Mehul Dadhania, a California native and a freshman at Moscow University Touro pursuing a degree in Business Management, and Elvira Maripova, a freshmen at the English Language course at the same university, celebrated their victory against the Moscow State University of International Relations (MGIMO) team in the first annual inter-university English language debate.
“Nobody expected us to win. We were the underdogs, the newcomers,” said Dadhania who took home the Best English Orator prize. The prize for the best Russian orator went to Alexander Chudnovsky from the People’s Friendship University.
A total of 44 students from eight universities, split into two-person teams, participated in the event held last Saturday at the University Touro. Fourteen judges oversaw the debates.
The debates were held in English parliamentary style, one team representing the government and the other the opposition. “ Debating brings the best out of the best, and we wanted to identify the leaders,” said Michael Glatt, vice-rector of Moscow University Touro, which sponsored the debate.
Ajay Goyal of The Russia Journal, who also sponsored the event, said public speaking helps gain self-confidence and face the realities of life. “I was very impressed by the enthusiasm of these students, though they could all use some training,” Goyal said, adding he would consider sponsoring a training program for the enthusiasts.
The day-long tournament entitled “The Russian Government Should Create a Professional Military” was competitive, yet friendly. The debaters were judged for quality and relevance of their arguments, as well as the factual accuracy of their presentations and their ability to handle questions.
Discussing Russia’s professional military was chosen on the morning of the debate from five possible choices that included legalization of prostitution, prohibition of alcohol, Russia joining NATO and adoption of the death penalty. Students argued their cases in two languages, Russian and English.
Touro’s Glatt said he would like to start a debating tradition in Russian universities. “The debate is about bringing people together and letting good ideas come forward,” he said. “In the West, we are used to it. Here, students ask me, ‘So, what is the answer to this problem?’ and I have to tell them, ‘There’s no one answer.’ There are good and bad arguments. Debating teaches you how to think independently and critically.”
Two teams from MGIMO entered the final of the Russian-language debate. Olesya Dianova, a freshman studying international law, and Alexei Kochetov, in his third year of studying political science, convinced the jury they were the best.
The idea of student debates is rather new in Russia. One of the first debate clubs in Moscow was organized at Moscow State University only in 1998, when George Soros’ Open Society Foundation began to fund this movement. Now, as the tournament clearly shows, other Moscow universities are catching up.