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Memorial Russian scholar awarded medal in Moscow

By Janet Harron

A Memorial University professor recently became the first Canadian to be invited to receive a prestigious Russian Federation medal at a state ceremony in Moscow.

John Stuart Durrant, a faculty member in the Department of German and Russian, was awarded the A.S. Pushkin Medal for his contribution to Russian-Canadian co-operation in education, for his scholarly contribution to Russian culture and for his dedication to teaching and promotion of the study of Russian language and literature in Canada.

Dr. Durrant was invited to Moscow by Russian Federation President Dmitri A. Medvedev, who conferred the decoration on him during a formal ceremony to celebrate the Russian National Holiday on Friday, Nov. 4.

The A.S. Pushkin Medal is one of the highest honours which can be awarded by Russia to a foreign citizen. Dr. Durrant's main contribution regarding his scholarly work concerns émigré Russian literature and the life and work of prominent Russian literary figure Dimitri V. Filosofov (1872-1940).

Dr. Durrant's research and publications regarding Filosofov established his very significant part in the evolution of Russian literature and culture during the so-called Russian Silver Age, or Modernist period. Until Dr. Durrant's articles were published in the 1990s, the cultural legacy of the Filosofovs, and the vast majority of his writings and extensive archive of memoirs, correspondence and articles were practically unknown.

Culture, both past and present, is of vast importance in Russia, says Dr. Durrant, who has taught at Memorial since 1987.

"Russians consider philology to be an essential foundation to build strong connections in other areas," he said. "President Medvedev has even declared this year, 2012, to be the Year of Russian Language and this should indicate the respect and significance they associate with a knowledge of Russian. They know that an understanding of culture and ability in Russian language both stimulates and facilitates successful collaboration in all professional spheres, all areas of research whether in space or the Arctic, and co-operation in engineering, medical and business initiatives. Time and again I have witnessed that basic understanding to be the catalyst for trust and success; otherwise they perceive connection to be tenuous."

Following the presentation at a formal ceremony hosted by President Medvedev and attended by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the Patriarch of Russia (head of the Russian Orthodox Church) and approximately 100 Russian dignitaries, Dr. Durrant was invited to present a speech which was broadcast live to the entire country. A brief excerpt of his remarks (translated from Russian) follows:
"Over three decades of my professional career, I have attempted to liberate my students from negative stereotypical patterns of thought, which have persisted as a consequence of the Cold War. After much effort, at least in my experience, I am content that I have witnessed the birth of a new attitude, which should help to overcome black and white political perceptions, common in North America ... concerning Russia. In this connection, we should not forget that Russia and Canada are northern neighbours, about to embark on a new period of collaboration to develop our shared Arctic territories."