By Arthur Evans – St. Petersburg is rightfully called one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The first encounter with the city is breathtaking, especially for people who like cities filled with classical buildings and history. Wide streets, a mix of Soviet-era buildings and classical buildings from Imperial Russia, as well as the fresh air of the sea. It was the first impression of Petrograd.
There are no small things in Russia, as massive buildings are the characteristic of this great nation. A visit to the Labor Forum, one of the largest in the world, made an impressive sight. The forum is organized to bring together businesses and people in the areas of human resources development, business management, work safety and regulatory issues. The entire forum is divided into sections within a massive building and it is difficult to visit or attend all of them. Visitors who came for business purposes targeted the lectures or attended business discussions. The only ones who could go through the whole complex were journalists. In Russia, not everything at once can be seen in any of the buildings since, as a rule, size simply overshadows everything. We paid the most attention to the section designated for work safety, where many Russian companies’ representatives were located. Suits, special equipment for work safety, separate cafes for business talks were the highlights of one of the sections. Visitors and journalists could decide for themselves which section to attend. The break between visits was used to address the opening of the Labor Forum organized by the University of St. Petersburg. How much intellectual power and influence the University has we realized only when visiting the University itself. We soon left the Labor Forum.
The next day we visited the University of St. Petersburg. Everything in Russia has a strong flavor of the past, where the new blends in with the old. Upon entering the University area, it felt like we were in a time machine, sent to the past of Imperial Russia. The University was founded in 1724 by the decree of Emperor Peter the Great. From that day through the Imperial, Soviet, and present-day periods, the University has played a remarkable role in the scientific and political life of Russia.
When it comes to experiencing the past, the first thing you can see when entering the University is that the past is respected, regardless of what was it like. The University’s curators took us through the most iconic mansion – the Twelve Collegia (Twelve Colleges). Mendeleev Room, University Church, large corridor decorated with pictures of rectors and famous students. Everything looks truly impressive. The University has 7 million books, which is one of the largest book collections in Russia. When it comes to famous personalities who were connected to the University itself as lecturers or students, the history of it all is virtually endless. From educators to emperors, famous scholars, poets to revolutionaries. The professionalism of the curators and translators who accompanied our group was at its highest.
Visiting the rector of University, Kropachev
At the end of our visit to the mansion of “Twelve Collegia”, we were greeted by the rector of the University, Nikolai Mikhailovich Kropachev. One of the guides whispered to us that he was one of Putin’s most trusted associates. The first impression when addressing him was his straightforward and friendly tone of the conversation with the guests. The rector briefly explained to us the history of the university and its leading importance in the intellectual sphere. Given that he is a lawyer himself, he has repeatedly pointed out that most of Russia’s prominent historical figures graduated from law schools. From Lenin to President Putin, the law school graduates of the university left the greatest mark on the political life of Russia. While answering the questions, the rector touched on many topics, questions of the language of culture, protection of the Cyrillic alphabet. When discussing several matters, it became clear that the rector is a man of reciprocity. One of the journalists (from Montenegro) suggested to the rector that a statue of one of the prominent Montenegrin poets and writers be placed (at the University). The Rector responded positively to such an initiative, citing a number of examples of similar initiatives. He stressed that it was a common practice, but only if the opposite side did the same in their home country, showing respect for Russian history and culture.
Rector Nikolai Mikhailovich Kropachev talking to reporters (Photo: Dusan Ivkovic)
According to the rector, the university has an immeasurable role when it comes to scientific activity. In particular, he praised the university’s investment in developing the field of genetics and boasted that a large number of Russian scientists, through the University, had returned from abroad to contribute again to Russia’s scientific potential.
Speaking of President Putin, it was obvious that the rector has only words of praise and respect, notably emphasizing that the current president of Russia is a great patriot who has managed to preserve the country in complex historical conditions. Referring to the recent speeches by the Russian President in honor of the memory of Anatoly Sobchak, he said that all of President Putin’s speeches are emotional and honest when it comes to important historical periods or personalities, as could be seen from Putin’s latest speech dedicated to Sobchak’s memory. Straightforward communication, especially in regards to his (high) position was the most striking impression left by the rector.
The impression of leaving the University is the same as when leaving any important institution in Russia. It leaves the citizens of small countries with remarkable impressions and widens their views. Everything is big in Russia, be it buildings, history or science.