25. 4. 2006
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Britské listy

ISSN 1213-1792


Jan Čulík


Karel Dolejší


Michal Panoch, Jan Panoch

Grafický návrh:

Štěpán Kotrba

ISSN 1213-1792
deník o všem, o čem se v České republice příliš nemluví
25. 4. 2006

They can't seem to figure out why the few European students here always ask "Why?"

Hey Jan,

It's been a while.

Michael here, the Canadian who studies under you in Glasgow.

I know you are quite the busy man and so I have hesitated to write you up to now, but seeing as this may interest you I thought I would write.

I have been in Tomsk since the end of September. It is a pleasant city of half a million inhabitants and was newly spruced up to celebrate its 400th anniversary last year. It is not on the main `trans Siberian' train line and thus has suffered in isolation. To give you an idea of where it is, if you don't already know, it is 56 hours easy of Moscow by train (just North of Novosibirsk) and at a very similar latitude to Glasgow.

But this is not why I am writing.

Several events have occurred here which have pertained to your teachings. I guess not much has changed in this provincial backwater since the fall of communism and this may not be a big shock to you but it still baffles me.

This morning without any warning the Babushka who guards the dorm hallway where I live came rapping at my door. Another film crew had arrived. This is the second that has actually come to the door of my room for an interview. They said they were here from a local channel and sat me down for an interview. I asked what they wanted to discuss and the lovely female interviewer handed me a piece and said, "Say this!". I read the first few lines and it was all rubbish. I was to say that Tomsk Politechnic is one of the best Universities in the world, that it has modern and excellent facilities, wonderful teachers and offers a better education than I could find in the `WEST".

This is not the first time this has happened and I have grown so weary with dealing with these people that I become short and curt. I told them what I think of Tomsk, of TPU (Tomsk Politechnic Uni) and of this shit propaganda which they so freely proliferate. There were four of them and three really tried to pressure me but I told them to go ask someone else. I managed to ask the one sympathetic worker, the cameraman, what this was actually for and he admitted that it was commissioned by the University to be aired on a region wide program.


I look back to my arrival. My second day in the city I was walking down Prospect Lenina when I spotted an unusual sign that read, "Our city is the greatest city on earth." Wow, Tomsk is not only the best city in its Oblast, or in Siberia, or in Russia or in Eurasia, but actually in the world. That sure takes a lot of gall to herald such narcissism.

My first month of class we used a self-published book of texts done by the Uni. These texts all revolved around the idea of TPU being such an amazing institute of higher learning. I read texts about John from America who came to TPU and found himself, true friends and the best of educations.

And still I find the texts we cover in class are always making excuses for the problems in Russia. The people are unfriendly, rude and in courteous but that is because they are so `deep' and thoughtful and the Russian soul is like no other in all the world. Anyways, you know the filler.

Just before Christmas I was asked to take part in an event. I asked what it was for and was told that I would represent Canada but nothing more. Later I was given a list of instructions and two songs to memorise. I was supposed to go on a stage in the `palace of sports' in front of several thousand people and wave the Canadian flag and sing a song with lyrics that include, "our polytechnic is the very best". I declined and they pressured. I was shocked how much guilt they placed upon me and which techniques they used. In the end I continued my refusal and even dared to tell them that I don't want my country's flag to be there. In the end a Chinese student held the Canadian flag in one hand and in the other the Chinese flag. I was fuming! I was told that I am the first student to ever resist such participation. According to one secretary for foreign students, "everyone else just agrees, and if they don't we make them feel guilty". I was astonished at such openness and disregard for genuineness.

My teachers, simple people who lack a broader outlook, tell me that I read too much Western propaganda and that I should check my sources whenever I question them in class. And the question "why?" is often frowned upon. They can't seem to figure out why the few European students here always ask "Why?".

Oh and I was also quite surprised to find my photo and a write-up about me and my thoughts on Tomsk in the University newspaper. According to it, I love this city and the university is excellent. Of course I was never asked if they could publish anything about me or what I thought about the place and institution.

To be honest I am sick and tired of this charmless mediocrity. The city is by all means pleasant but it lacks any spirit of its own. It is just a large fabrication with a lot of proud slogans. I guess the only redemption is the favourable female to male student ratio. And Jan, the women really are quite stunning, it's just a shame they dress like its 1984.

Starting from the first week I was quite aware of all the subtle lies, which thread together this academic society and my place in it. The other students, some from Germany and Italy, didn't see the impact of `just going along with it'. I gave your example of the fruit seller who puts up the pro-regime `sign' in his window. And thus I have tried to take a stand and not cower under opinion and pressure despite how small it may all seem.

Hope you are well and that things are good back in Glasgow. I highly look forward to returning. I miss critical thinking. There is a limit to how much I can memorise by heart.

Best wishes,

Michael Kaethler

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