Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas:  jgo.e-reviews 5 (2015), 4 Rezensionen online / Im Auftrag des Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung in Regensburg herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Verfasst von: Zaur Gasimov


Soviet and Post-Soviet identities. Ed. by Mark Bassin and Catriona Kelly. Cambridge, MA, London: Cambridge University Press, 2012. XIII, 370 S., 20 Abb., 5 Tab., 1 Kte. ISBN: 978-1-107-01117-5.

Mark Bassin and Catriona Kelly, two Russianists correspondingly from Stockholm University and Oxford University, have edited a compilation of articles about Soviet and Post-Soviet identities, which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2012. Both editors analysed the past of the historical landscape(s) between the Baltic and Vladivostok throughout the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first century through the perspectives of two profound processes, namely the emergence of the Soviet Union generating “a highly integrative Soviet culture” (p. 3), and the dismemberment of the USSR in 1991. “What happened to Soviet culture in 1991?”, Bassin and Kelly were asking in their very clear and interesting introduction to the volume. Taking into account the rich academic literature on nationalities issue in the Soviet Union, the editors invite the reader to re-read critically Western Soviet studies and to re-think the notions of Sovietness and Russianness looking back at the Soviet history and studying the recent developments in the Post-Soviet area and period.

The compilation of articles is divided by the editors into six parts, which examine the status of national identity, its institutions, myths, spaces, languages and creeds. In the first part, a prominent historian of Russia and expert on nationalism and nationalities issues in the Soviet Union, Ronald Grigor Suny, offers his view on the contradictions of identity. Suny focuses on the being Soviet and national in the USSR and afterwards. As an author of numerous publications on Armenia, Baku, Georgia, and Russia, Suny delivers a very interesting paper on the metamorphosis of Russian nationalism during Stalinism, its penetration into Sovietness, and a complicated relationship between both and the Leninist interpretation of nation and nationalism. “A supranational but Russified patriotism was grafted onto Leninist internationalism, replacing the class element with a news primacy placed on Russia’s past” (p. 27), Suny writes. He demonstrates the emergence of different notions of nationalism and patriotism in Soviet Armenia – hairenasirutiun and azgasirutiun, which were labelled positively and negatively still during the Soviet period. Suny makes it clear how interwoven and mixed was the interaction of the different nations within the Soviet state by pointing out the different, but still important role the ethnicity played throughout whole Soviet history.

The former capital of the Soviet Union Moscow represents a particularly interesting case for analysing (post)Soviet identities. Dina Khapaeva portrays the Soviet and post-Soviet Moscow in a fascinating way. The article, which was marvellously translated by Kelly from Russian, demonstrates Moscow’s being “the symbolic centre – the place that every socialist city was supposed to emulate, and the city that every citizen was supposed to love and cherish more than his or her own birthplace” (p. 171). Khapaeva ‘reads’ the Sovietness of Moscow as well as its post-Sovietness by exploring the literary texts of modern Russian intellectuals and writers Luk’ianenko and Pelevin.

An interesting shift towards the non-Russian discourses and searches for identity is delivered in the paper of Elza-Bair Guchinova, who studies the re-invention of the national and ethnic symbols in Kalmykia’s local capital Elista. This city – populated both by Orthodox Russians and by Buddhist Kalmyks – is understood by the author as a space-in-process. The names of its streets have been changed after the collapse of Communism. The Post-Soviet period meant for Russians and Kalmyks religious and cultural revival: the architecture of Elista, which hosts several Buddhist sanctuaries, became less Communist but more Kalmyk. Simultaneously, the city architecture seems to remain the only space in which Kalmyk culture has been articulated: the Kalmyk language does not enjoy linguistic dominance in Elista. “In schools, pupils are often reluctant to study Kalmyk to graduation level because of fears that they will end up with a lower grade average, and this is generally regarded as completely normal and acceptable. Most Elista schoolchildren speak English much better than they do Kalmyk” (p. 206), so Guchinova.

Victoria Arnold’s paper focuses on religion and namely on Islam and its place(s) in Soviet Russia as well as in the Russian Federation after 1991. Assuming that “it is easy to overlook the great heterogeneity of Russia’s Muslim population when confronted with so many statements about a ‘Russian Islam’” (p. 230), Arnold elucidated the modern Russian discourses on Islam and Muslims analysing the public debates on Muslim architecture, radical Islam as well as stereotype-building.

Anna Kushkova’s contribution on Surviving in the time of deficit is devoted to the social narratives about economic misery in the Soviet Union and testimonies on that in Post-Soviet Russia. Kushkova’s article is based on her own observations, numerous interviews with representatives of different generations and delivers a unique opportunity to learn more about the specific vocabulary of the acquisition of rare ware likes meat and fish products in Soviet time.

The compilation of articles edited by Mark Bassin and Catriona Kelly is a brilliant contribution to better understanding of Soviet and post-Soviet identities in the area between Tallinn and Vladivostok. Well structured, it delivers profound insights into how these identities emerged and changed in space and time since the early 1920s up to now. The reading of this volume is recommendable both for students of contemporary history as well as of political sciences and for everyone interested in Russian studies.

Zaur Gasimov, Istanbul

Zitierweise: Zaur Gasimov über: Soviet and Post-Soviet identities. Ed. by Mark Bassin and Catriona Kelly. Cambridge, MA, London: Cambridge University Press, 2012. XIII, 370 S., 20 Abb., 5 Tab., 1 Kte. ISBN: 978-1-107-01117-5, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/erev/Gasimov_Bassin_Soviet_and_Post-Soviet_Identities.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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