Announcing Upcoming Events Sponsored by 19v, a Working Group on Nineteenth-Century Russian Culture

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Please join us on Zoom Wednesday, June 24, 12-2 pm EST, for an interdisciplinary roundtable on “What Is The 19th Century?” with panelists Alex Martin (University of Notre Dame), Rosalind Polly Blakesley (Cambridge), and Luba Golburt (Berkeley). The panel will be moderated by Sara Dickinson (Università di Genova). Please also mark your calendars for these upcoming 19v Seminars, always held on Wednesdays.

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ShUV, Death and the 1990s in Russian Comics

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Olga Lavrenteva’s ShUV blazes a trail for graphic narrative in Russia even as it looks back at a traumatic period of recent Russian history — an ambitious set of aims that earned it the 2017 Malevich Award for Best Script and its author comparisons to Nikolai Gogol.

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Open Letter on the Termination of Russian Studies Faculty at Ohio University

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Like you, we are wholeheartedly invested in the survival and recovery of higher education in the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic. That recovery depends on the will of universities to choose approaches that allow them to remain competitive. Ohio University can choose to be a leader in how institutions of higher education react to these circumstances.

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Inventing the Russian Revolution in the Print Culture of 1917

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Several decades ago, Keith Baker explored how the French Revolution was “invented” as people’s conceptions of revolution, and the role that they could play in it, transformed during 1789. Russians, of course, could draw on longstanding European revolutionary traditions by 1917, as well as decades of their own revolutionary activity, and did not have to “invent” their revolution in the same way; they were well aware of the power of revolution and their potential agency as revolutionaries. Nevertheless, a certain amount of “invention” was still seen as important.

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John B. Norris is a native of Brooklyn, New York who has a passion for foreign affairs, coalition-building and investigating the geopolitics around climate change.

The recent OPEC+ agreement to cut back oil production may eventually help support global oil prices after demand recovers as COVID-19 fears recede, but this tentative coalition could again devolve into a bitter price war as occurred during March 2020. 

Whatever happens in global hydrocarbon markets, however, Russia needs to rethink its energy policies. The country’s long-term interests are not well served by having both its national policies and economic activities governed by the fossil fuel industry. Instead, Russian policy-makers should map out a future during this time of economic inactivity that seeks to move investments toward renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, hydroelecrtric and geothermal.

Through policy frameworks that focus on implementing these renewable energies, such as Decree 443, which would introduce domestic market mechanisms that promote the growth of renewable energy in the wholesale electricity and capacity markets, Russia can disentangle itself from OPEC-related disputes and work towards recovering from recent oil declines that have hurt domestic producers. Although Russia appeared relatively well-equipped to handle the immediate impacts of the price war, since the ruble appears sturdy and the country has about $550 billion in foreign reserves, the conflict has clearly reinforced the notion that Russia’s future prosperity can always be put at risk as long as the oil, gas and coal industries account for roughly 30% of the state’s economy and nearly 90% of its total energy generation, according to the United States Energy & Information Administration (EIA).

The time has come for Russia to reevaluate its vulnerabilities and consider switching energy investments toward renewable generators and their breakthrough technologies. 

The Russian Federation is well-positioned to build upon existing federal support mechanisms and could quickly change national policy to reflect a more renewable friendly energy portfolio. Russia could gain significant diplomatic marks by attempting to establish itself as the international leader in combating climate change by reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and improving its renewable capacity through technological cost reductions, since green policies have been shown to promote global peace.

By encouraging climate-friendly energy policies and promoting a more liberalized energy market, Russia has the ability to reduce both its carbon footprint and usher the country into a more prosperous and sustainable nation by creating a brighter, greener and healthier future. This utopian vision, however, will be difficult to achieve, since much of the country’s political and economic ruling class are intricately connected to the fossil fuel industry and thus are reluctant to loosen their grips on the levers that enable their power. 

Russia has already harnessed an impressive assortment of its resources for green energy, such as the Sayano-Shushenskaya Dam and the geothermal plants in Kamchatka, and “green power” represents roughly 15% of the country’s total installed power capacity. Yet more can be done to increase this capacity by both expanding existing solar- and wind-farms and taking advantage of the slowly opening Northern Sea Route, whose hydroelectric and trade potential seems boundless.

