The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Seven, Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, by Kathryn Marquis Hirsch

The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Seven, Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia

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I visited Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia during the summer of 2012 to study Russian language and culture. Compared to some of my fellow students, I think I had a couple of advantages (and disadvantages, of course, but let’s ignore such unpleasantness). I had never left the US before, but I had lived in and traveled in different regions of the US so I had some experience observing and adapting to different cultures. Many of my fellow travelers seemed more thrown by the differences and were less aware of the distinctive characteristics of Minnesota culture. Also, it was possible to participate in the program without any previous experience, but I’d already studied Russian language for a year at that point so I could read quickly and had a fair working vocabulary that allowed me to appreciate the signs everywhere. I could read signs for the knockoff McDonald’s, signs for the prison that the authorities deny the presence of, even a sign posted near the second-largest waterfall in Europe that some prankster had altered so instead of warning esteemed visitors not to get too close to the edge, it orders them to do so.
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Many people assume that the government of Russia is so authoritarian that only very few dare oppose it. While it is true that publicly criticizing the authorities carries risks of reprisal that are far more serious than we risk here, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a vigorous public discourse at all levels from local to national. One can easily find videos and articles online about some of the creative and yes, courageous citizen campaigns undertaken throughout Russia to get local officials to maintain the roads. In Petrozavodsk, there is an interesting bumper sticker campaign about this issue. Many cars in the city have a decal that reads: «????? ??????, ????? ? ??????» (pronounced roughly: kakaia vlast, takia i dorogi). This translates essentially as “With this government, these roads.” The weather there is comparable to Duluth’s, which means it does a number on the roads and every year many repairs are required but the city administration doesn’t prioritize street repair over other spending that the citizens don’t support. The bumper stickers are a subtle but highly visible protest, and I noticed them all over the city.
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For all of the North Star Project 2013-2014 Reports, see
For all of the North Star Project 2013 Summer Reports, see

The North Star Project 2013-2014 School Year Reports: The Middle Ground Journal’s collaborative outreach program with K-12 classes around the world. We gratefully acknowledge North Star Academy of Duluth, Minnesota as our inaugural partner school, and the flagship of our K-12 outreach program. We also warmly welcome Duluth East High School and Dodge Middle School to the North Star Project.

Under the leadership of our North Star host teachers and student interns, The North Star Project has flourished for two years. For a brief summary, please see a recent article in the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Having re-tooled and re-designed the collaborative program, we are drawing on the experience of our veteran student interns, ideas from our host teachers, and new projects provided by our incoming student interns. This school year The Middle Ground Journal will share brief dispatches from our North Star Project student interns, particularly from those who are currently stationed, or will soon be stationed abroad. As of the time of this report we have confirmed student interns who will be reporting from Mongolia, Southern China, Shanghai, northeastern China, The Netherlands, Tanzania, Ireland, England, Finland, Russia, and Haiti. We also have students developing presentations on theatrical representations of historical trauma, historical memory, the price individuals pay during tragic global conflicts, and different perceptions of current events from around the world.  We will post their brief dispatches here, and report on their interactions with the North Star students and teachers throughout the school year.

Hong-Ming Liang, Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA, 2013-2014 School Year

(c) 2014 The Middle Ground Journal, Number 8, Spring, 2014. See Submission Guidelines page for the journal’s not-for-profit educational open-access policy.


Filed under Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

8 responses to “The North Star Project, 2013-2014 Report Number Thirty-Seven, Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, by Kathryn Marquis Hirsch

  1. Austin Kindt

    How difficult was it for you to study Russian? I struggle enough with the English language and have studied some of the basics in Spanish. I would love to travel to Russia to see much of its vast landscape and wilderness. I completely agree that you appreciate a culture so much more when you speak and understand the language.

  2. I appreciate the ‘more alike than different’ theme in this entry.

    It is interesting to learn about protest and dissent, the news tends to depict Russia as purely opposed to protest.

    Side note: Great photos!

  3. Samantha Frascone

    It was interesting to read about your experience in Petrozavodsk in the Republic of Karelia, Russia. It doesn’t sound like it was very hard for you to adapt to the culture of where you were in Russia, even though you had never been out of the country before. I feel like if I were to go to any country that was that far away I would have a difficult time taking everything in and adapting to their culture.

  4. Ada Moreno

    It’s fascinating to read about how people throughout the world choose to express their dissatisfaction with those who govern them. To see that individuals resort to the most creative, unusual, a non-violent ways to voice their opinions is not only admirable, but worthy of emulation.

  5. Ruby P.

    I like how you related this to Duluth. That is exciting that you had to opportunity to travel to Russia. I hope to travel someday!

  6. You bring up a good point, protests and opposition aren’t always loud, obnoxious and/or direct, they can be in the most subtle and silent ways. And those are the best kinds of protest in my opinion because of its creativity. As for the image that the bumper sticker creates, it doesn’t mesh with the “standard” representation of the Russian public sphere and that’s a good thing.

  7. Maria O

    Bumper stickers strike me as a very creative and pacific way of dissenting–and at the same time it is that subtlety that relegates as appropriate when protesting about certain issues. I wonder just how successful this kind of protesting technique is in the face of the problem. Have the roads gotten better, or is this more for blowing off steam?

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