by: Meike Baumgarten
The second day of the Haniel Spring School was a long one with many different experiences. It started in the morning with a tour through beautiful Saint Petersburg. A minivan took us through the huge city and through wit and humor, our tour guide filled us in on the long and eventful history, which makes it such a unique place. The tour took us along the Neva river which is lined with beautiful palaces from the 18th and 19th centuries. One of the biggest and most impressive palaces is the Winter Palace which used to be the residence of the Russian monarchs until 1917. Today, it is one of the five palaces that house the famous Hermitage museum which displays an enormous variety of paintings, sculptures and other art objects. The museum faces the Palace Square which also is the location of the Building of the General Staff which impresses through its size and bow-shaped design. Other Saint Petersburg sights are the well-known Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, the many beautiful palaces that make up Saint Petersburg State University and the many canals that also give the city the name of “Northern Venice”.
After a nice Russian lunch we headed to the Center for Independent Social Research (CISR) to finally start the academic program of the Spring School in a lecture given to our group and our Russian fellow students by Professor Ettrich about EU Neighborhood Policy and Russia. The lecture provided us with interesting details about the influence of the breakdown of the USSR in 1991 on Russia’s current situation and attitude towards Europe. The loss of one third of the USSR’s territory and half of the population to the 15 new states considerably weakened Russia and led to a worsening in living standards. Still, we learned that Russia is continuing the cultural and political values of the Soviet Union through their authoritarian semi-presidential state system. The many differences between Russia and the EU in political systems, living conditions and economic conditions make the relations between the two entities very prone to conflict. Still, Russia’s position as one of Europe’s biggest energy importing countries makes the relation a “strategic partnership”. A short discussion on the recent developments in Crimea illustrated the different views on this kind of crisis within the group. A first meeting in our project groups gave us an opportunity to start thinking about our groups’ topics for the presentations at the end of our week.
Finally, after a long day with new impressions, we headed to the Kick-off Dinner at the restaurant Ljubimi Habib which was organized by our hosts from CISR. Over wine and delicious Caucasian food, we had the chance to further get to know our Russian peers, talk about the newly discovered city, relax and enjoy a very nice evening in wonderful company. It was a great conclusion to an eventful day which helped us to better understand our host country and made us curious about the next days to come.