That being said, improving these untapped resources will not be easy, because many are difficult to access due to geographic constraints. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), however, with comprehensive and sophisticated policy adjustments Russia could install 150 gigawatts (GW) of new energy, generating up to 487 terawatts an hour (TW/hr) for the domestic energy grid.

IRENA concedes that this will require immense capital financing, but the economic, technological and geopolitical benefits, such as a healthier environment, less vulnerable financial system and new scientific discoveries,  seem to far outweigh the bottom lines of the companies that currently prosper at the cost of Russia’s progress. The use of renewable energy will reduce Russia’s reliance on oil and gas, thereby improving the state’s future outlook through a reformation of the wholesale energy market and by making it less oligarchical.

History has shown that Russia’s hydrocarbon interests have frequently brought unnecessary pain. Whether in the form of Western sanctions against Russia companies, or needless Middle Eastern entanglements, either in Afghanistan, Syria or Saudi Arabia, oil dominance clearly comes at the cost of treasure and life. The Russian nation has allowed its exposed weaknesses to disrupt its geopolitical potential for too long and with the threat of climate change looming, it is time for the Russian government to take decisive action.

Climate change can be beneficial, such as the previously mentioned opening of the Northern Sea Route, but this optimism must be tempered with the pragmatic view that global warming is a double-edged sword. Science has conclusively shown that the world has been steadily warming due to the continued anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels. Russia has emitted a significant amount of GHG already, and as a consequence, natural disasters will occur more frequently and become more fierce in the region, exacerbating many of the already existing vulnerabilities that place Russia at geopolitical risk.

Focusing on limiting the consequences of climate change can be accomplished by replacing hydrocarbon energy with renewables, but also through the development of regional marketplaces that act to both promote diplomacy and technological advancement. Geopolitically, a Central Asian “green revolution” could also give Russia another tool of statecraft to influence international politics to an even greater extent. Even better, the creation of a regional multinational regime of Central Asian nations could assist in times of energy crisis and accelerate the research into renewables benefiting millions.

Renewable energy would allow Russia to achieve ever greater productivity for both domestic use and export markets. With this in mind, the current administration should seek to implement policies aimed at increasing the relative share of energy that is produced from renewable sources.

Russia continues to suffer from a technological brain drain where young and talented Russians are increasingly deciding to learn, live and work abroad due to the uncertain prospects they have in Russia. President Vladimir Putin should use his recently obtained constitutional authority to implement a new energy policy that reduces hydrocarbon influence, through climate-related mechanisms. By strengthening the nation’s security through the promotion of renewables, the President can effectively reduce the ever-widening societal gaps that persist in Russia and prevent the country from achieving sustainable development

To be sure, overcoming these problems, such as energy monopolization and economic inequality, will not be straightforward and would require immense structural and strategic changes.

Russia must use the time bought by the recent landmark oil agreement to both solidify its own short-term interests and plan for a future where the hydrocarbon sector’s outsized influence in domestic affairs is reduced. Without comprehensive energy reforms that are focused both on Russian energy security and limiting the impact of climate change through the expansion of the renewable industry, Russia will continue to experience severe financial and environmental pain. Russians must reevaluate their continued use of fossil fuels and acknowledge that the best way to ensure their country’s survival and growth in the coming decades is through wholesale energy resolutions that reduce monopolization and encourage the development of their renewable energy capabilities.


Reconstructing Stalingrad: The Struggle to Rebuild and Redefine the “Hero City” After 1943, Part I

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The surrender of the last of nearly 90,000 Axis soldiers in Stalingrad on February 2, 1943 marked a major turning point in the Second World War and, indeed, in twentieth-century history. But for thousands around the Soviet Union and in Stalingrad itself, the event had personal significance: after nearly 200 days under siege, their home city had been liberated. The challenge facing the city’s returning denizens and Soviet planning alike was nothing short of rebuilding a lost civilization. For the winter of 1942-43 on the banks of the Volga had been a kind of apocalypse. 

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Belarus, Russia and the Crimean Issue: The Alliance Without Recognition

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Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Belarus, which shares more than a thousand kilometers of border with Ukraine, has maintained an ambiguous position vis-a-vis Crimea’s official status. This ambivalence relates to the importance, for Belarus, of maintaining good relations with both East and West — even when these two poles construct incompatible pictures of developments in Ukraine.

