The FDR Center for United States Studies, Moscow

On 28 June 1996, Harry Kahn, one of the directors of the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute (FERI) in Hyde Park, New York, pledged $100,000 towards the establishment of an International Roosevelt Resource Center at Moscow State University (MSU). Moscow was a logical choice, since the Russian American Studies Association had been established at MSU with a conference in February the same year. In 1986 the RSC in Middelburg had represented a major effort to secure a base for the furtherance of American Studies in Western Europe during the Cold War. Ten years later, with the Cold War over, the emphasis was now on the promotion of American Studies in Eastern Europe and post-Soviet Russia. Both the RSC and the Moscow Center were created through the combined efforts of FERI’s promotion of the Roosevelt legacy, US public diplomacy strategies, and local interest in both the Netherlands and Russia for the improvement of ties with the United States through academic endeavor.

Under the agreement, MSU would provide the space and the staff, while FERI would provide the equipment and academic resources. FERI would also arrange for an annual Roosevelt Fellow to spend a week or more in Moscow for some lectures and public outreach. By 1997 the new institute had taken shape as the Franklin D. Roosevelt Center for United States Studies, under the directorship of Professor of History Yuri Rogoulev. In December 1998 the first Roosevelt Fellow to visit the Center was Professor Alan Brinkley, the renowned historian of the New Deal. To solidify the ties, Rogoulev also spent time in Hyde Park that same year for research and networking purposes.

Brinkley’s visit came at an interesting time due to the interest in Russia on economic restructuring and government responsibility, particularly given the disastrous financial consequences of the free-for-all neoliberal reforms introduced earlier in the decade. His lectures on the Great Depression, US governmental responses, and the overall significance of the New Deal therefore generated widespread interest. Leonid Abalkin, head of the Institute of Economics in the Russian Academy of Sciences, was particularly taken by what he called the “economic psychology” of FDR in his efforts via the mass media to appeal to American citizens and explain to them everything that the government was doing to improve their livelihoods. For Abalkin, this was a model of leadership that was severely lacking in Russia, where instead the ordinary citizen was left to try and survive. FERI Director Scott Hirsch, who joined Brinkley on the visit, commented afterwards that “The FDR Foundation and its programs provide an opportunity both to engage with Russians during this crucial time in their history and to promote the vision and values of FDR’s legacy in ways that could be helpful in Russia today.”

In 2001 this ambition was taken to the next level with a two-year project funded by the Carnegie Corporation. Under the leadership of FERI’s Executive Director David Woolner, Declan Murphy of the Impresarios consulting firm, and Yuri Rogoulev, working groups were created to bring together policy-makers and New Deal experts from both countries to discuss in detail the topics of infrastructure and public works, and finance and banking reform. An inaugural conference held in Moscow in December 2001 initiated what was hoped would become a major engagement on Russian economic transformations and future prospects. The Russian participants were deeply critical of the market solutions pressed on Russia so soon after the end of the Soviet Union, and hence this was an opportune moment to discuss the New Deal’s redefinition of the role of government, its extension of social welfare, and its collaborative approach towards organized labour. The pragmatic double agenda of the New Deal to protect both capitalism and citizens looked enlightened in the Russian context. The conference closed with Sergei Glasyev, the chair of the Duma’s Committee on Entrepreneurship, stating that the proposals coming out of the two working groups would be presented to the Duma and President Putin for further consideration.

The original aim was that the MSU’s Roosevelt Center would also make use of the RSC in Middelburg as a source of research materials for students working on their theses. This was revived in 2019 through the efforts of David Woolner and Yuri Rogoulev to secure a new source of funding, and two visits were made that year before Covid-19 temporarily ended such trips.

Sources

The View from Hyde Park  (Fall 1996, Summer 1998, Spring 1999, Spring 2002).