Why did you accept the invitation of the Corvinus University of Budapest?
Simply because I love teaching, this is what I have been doing since 2004, the completion of my Bachelor Programme. I spent a little more than ten years at the Pázmány Péter Catholic University, too. When you teach in a repetitive way, you acquire a very firm basic knowledge about individual topics, because if I talk about the history of NATO to students for several years, I myself will also know it better. We can learn a lot from students’ reactions, too. As the age gap between me and the students is increasing – now, at the age of 43, I am teaching students of 23 years of age – I am getting to know and better understand the younger generation. It is also important to me that I know several of the colleagues, so I will be in a really good company.
What exactly will you teach?
For the time being, I will join in the work of my colleagues, I will have my own courses in the autumn. I feel that as a Russia expert, I have substantial things to tell, although it is rather difficult to examine a ‘moving target’. I will deal with security policy, Russia and the post-Soviet issue. The University has excellent international relations, and I find the international community attractive, as I myself have worked and lived a lot abroad. It was in the year of our accession to the EU that I graduated from the Faculty of Arts of ELTE University, as a historian, and owing to the EU membership, the world has opened up for me. I had the opportunity to do research in Israel, in the Yad Vashem Archives, for example. I have travelled and learned a lot in Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Latvia and Germany. Since 2019 I have been working as a senior academic fellow of the German Association for Foreign Policy, too (DGAP – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Auswärtige Politik).
How does anyone become a Russia expert?
I have always had a general interest in Eastern Europe, and at the age of 21 I participated in a study trip to Poland, under the leadership of my teacher, László Tapolcai at the ELTE University. I was simply fascinated by his expertise, since then I have been measuring the concept of professionalism to his knowledge. There were quite a few people working around him, and several of them remained in this profession. I also decided in those days to work on this topic, and I still think that half of the knowledge Mr Tapolcai had at that time would be enough for me.
What kind of way of thinking do you wish to transfer to your students?
The most important thing is that they should learn to think about complex problems in a complex way. If some of the students select an academic career, that is great, but if they start working anywhere, for a company, a bank or even the public administration, it is equally important to understand and see the importance of science, and how important it is to finance research. It is actually the Covid and the war in Ukraine that show us that rare disciplines may be required any time. I also wish to make future economists understand that any academic success can be the result of team work only, nobody can be smarter alone, than several people together – at least not very often. Constructive debates and the discussion of different views are essential for good results. As a researcher, I find the quality, and not primarily the speed of the decision important.
Your earlier Facebook post, which has become quite popular and was written as a Russia expert, is heart-breaking, as it says that most of the suddenly called up Russian soldiers have only four days to somehow sort out their lives they have been accustomed to. It is also heart-breaking that ‘average Russians have little say in what is happening, and average Ukranians have even less. This is the war of Putin and Putin’s elite… and their historical sin, at the same time, not only against Ukraine, but against Russia, too’. Do you sympathize with them in this situation so much?
Of course, I do. I do not think you can understand a country or a political system without a certain level of empathy. In addition, I feel some responsibility, too, that is partly the reason for doing what I am doing, as I have been continuously working since the outbreak of the war – with the exception of two days. I tell you an example to explain this responsibility. At the beginning of the war, I received dozens of questions on Facebook and in person from people I did not know at all. A lot of them were worried, afraid of a possible nuclear attack, and of the Russians reaching or even breaking through the Hungarian border. I had to say something to these people. I replied to everybody, without exception, and tried to explain that this was a very-very low probability.
What do you think about the sanctions? A consideration less frequently mentioned so far is that the London Stock Exchange, for example, suspended the trading of securities issued by Russian companies or companies related to Russia. These Russian shares can be neither sold, nor transferred. So the trustees and investment funds managing the assets of EU citizens are unable to sell these instruments, and have to write them down to zero.
There is no magic weapon that hurts one side only. I think that the sanctions are working and will be working, their objective is to make sure that Russia finds the war more and more expensive and difficult to continue. So far, Europe has reacted well and in a flexible way to the damages caused by the sanctions.
I know it is hard to predict, but how do you think the war will end?
I think that the Ukrainians will be able to get back the territories they lost last year, what is more, I do not think that it would be impossible to get the Crimea back, too, although this is much less likely.
The portrait photo is the property of András Rácz.