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A Conversation with Julia Phillips, Author of “Disappearing Earth”

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Phillips set out to create a work of fiction for American readers set in what, for them, is exotic landscape. She devoted her time in Kamchatka to meeting people, traveling, taking notes and photos, recording conversations and keeping a diary—not writing the novel. Experiencing the region was not conducive to the work of fiction writing, she said—work like structuring plot and engineering characters arcs—labor Phillips describes as “quiet” and “percolating.”

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“Is the post- in postcolonial the post- in post-Soviet?” asked David C. Moore in 2001, prompting a reexamination of the dynamics between the Russian metropole and its Eurasian peripheries. But to deploy the postcolonial optic here is to presuppose the passing of an era of global ideological and cultural entanglements, primarily unfolding between the Second and the Third Worlds before the end of the Cold War. In his book talk on March 6th, 2020, Professor Rossen Djagalov revisited the history of Soviet Union’s cultural engagements with the literature, films, and cultures from a region now known as the Global South. His new monograph, From Internationalism to Postcolonialism: Literature and Cinema between the Second and Third World (McGill-Queens, 2020), reconstructs the Soviet Third-Worldist literary formation as that which bridges between the interwar-era internationalism and the present-day (post-Soviet) postcolonial studies. Rossen Djagalov is an Assistant Professor of Russian Slavic Studies at New York University, who focuses on socialist culture globally and, more specifically, on the linkages between cultural producers and audiences in the USSR and abroad. The talk was introduced by Yannis Kotsonis, Professor of History & Russian & Slavic Studies at New York University.

Professor Djagalov began the talk by revisiting the 1958 Afro-Asian Writers Conference in Tashkent, where several of the 200 attendees from Western and non-Western countries alike were meeting each other for the first time. Among them was W. E. B. Du Bois, who had just spoken with Nikita Khrushchev about the foundation of the the Institute for the Study of Africa in Moscow; the Turkish modernist poet Nazim Hikmet; the Pakistani Marxist poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz; the Chinese communist novelist Mao Dun and poet Guo Moruo; the Indian writers Mulk Raj Anand and Sajjad Zaheer; the Indonesian essayist Pramoedya Toer; the Senegalese novelist-cum-filmmaker Sembene Ousmane; the poet and founder of Angola’s Communist Party Mario Pinto de Andrade; and the Mozambican poet and FRELIMO politician Marcelino dos Santos. Also in attendance were some leading Russian, Central Asian, and Caucasian writers and Union of Soviet Writers officials, representing Russia, Dagestan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The conference marked the inaugural congress of what soon became known as the Afro-Asian Writers Association, a central platform for the Soviet cultural bureaucracies to encounter the literature of the two continents. Professor Djagalov contextualized the Association as one of the many Third-Worldist literary formations of the heterogeneous ideological engines at the time, an era of decolonization. Among them were the anti-communist Congress of Cultural Freedom, pan-Arab, pan-African, pan-Latin American cultural movements, and literary Maoism. Djagalov characterized the Afro-Asian Writers Association as the longest-lived (1958—1991), best sustained, and among the best resourced, despite its neglect for many decades since the fall of the USSR. Without fundamentally challenging the Western literary hegemony, the Association “left its own lasting impact in translations, literary circulations, and world-making,” Djagalov said.

But the encounter between Russo-Soviet and postcolonial literature had begun well before 1958. Djagalov compared the cultural capital of Tashkent to the Russian nineteenth-century literary tradition, both of which had come to epitomize the successful yet idiosyncratic modernization of Asian societies despite their late start (Chapter 1). To demonstrate the reception of Russian literature—as the literature of the people—among audiences in the East, Djagalov quoted Korean modernist writer Kim Myŏngsik, “While the literatures of the past [European literature] were all dead because they focused on poetics and emotions, Russian literature was alive because it brought social concerns to the literary realm.” As such, the early encounter with writers like Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Turgenev had helped Asian intellectuals to contemplate the “elusive and yet all-important question of the people” in their own national contexts.

