Officially, the Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991, but 30 years later its legacy continues to affect the former republics of the union. Laura Kämäräinen has always been fascinated by this unique system.
Kämäräinen is completing her first year in the University of Helsinki’s Master’s Programme in Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies, which delves into these regions and their place in the world.
“My studies include politics, history, culture and questions of identity from the Russian perspective. In the current global situation, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its causes are actively discussed. I strive to understand Russian society and what makes it what it is today,” Kämäräinen says.
A new career path
Kämäräinen holds a master’s degree in English philology, and after graduating, she worked for a few years as a language teacher at a lower secondary school. Kämäräinen has travelled a lot in Eastern Europe, Russia and the Caucasus, and has been interested in the region for a long time. With the circumstances in the teaching sector becoming strained, she saw an opportune moment to embark on further studies and a new direction.
“The teaching job and my previous degree are by no means useless. I gained a lot of intellectual capital as well as academic and presentation skills. I hope that I will be able to put them to use alongside my new skills.”
Kämäräinen applied for the new programme before Russia’s attack on Ukraine. When she began her master’s studies, the name of the programme was Master’s Programme in Russian Studies, which is why her studies focus more closely on Russia than those in the current programme.
“I thought I knew a lot about Russia, but realised I was wrong after embarking on my studies.”
A cross-section of Russian society
Right at the beginning of her studies, Kämäräinen had the opportunity to review amendments to the Russian Constitution and Russian legal reforms, as the course in question examined the rule of law and related developments in Russia. In the multidisciplinary programme, various sectors of society are discussed extensively.
“The studies began with an introduction to a range of topics from safety and security to urbanisation, many of them entirely new to me. Already in a short time, my understanding of the country and its structure has changed.”
One course focuses on global processes related to Russia, another on the status of civic society and non-governmental organisations. Upcoming are courses on inequality and social policy, security policy, as well as environmental and climate issues.
Due to the war in Ukraine, Russia has made frequent headlines. As a result of her studies, Kämäräinen has noticed that she applies what she learns to what she sees in the news – and that she is paying attention to the fact that sometimes things are oversimplified. In the course of the war of aggression, the media have certainly needed expert interviewees.
Expertise in support of decision-making and diplomacy
Kämäräinen believes she will understand why things happen, not just what happens, after she completes the master's programme. Graduates of the programme have been employed, for example, in government administration or as journalists specialised in Russia. Even though commercial projects in Russia are on hold, there is demand for expertise in businesses too.
“Expertise in Russia opens doors to, among other instances, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, as understanding is needed in support of political decision-making.”
On the one hand, Kämäräinen is interested in Finland’s network of embassies, diplomatic training and efforts to promote the country’s image, as she already has traineeship experience from the Embassy of Finland in London. UN organisations also seem like potential workplaces.
On the other hand, Kämäräinen could combine her expertise in education and Russia in educational cooperation or education export, for example, in related projects targeted at Eastern Europe.
Research promotes dialogue and objective attitudes
Kämäräinen believes that, in the current global circumstances, expertise in Russia will be needed even more in the future. In recent months, Finland has had to carefully consider its interaction with its neighbour.
“When the war ends at some point, we as a state have to deal with Russia in any case. Our shared border of over 1,000 kilometres is not going anywhere.”
In terms of employment, Kämäräinen hopes that her contribution will matter. She would like to support the development of the Russian education system through Finnish expertise.
Above all, she would like to increase international dialogue and promote research-based knowledge as the basis for attitudes towards Russia instead of mere opinions.
“While war is thoroughly horrifying, studying at this time has been really rewarding and useful.”
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