Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

From the Center

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

From the Center

Article excerpt

On days when I have some extra time I like to walk the halls of the Wilson Center and make unannounced visits to peoples' offices. I joke that the purpose is to make sure nobody is slacking off. In truth, these visits give me an opportunity to sample the Center's sweeping diversity, for behind the programming and publications, the Center comprises an eclectic group whose individual journeys encompass many disciplines and much of the world. Take, for example, just two of our nearly 20 extraordinarily talented program and project directors.

Blair Ruble took his first college course in Russian history because the other European history, classes looked boring. What he learned triggered an interest that led him to obtain a doctorate in Soviet government and a job at the Wilson Center's Kennan Institute. After a stint at the Social Science Research Council, Blair was called back to the Institute in the late 1980s, as perestroika was dawning. Born after George Kennan's famous 1946 "long telegram" outlining containment policy, Blair was well suited to accept the torch from the eminent generation of Cold War scholars.

Blair took advantage of the dissolution of the Soviet Union to redefine the Kennan Institute's character. The Institute opened offices in Moscow and Kyiv, and has worked to improve higher education in Russia. During the Cold War, you could count the Soviet scholars affiliated with the Institute on two hands; under Blair's leadership, there have been nearly 400. At one of the Wilson Center's recent Christmas talent shows, several of these scholars sang a boisterous rendition of "Moscow Nights" in Russian, a performance I would have been unlikely to see during most of my years in the U.S. Congress.

Blair's research has dealt with the forces loosed by change, and he is now focused on migration. Millions of people move within and to Russia, and the number will rise as Russia's birthrate falls. In Central Asia, a quarter of the working population of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan migrates to work in neighboring oil- and gas-rich Kazakhstan. These migrations occur at a dynamic crossroads, where Islam meets Christianity, and the region's energy resources contrast with its underdevelopment. …

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