Cultural and literary entanglements continued to blossom after 1917, as Russian literature began to be read through the prism of the extraliterary, the October Revolution. Djagalov demonstrated how, throughout the interwar era, the Soviet Union sought to harness the “eclectic affinities” into actual engagements by spearheading different literary platforms that were then participated in by Asian, African, and Latin American writers. The International Union of Revolutionary Writers of the late 1920s and early 1930s, for example, held sessions in Japan, China, and Korea. Its successor, International Association of Writers For Defence of Culture, the Paris-based Popular Front organization, had attracted writers from South Asia and Latin America. Some of the constituent networks continued to operate independently later, even during Stalin’s Great Terror, which had paused most of the preexisting international cultural activities and dimmed the revolutionary zeal at home and abroad.

The Afro-Asian Writers Association then, along with two other geopolitical entities (The Literary World of the People’s Democracies, The European Association of Culture), represented the Soviet Union’s first attempt to return to the colonial question after Stalin’s death (Chapter 2). Though committed to NAM (Non-Alignment Movement) in the Cold War, the Afro-Asian Writers Association was heavily ‘aligned,’ argued Djagalov. “It served as a site for constituting international literary fields and deploying literature as a force for political engagement.” With a coordinating bureau in Sri Lanka, the literary quarterly Lotus, and an international literary prize, the Association had held subsequent conferences worldwide: in Cairo (1962), Beirut (1967), New Delhi (1970), Alma Ata (1973), Luanda (1979), Tashkent (1983), and Tunis (1988). The literary magazine Lotus was also multilingual, publishing contemporary prose, folklore, literary criticism, and book reviews by African and Asian writers between 1968 to 1991. “Much like Benedict Anderson’s [idea of the] newspaper,” Professor Djagalov wittily remarked, Lotus created “a sense of new and native single organism.”

The Afro-Asian Association and the greater internationalist cultural politics of the Soviet Union have left a tremendous, if underexplored, legacy for postcolonial studies today. “The Third World, as its name suggests, was predicated on the existence of the First and the Second, and with the disappearance of the latter [Second World], [it] has become categories devoid of political ambition,” said Djagalov. The post-Soviet collapse of the cultural infrastructure that had once interconnected the Third World—from Beirut to Cairo, from New Delhi to Havana—has subsequently led to the birth of the spirit of postcolonialism. As a present iteration of the Afro-Asian Writers Association, postcolonial studies continues the “inserting of the cultures of the three continents into the world canons,” not only through publication, scholarship, and syllabi, but also by critiquing the Western hegemony and introducing theories of new self-reflexivity. “What has changed, however, is not only the location of this cultural intellectual labor in its form but also in its substance,” stressed Djagalov, citing the replacement of the Third-Worldist militant aesthetics with politics of recognition and academic elitism. (Djagalov brought up the fact that the new discourse has struggled to circulate itself outside of the university campuses). The Soviet analysis of the ‘colonizer-colonized’ binary and the paradigm of progressive nationalisms have also succumbed to the poststructuralist celebration of hybridity and the study of diaspora and transnationality. The last and the major point of departure goes to the question of the state: once seen among Third-Worldists as capable of eliminating inequalities, facilitating industrialization, and promoting national cultures, the state has become at the very heart of the postcolonial critique.

In his conclusion, Professor Djagalov elaborated on some of the broader interventions his monograph has to offer, delving into other chapters in the rest of the book. They include the aesthetic consequences of the Soviet engagements in the realm of literature (Chapter 3) and cinema (Chapter 4 and 5). During the Q&A, questions were raised concerning Russia’s own hegemony and underlying epistemic violence in singlehandedly orchestrating a highly ideological Third-Worldist institution and aesthetic. Professor Djagalov agreed, problematizing Russia’s role as the ‘big brother’ in the supposedly egalitarian internationalist formation. “It is unfortunate that the Soviet state attempted to claim all these books [Russian or Afro-Asian literatures] as its representatives,” said Djagalov, adding that the Marxist tradition of anti-colonialism has been reflected in the Soviet politics with tremendous distortions in this respect. In the end, Djagalov nonetheless argued that it is possible to read Russian literature “regardless of ideologies,” hinting at the potential for local agencies and reinterpretations to emerge.