conducted at Alexander Solzhenitsyn Centre for the Study of Russian Diaspora in Moscow and that conducted at Faculdade de Educação of Federal University of Minas Gerais, in Belo Horizonte?

We believe and hope that events of this Antipoff’s jubilee year – in Moscow and Belo Horizonte – make an excellent start-up for our scientific cooperation with very good perspectives for both sides. First of all, it’s a work with the Antipoff’s archival legacy in many languages including Russian, French, and Portuguese. It contains a big correspondence with family, colleagues, professors etc. which opening the internal laboratory of the researcher and educator and gives a huge amount of information for Antipoff’s scientific biography. No doubts, a part of this correspondence had to be published by joint venture. The Russian archives have lots of Antipoff’s documents and files regarding her early professional environment and may shed a new light on many facts of her émigré Odyssey and scholarly contribution. Some of these documents were already published in the Yearbook of the Solzhenitsyn Centre for the Study of the Russian Diaspora in 2010. Our next project will be publication of Helena Antipoff’s full correspondence with her husband, writer Viktor Iretzky. Of course, we’re ready to help our Brazilian colleagues with the description and identification of all Russian language papers, documents and books located both in Belo Horizonte and Ibirite. And the best way to preserve the unique archive of Helena Antipoff and to make it accessible for all researches is to launch its digitalized copy to the Internet.

Obrigado, caros colegas!

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