By Sarah Pride.
Patrick Henry College
On his first night at the Russian University for the Humanities, Dr. Stephen Baskerville found himself dragging his suitcase through the streets of Moscow in search of a place to stay. Traveling as a Fulbright Scholar recipient, he had never been to Russia before. He didn’t speak Russian, only Czech, a language that he now concedes “didn’t do as much good as I thought it would. Actually, it caused confusion.” Such as the times he went into bakeries asking for stale bread, since the term cerstve chleb means “fresh bread” in Czech, but “day-old bread” in Russian.
Dr. Stephen Baskerville
And so Dr. Baskerville began a three-week search for a stable, affordable living situation while learning the pace and nuances of a different culture, preparing for lectures at the university and meeting with pro-family groups.
Truth be known, Russia had not been Dr. Baskerville’s first choice for his Fulbright semester in fall of 2011. He had instead applied three times to stay in the Czech Republic and was turned down until, at last, “they informed me I had never been eligible for the Czech Republic in the first place.” He turned his sights northeast, where he had been interested in Russian affairs for some time. He knew a colleague teaching American studies in Russia, so he switched his application and was accepted.
“I would do it again,” he states. “You just have to understand that things don’t happen quickly over there. The time I was there was frustratingly short to get things done. They don’t have computers everywhere. Sometimes people don’t come to work on crucial days. It’s one thing when you have a year or two to stay, but three months is too short.”
Nonetheless, Dr. Baskerville managed to accomplish a multiplicity of tasks during his semester abroad. He taught at the university, ostensibly on the field of comparative politics, but he soon realized he could lecture on whatever he pleased. Because of his limited computer access, he kept records on a piece of paper. Class times and locations varied from one week to the next, a pretty typical characteristic of central and Eastern Europe.
Alongside his teaching, Dr. Baskerville met with “quite a few” pro-family groups that are starting to work on social issues in Russia. He says that, since the Russian Orthodox Church hasn’t typically been involved in the secular world, the concept of churches active in the issues of wider society is quite new to the country. Yet Orthodox, evangelical and Catholic churches are all beginning to organize themselves.
“Russia is a very pivotal country, I believe, on social and religious issues” says Dr. Baskerville. “No government is perfect, and nobody in my line of work should be supporting any government unconditionally. But Russians are struggling right now to uphold their traditional values.”
Russia has never been a western liberal democracy, nor should we expect it to be, he explains. “But Russia has tried to uphold traditional values amidst a lot of pressure. It’s part of Christian civilization, and is one that is working to find a way to keep its identity and values as the Western world is losing its own.”
With one such group in St. Petersburg, he helped draft a manifesto on parental rights that is now being used by pro-life groups in the USA as an example. Its powerful statements include the following:
The right of the parents in respect to their children are natural and not “given” to the parents by the state or any national or international authority.
It is the family with its natural rights that is a source and foundation of true freedom of peoples of the world. Therefore, destruction of the natural family inevitably leads to the enslavement of peoples.
Dr. Baskerville teaching
He noted that several conservative, pro-family groups from the U.S. have centers or representatives in Moscow, such as the World Congress of Families (WCF) and the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). He met with WCP rep Alexey Komov and the ACLJ sister organization, the Slavic Centre for Law and Justice, along with many others. Thankfully for his work in Russia, most had English-speaking staffs, given their policy collaborations abroad.
On the other side of the political spectrum, the university hosted a meeting on “children’s rights” while Dr. Baskerville was there, which he attended and which, he says, “caused me some dismay.” The main speaker was the head of a UNICEF group on children’s rights, and Dr. Baskerville invited him to come to Patrick Henry College.
Dr. Baskerville also organized a faculty symposium on religion and politics in Russia and America with a half-dozen other faculty members. A few classes of students attended, and he filled what little spare time he had with writing.
Having authored more than 80 articles on fatherhood and family issues, Dr. Baskerville teaches Government: International Politics and Policy courses at PHC, and his students will undoubtedly benefit greatly from his latest life experience as a Fulbright Scholar.