April 7, 2015

Journalist banned from Russia talks career at I-House event

American journalist and author David Satter spoke Monday night in the I-House Assembly Hall about Russia’s role in the Ukrainian conflict. The event was sponsored by the International House Global Voices Lecture Series; the Center for International Studies; the UIUC Russian, East European and Eurasian Center; the Seminary Co-Op Bookstore; and the Center for East European and Russian/Eurasian Studies at the University of Chicago. Before the lecture, Satter sat down with The Chicago Maroon to discuss the course of his career and journalistic lessons he has learned along the way.

Now one of the world’s leading commentators on Russian affairs, Satter’s roots in journalism lie here at the University of Chicago, where he served as editor-in-chief of The Maroon as a third-year undergraduate.

Satter first gained national attention with an article he wrote as a college journalist about slum conditions on the West Side of Chicago. The piece was published in the Maroon magazine and appeared in a revised version in The New Republic. Satter credits the article with earning him a Rhodes Scholarship that allowed him to attend Oxford University, where he studied political philosophy. Satter explained that while the article was an important stepping stone in his career, its content was not indicative of his future trajectory.

“That was never really where my chief concern was—it was just something I had lived through and experienced. I was always interested in the broader world,” he said.

This interest evolved into a particular focus on Russian affairs. Satter has written three books to date on Russia and the Soviet Union and has more in the works.

A recent development in Satter’s relationship with Russia is that he has been banned from entering the country. His ban from Russia is the first expulsion of a U.S. journalist since the Cold War.

“The difficulty is that many journalists, in order to protect their visas and their access to Russia, censor themselves without making it clear that that’s what they’re doing,” Satter said. “That’s what the Soviet authorities tried to get people to do–they wanted people to be afraid and to look over their shoulder every time they were writing–and I always refused to do that.”

Despite his expulsion, Satter remains undeterred from his work of trying to bring a truthful understanding of this nation to the outside world.

“Nothing has changed in that regard as a result of my expulsion,” Satter maintains. “I cannot go back to Russia, at least for the time being. But I’ve been persona non grata before.… I believe I will go back.”