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National Identity in Russia from 1961 : Traditions & Deterritorialisation

 

 

 

Rationale

 

The rise of nationalism is one of the most prominent and worrying phenomena in modern Russian culture, impacting on diplomatic and trade relations, attitudes to foreigners and migrants, on education, and on cultural politics. However, the background to the problem is often poorly understood, not just in journalism, but in academic work as well. Little so far has been done to investigate the relationship between proclamations of Russian supremacy by politicians and popular attitudes, let alone to investigate Russians’ views of themselves and of Russianness at deeper levels. The proposed project moves beyond ideology, political programmes, and voting patterns in order to examine views of the nation and Russianness among ordinary Russians, and to explore how far these may be traced back to the late Soviet era. The central themes are ‘tradition’, by which we mean cultural memory, a self-consciously recognised relationship with the past, and ‘deterritorialisation’, which refers to the stresses placed on national and personal identity by migrancy, travel, and emigration. The term ‘globalisation’ is often used to describe the impact of non-Russian culture on post-Soviet society, but seems facile, given that much conflict, uncertainty, and ‘cognitive dissonance’ is on display in journalism, intellectual debates, and sometimes just out on the streets. 

The period chosen for close study includes the post-Stalin and transition years, which witnessed a thorough-going attempt by the Party authorities to revive what were seen as ‘positive’ traditions, yet at the same time an officially-sponsored depopulation of the Russian village, conventionally seen as the bedrock of national identity, and the granting of mobility rights (albeit in a restricted sense) to ever larger sections of the population.

Working in collaboration with Russians so that we can explore national identity from the inside, as well as writing about it from a distance, we will use a wide range of sources, including previously unexplored archival material, questionnaires, and interviewing/oral history. We plan to publish a number of pathbreaking studies on subjects such as the cultural history of identity documents, St Petersburg as the city of ‘living history’, Russian food as an expression of national identity, the role of museums in fostering cultural memory, the representation of the nation in the Russian media, patriotism and attitudes to ‘foreigners’ among skinheads in St Petersburg and Vorkuta, and the lives of Russians living in Britain. We are also setting up a broader research network that will exchange views in order to place Russian nationalism of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries in national and international context. Russia is often, but perhaps wrongly, considered a ‘special case’, so we propose to investigate similarities and differences between Russian views of the nation and those in other countries that till recently had a large peasant population and have a history of authoritarian rule, such as Ireland, Hungary, Greece, and Italy, as well as comparing the situation in the Russian Federation with that in other parts of the former Soviet Union.

 

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