Belgorod: A Brief Introduction

Although I had hoped to be sent to Siberia, my teaching assignment for American law is to be at Belgorod State University.  I must confess I had to go to Wikipedia and map sites in order to orient myself.

Belgorod is a city in Southwestern Russia, just North of the Ukraine border.  There are about 335,000 people in Belgorod and the name in Russian means “a white city.”

Regrettably, the history of Belgorod seems to be one of war and strife.  Ravaged in 1237 by the “Hoards of Batu Khan,” it was refounded in 1596 as a fort to defend the Southern borders from the Tatars.  Unfortunately the town was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1941, and was the site of the largest tank battle in world history during July of 1943, prior to its liberation that August.

My university has about 30,000 students and numerous undergraduate and graduate programs.  My students will be 19 or 20 years old.  I will speak in English; I will have an interpreter.


I am now trying to learn more about Belgorod and the University.  Seemingly at least one other Western attorney has taught there, and I am reaching out to him (he practices in Virginia).

Going on the internet to find information about Belgorod is indeed challenging.  Mostly you get “pop ups” suggesting that you might want to meet beautiful Russian girls who are in search of a husband.  While the prospect is tempting, I am not sure that my wife Laura would fully understand.

Travel sites are short on useful information about Belgorod.  Amazon is equally unrewarding; while I willorder an MP3 download of Tam Letal Pavlin’s songs from Belgorod (“A Peacock Once Went Flying”), I was somewhat put off by the Belgorod-embossed stainless steel mug, and surprised by the total absence of guidebooks or other useful literature.

Anyone who is up on Belgorod, please post some comments and give me some help here.

How Did I End Up Teaching Law in Russia?

Practicing attorneys receive periodic emails and faxes from an organization which until recently was somewhat mysterious to me: The Center for International Legal Studies which is run by Professor Dennis Campbell from Salzburg, Austria,  The Center has operated for over thirty years on a non-profit basis and sponsors academic exchange programs.  It cooperates with a variety of universities in the West, including notably Suffolk University Law School here in Boston.

CILS matches lawyers with accredited Eastern European faculties, including those in the former Republics of the Soviet Union.  Senior lawyers in all fields are invited to teach for periods of two to six weeks, after taking a week of training at CILS in Salzburg.

So in April of 2010 I found myself sufficiently intrigued to apply to the Center for an appointment.  The task is somewhat daunting; you submit your application, resume, writing samples, and a couple of recommendation letters (I haven’t had to get those since I was graduating law school).  You must undertake to pay your own fare, pay CILS for the training session, and pay your way also at the University to which you are assigned.  There followed an interview process (Professor Campbell comes to the United States, travels around and meets with us “senior” lawyers).

In June I was pleased to be accepted into the program, and was assigned to serve as Visiting Professor during the Spring of 2011 at Belgorod State University in Southwestern Russia.

I will blog shortly about what I have been able to learn about Belgorod, at least preliminarily.  This is a part of Russia with which I have no familiarity, nor did I visit in this area during my one prior trip to the then USSR in the late 1970s.  I had indeed asked not to be posted to the major Eastern cities (which I had previously visited), although I am not sure I was quite prepared to be posted to Belgorod.  More about that later.

Introduction: Teaching US Law in Russia

In March, 2011, after a week of training in Salzburg, Austria, I will travel to the University of Belgorod in Southwestern Russia to teach law students, and perhaps business students, about American business law.

The trip is under the auspice of the non-profit organization Center for International Legal Studies based in Salzburg, Austria.  My role is to convey to university students, training to be Russian lawyers, fundamental elements of our legal system which I hope would percolate into the fabric of Russian business and law.

I am under no illusion that my modest effort will save the world.  However, I believe that cumulatively, if we expose the best in Western business law to emerging former Soviet Bloc economies, we will move towards better communication and more peaceful co-existence.  An integrated worldwide business community, with understandable communication among countries, companies and business people, I believe can create part of the basis for a more peaceful, and successful world.

I am launching this blog for two reasons:

  • First and foremost, to solicit a broad base of information.  What is it that someone with my intentions should be teaching would-be Russian lawyers?  What is most needed?  What is most important?  What is fundamental?  What is counterproductive and should be avoided?  What can in fact be successfully understood and integrated into existing Russian business law?
  • My second purpose is to share with colleagues, clients, friends and fellow teachers the problems, successes and (no doubt) failures of this undertaking, in the hopes that it will be both interesting and ultimately edifying.