Patrice Lumumba Friendship University Revisited

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 9/09/2012 10:09:00 AM
Younger readers probably don't know what the USSR's Patrice Lumumba Friendship University was, so a short introduction is required. Having spent a while in Western academic circles, I can assure you that although many instructors have leftist sympathies--they know their Antonio Gramsci and Karl Kautsky by heart--they simply don't live the communist lifestyle, preferring the petit bourgeoisie sort of existence. British and American academia have more than their fair share of champagne socialists and the gauche caviar. Call it an inherent contradiction of leftish Western academia.

However, during the cold war (LSE IDEAS used to be the Cold War Studies Centre, mind you), the Soviets actually had an educational institution dedicated to spreading the revolution to other parts of the world instead of wallowing in faux-socialist stylings as many Western academics still do. The People's Friendship University of Russia was established in 1960 at the height of the aforementioned ideological conflict. A year later, it acquired the even more grandiose full name of the Patrice Lumumba Friendship University of the Peoples to symbolize the struggle of oppressed people all over the world for freedom and independence. I have not yet visited the LSE registrar to confirm whether Carlos the Jackal studied at the LSE as some claim, but rest assured that the self-styled professional revolutionary Ilich Ramirez Sanchez did study in Russia. (Talk about famous, world-changing alumni.)

Westerners usually prefer not to dwell on their complicity in anti-American and anti-European sentiment, but the name Patrice Lumumba remains evocative. The CIA openly acknowledges having orchestrated the demise of Iran's democratically-elected Mohammed Mossadeq to return the more pliable Shah of Iran to power (and set the stage for today's fundamentalists and other blowhards in the process). In what was then the Belgian Congo, however, the similarly democratically-elected Patrice Lumumba was also removed due to Western insecurities--especially about his purported Communist sympathies. Mossadeq lived a few more years after being eased out, but Lumumba was executed under Belgian instruction. American complicity in Lumumba's death is still debated, but the larger point is that Westerners need not wonder why us coloured peoples remain wary about their endless harangues about democracy when they have a long history of forcing out third world leaders they found, well, inconvenient.

It was in this spirit that Patrice Lumumba Friendship University operated as the USSR styled him as a martyr. While Westerners branded him a communist in order to get rid of him, the Soviets embraced this categorization to make him a martyr (see the commemorative stamp). The interesting thing though is that while Lumumba was certainly a nationalist, there is no consensus that he was a communist (although Americans of the time reflexively made the connection more often than not). At any rate, the university's goal was very much similar to that of Western academic institutions in training young professionals sympathetic to the USSR instead of the USA.

The end of the cold war was something of a shock to the (academic) system. What would Patrice Lumumba Friendship University be without the goal of world revolution? Worse yet, this university has actually been subject to market forces arguably even more than British academic institutions insofar as its stipend from the Russian government has been markedly reduced in the wake of 1991:
The university opened its doors in 1960, at the height of the Cold War, providing a training ground for young communists from developing countries. The terrorist Carlos the Jackal studied at this university, along with guerrillas and revolutionaries from Latin America, Africa and Asia. It was called Patrice Lumumba University, in honor of a first prime minister of the former Zaire, who was killed in a coup blamed on the United States. Now, with the Cold War over and Russian communism in tatters, the institution has a new name Russian Peoples Friendship University [actually, that's the old school name before Lumumba was killed]. And students who once were schooled in Marxist philosophy now take courses in capitalist business.

The university is now forced to survive in a free market economy. And since it gets only about a third of its budget from the government, most of the rest comes from student tuition fees, which run about 2,000 a year for international students. In order to attract students, the university added new courses and spent [$]350,000 on new equipment, including computers. "We've learned the rules of the market economy and adapted as much as you can in Russia, and were doing quite well, especially when compared to other colleges I've seen," said the university's Vice Rector Dimitri Bilibin.
And that's what has become of this legendary educational institution--famed less for its academics and more for its aims and roster of students from a bygone era. Is this progress? In certain senses yes, but it's also lost a lot of its notoriety as current students now come more from Russia than from abroad. Then there are those business courses. To be fair, a lot of course offerings sound more like IPE than International Business, but I digress...
[The] Institute of World Economy and Business (IWEB) qualifies top specialists, capable of efficient business and management activity in the context of the modern market economy. Being one of the first educational institutions in business not only in Moscow but in Russia as well, today IWEB is a major international study center. The Institute has been member of the Russian Business Education Association practically since the very moment of its creation and a member of the Business School Association of Central and Eastern Europe.

One of the principal features of IWEB is its commitment to the needs of business education not only in Russia, but in CIS countries, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Multiple contacts with PFUR [People's Friendship University of Russia] graduates working in the majority of countries around the world are a big advantage of the Institute. PFUR IWEB pursues wide international policy. It actively develops collaboration with universities of the USA, France, Great Britain, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Spain etc.
Aside from business courses, it now collaborates with American and British universities [!?] What would Patrice Lumumba do about loss of authenticity? I'll make a plug here and say that you might as well study in our dual degree with Columbia in International and World History or with Peking University in International Affairs. They may be less retro-cool, but prestige matters in this day and age when there is no longer a real alternative to "mainstream" Western education that Patrice Lumumba Friendship University represented way back when. Go ask Carlos.