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Stevens scrapes frost off Cold War
Josh Moody
Antelope Staff

Dr. Christopher Stevens came from Massachusetts in the fall of 2007 to begin teaching international relations in the political science department. His classes focus on teaching the theories associated with international relations and foreign policy as well as offering courses on the former Soviet Union. A specialist on the former Soviet Union, Stevens has been conducting research since 1998 with a focus on nuclear disarmament and the varying levels of cooperation with Russia between similarly placed states.

Q: What got you into teaching political science?
A: I grew up in a political household. We weren’t afraid of talking about politics or disagreeing. And I was always interested in the Cold War and grew up seeing the Soviets on TV. When I got to college I realized I could do political science, and I could use that to continue studying the Cold War and U.S. foreign policy. Then in the second semester of my sophomore year a teacher inspired me.

Q: Any interesting stories from your early teaching experiences?
A: There was one at Wellesley; my first teaching gig at a good institution, an all women’s college, all top-notch young minds. I was challenged by a young lady who really caught me flat-footed. At that point I was used to not having much conversation and just a lot of lecturing. I remember having a deer in headlights look, and we had a good laugh about it.

Q: What kind of topics do you teach at UNK?
A: I’m a generalist here. I’m the only international relations professor, so I teach intro to IR and security related topics.

Q: Why should students take your class?
A: I can make learning fun. We can have good laughs and all be humble as we learn. I’ll challenge you and motivate you.

Q: What research have you been working on?
A: What I’m asking in my research is to explain in a theoretical way why some former Soviet Union countries cooperate with Russia and others do not, looking at six countries in particular. Those countries are Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

Q: What do these countries have in common? Why do they stand out?
A: They’re all positioned similarly vis-à-vis Russia. Ten percent or more of their population tends to be Russian. They all suffered massive economic decline, up to one-third or more of their gross domestic product is lost when the Soviet Union collapses. They’re all similarly placed countries acting differently toward Russia based on how history has shaped identities in different states.

Q: What initially sparked the interest in your field of research?
A: I was always interested in the former Soviet Union. My problem however was that by the time I started graduate school the Cold War had already ended, so interest in the former Soviet Union started to decline precipitously. But to now learn another area was going to cost and take time. I like it, so I have a vested interest. Plus, I had already begun learning Russian. I like the language. I think its fun. It’s interesting.

Q: Where has your research taken you?
A: I was in Ukraine for my dissertation; I spent three semesters there during 1998 and 1999. I went to Kazakhstan in the summer of 2008 and Belarus in the summer of 2009.

Q: Any interesting stories you’d like to share from those in-country experiences?
A: When I was in Kazakhstan I was walking home around midnight and was stopped by a police car. They initially asked me some questions: Do I have drugs? Have I been drinking? They made me pull out the contents of my pockets and place them on the hood of the car. Then they frisked me and continued to ask me questions. They told me my documents were out of order and that I’m in the country illegally. At this point I start to think this is a shakedown, and they’re just seeing if I can pay.  Then I start to speak my best Russian, explaining to them that I am legal in their country. They proceeded to steal my cigarettes; they left me with one for the walk home. These guys irked me, but I had to be polite. I didn’t want to land in jail.

Q: I understand that you’re turning your research into a book, where are you with that process?
A: I’m still at the proposal stage right now. I’m finishing up chapter one. Chapter two is also part of the proposal, and I hope to be done with that in February. My goal is to have the book done by the end of next summer minus the editing process. I envision about 400 pages. I love doing it, but I’ll be glad when it’s done because I’ve been working on it for a long time.

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