Student Spotlight: Tinatin Japaridze (MARS-REERS '19)

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Tinatin Japaridze (MARS-REERS ’19) is enrolled in the Harriman’s BA/MA program, which allows Columbia undergraduates to begin coursework for their master’s degree in their senior year, as they complete undergraduate degrees in their respective departments. The nontraditional approach proved a perfect match for Japaridze, who came to the Harriman from the School of General Studies (GS). As she explained in our interview, “I would probably not have come back to school had it not been for GS, which is very open to people making a transition from a different career.” Successfully pursuing a career in musical theatre and songwriting in London and New York since age 16, she let slip over drinks with friends that she would not be opposed to going back to school. (She had left Moscow State University after a year and decamped for London.) One of the friends, a Columbia professor, took her at her word and set up a meeting for her with the people at GS. Two weeks later she was sitting in her first class. 

The transition was a bit bumpy at first, since she had been away from university for so long, not to mention the difference between U.S. and Russian systems. But she soon settled into life as a psychology major, at first thinking about psychotherapy, but eventually realizing that she perhaps was more interested in her own identity. Born in Soviet Georgia, raised in post-Soviet Moscow, and living in the West since the age of 17—all her formative years were spent in constant transition. Japaridze’s musical show, Matryoshka, which is all about layers, surfaces, identities, was a natural outgrowth of her personal experience.

On paper she was a psych major at Columbia, but she had begun taking all sorts of Russia-related courses in history, literature and political science. As Japaridze explained, she was “bouncing back and forth between psychology and Harriman. For me the turning point was Kimberly Marten’s course 'Russia and the West'—it fit like a glove. I went to her with a wild topic: how Russia uses the Eurovision song contest platform to exercise its foreign policy and position itself vis-à-vis the West.” (She just happens to have co-authored Iceland’s 2009 silver prize-winning Eurovision song.) Marten was encouraging, and the paper was eventually published in The Birch, the Slavic Department’s undergrad magazine, then revised for publication in Moscow Times, and later reworked for publication by the Center on Global Interests.

Japaridze has focused much of her graduate work on cybersecurity and digital diplomacy, including her stint as delegate to the Stanford University U.S.-Russia Forum’s Conflict and Security Working Group (2017-18). She has discussed policy recommendations with Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov at the Penn Biden Center (Washington, D.C.), where she was invited to present an article that she co-authored on “Rebuilding the Cyber Bridge of Confidence toward Establishing Bilateral Norms for U.S.-Russia Cooperation.” Most recently, she attended the University Consortium in London, along with Harriman Director Alexander Cooley and two Harriman students, as part of the Security Working Group, exploring the current challenges and potential avenues for cooperation between Russia and the West.

So it comes as no surprise that for her master’s thesis Japaridze has chosen to explore cyber cooperation between Russia and the U.S., but viewed through the non-traditional lens of contrasting theories behind “trust” and “cooperation” from the domain of political psychology. Her thesis advisors are Kimberly Marten (Chair, Political Science) and Katherine Fox-Glassman (Department of Psychology). 

Plans for Japaridze’s final semester, apart from her thesis defense, include enrolling in Jenik Radon’s SIPA Capstone Workshop, “Estonia, the Skype Nation—How a Small Nation Can Be and Remain a Global Leader,” which fits in with her research interests. Moreover, under the Harriman’s new Mentorship Program, Radon is Japaridze’s mentor. 

In addition to her coursework, Japaridze is building up her profile as a writer. Before coming to Columbia, she was UN correspondent for the New York Russian daily newspaper, Novoye Russkoye Slovo, which came about in a characteristically untypical way. She had written a song for AIDS awareness and was pitching it to the UN to consider for their December 1 World AIDS Day. While that did not pan out, she did meet UN Under-Secretary General Shashi Tharoor in the Department of Public Information who offered her his final interview, which she published with the Russian daily, which subsequently engaged her as their UN correspondent for about five years. On the musical side, she wrote the UN anthem, “We the Peoples,” her first single. 

Currently, Japaridze and Lincoln Mitchell (Adjunct Associate Professor of Political Science) write a regular column for Moscow Times. She met Mitchell a few years ago when she was working on a project about Georgian politics. A few months ago, at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, where all great ideas are hatched, they decided to team up and write a regular op-ed column. Topics have included everything from “The Specter of Russian and the Georgian Presidential Runoff” to "Trump Has Cleared the Way for Russian 'Hacktivities'" and “The U.S. Midterms: What’s at Stake for the Kremlin?” 

When I asked her about plans for the future, Japaridze demurred, not wishing to go beyond next semester, perhaps not wishing to jinx her plans. But as her writing and studies indicate, they will involve U.S.-Russia (and perhaps Georgia) relations, but, as she phrased it, “under the umbrella of cooperation. Because of my background, I am not someone who wants to burn bridges, but I am more interested in looking for what can be done to bring the two sides together.”

- Ronald Meyer

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