by Tom Parisi
NIU Political Scientist Daniel R. Kempton has won a prestigious Fulbright Scholar grant to Russia, where he arrived this week to begin a nearly six-month research and teaching assignment.
This is Kempton’s fourth trip to the world’s largest country (in terms of area). He is a scholar of Russian domestic politics, Russian foreign policy, missile proliferation and global terrorism.
The former chair of NIU’s Department of Political Science will teach a course on international relations, with a focus on terrorism, at Tver State University. The city of Tver is located about 140 miles northwest of Moscow.
He also will conduct interviews with governors, deputy governors and members of regional parliaments for a book examining the changing state of federalism under President Vladimir Putin.
Kempton said Putin has made a number of significant political changes during his tenure. For example, governors used to be elected by a popular vote, but now gubernatorial candidates are selected by the federal president and are confirmed or rejected by the relevant regional parliaments.
“If they disapprove three times, the president can call for new parliamentary,” Kempton explained. He said Putin also has reduced the number of regional governments.
“The popular perception in the West is that Russian federalism has been destroyed by Putin’s changes,” Kempton said. “But when you talk to Russians, the evidence suggests that even though they’ve been reined in, regional politics still matter. It would seem there is more federalism in Russia than western analysts give it credit for.”
Kempton previously edited a book on Russian federalism that was published in 2002.
“I’ve worked on Russian federalism before, but most of my writing is on the Yeltsin years,” he said. “The Fulbright allows me to revise my work for the contemporary period.”
Of great assistance to Kempton’s work will be a former student, Andrey Loshakov, who received his Ph.D. from NIU in 1996. Loshakov now serves as a deputy governor of Tver.
“That’s why I chose this region,” Kempton said. “With Andrey’s help, I should have better access. In general, though, Russians are more open in this era than during the Soviet period. In some ways, it’s easier getting access to officials in Russia than it is in America because Russians are often eager to explain their system to foreigners.”
In addition to Loshakov, Kempton will see another familiar face during his Fulbright assignment. His oldest daughter, Elizabeth, is working as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Ukraine.
This is Kempton’s second Fulbright Fellowship, and he hopes it is as inspirational as his first, which took him to South Africa in 1992.
“I would say it was the best experience of my academic career,” he said. “Apartheid was coming to an end in South Africa, and I was able to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu and President Nelson Mandela. I taught in a very meaningful master’s-level program, and the experience really helped me grow as a scholar.”