From Montenegro With Love: Politics and Spies with Professor Filip Kovacevic

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There is no one better to speak with about James Bond or Russian politics than Professor Filip Kovacevic. Hailing from the former Yugoslavia, Kovacevic has taught in both Russian and American universities, allowing him to bridge the gap between political spheres that are often at odds with each other. He spoke with the San Francisco Foghorn about growing up in an unstable country, the suspicion that comes with teaching in Russia as an outsider, and what he believes is an overblown reaction to the interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

 

Gabriel Greschler: What classes are you teaching right now?

 

Filip Kovacevic: My main field of study is geopolitics and intelligence agencies and one of the classes I teach this semester combines both subjects under the title “Intelligence and Global Security.” I am interested in understanding what drives the behavior of nation-states, why some states are successful while others fail and how to deal with the challenges of the emerging multi-polar world. The intelligence agencies increasingly play a very significant role in state decision-making, a role that is frequently mystified and distorted and my current research work is directed toward bringing more objectivity and hard facts to the field.

 

GG: Tell me about your story growing up. Where were you born, and did you always know you were going to be a professor?

 

FK: My childhood in a small medieval town on the coast of the Adriatic Sea was quite idyllic until the civil war ripped Yugoslavia into pieces. Nationalism started running wild, fear and anxiety were everywhere, there were frequent sounds of gunfire and grenade shelling near my hometown, streams of refugees, the wounded and the dead. Being afraid for my life, my parents sent me out of the country to the U.S. I graduated from high school in Ohio as a valedictorian and then went on to have a successful college and grad school career in California and Missouri. I realized that learning and sharing what I learned makes me happy. And that’s what professors do!   

 

GG: You taught in Russia for a number of years. What was that experience like?

 

FK: After completing a PhD in political science, I got an opportunity to teach at an innovative liberal arts college within the Russian State University in St. Petersburg. That college is now directed by the former Russian finance minister Alexei Kudrin. Coming from the U.S., daily life in Russia was a big culture shock for me. There was a lot of suspiciousness of foreigners, even among my new colleagues. As an optimistic person who is almost always smiling, I had trouble fitting in. I guess I was saved by Cupid. I met a girl who would later become my wife.

 

GG: Obviously, the Russian interference into the 2016 election is one of the largest news stories of the year. From your extensive time spent in Russia, what is your opinion on the matter? Do you think it is overhyped?

 

FK:I have not seen any solid evidence yet that demonstrates beyond a reasonable doubt that what the Russian government did (and they did do certain things) influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. There is, however, no doubt that, as a resurgent global power, the Russian government does have its active agents of influence on the U.S. political scene.

 

GG: Would you ever consider stepping into a role involving politics? Perhaps being a peacemaker between the US/Russia?

 

FK: I am not ruling it out. In 2013, a very good friend of mine, Miodrag Lekic, was the opposition candidate for the president of Montenegro. He supposedly lost by two percent of the vote, but there is evidence that the election was rigged by the corrupt ruling party which has been in power for almost 30 years. Had he become president, Lekic would have asked me to be his advisor on the U.S.-Russia relations. Let’s see what happens next time around.

 

Featured Photo: Professor Filip Kovacevic has taught in both Russia and the United States, where the politics of both countries are often at odds with each other. GABRIEL GRESCHLER/FOGHORN

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