The Place of Unrecognized States in the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation – The Case of Transnistria

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An unrecognized state is a political entity that possesses all the attributes of statehood (e.g., has armed forces, creates foreign policy) but lacks the international recognition of statehood status. One example of such an entity is the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic (PMR). Since the end of the Moldovan-Transnistrian war in the 1990s, it has been functioning as a de facto independent entity, even though the international community recognizes Transnistria as an integral part of Moldova. Russia is strengthening the statehood of PMRs, using them as a useful instrument in its foreign policy.

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From Citizen Investigators to Cyber Patrols: Volunteer Internet Regulation in Russia

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The organizations we studied — the Saint Petersburg Youth Security Service (MSB), the Safe Internet League (LBI), and the Cyber Cossack patrols — gather contingents of volunteers to scan the Russian Internet for illegal content (drug dealing, pedophilia, child pornography, “extremism” and, more recently, online suicide games). The MSB targets a broad scope of “negative content,” while the LBI and the Cyber Cossack patrols usually specialize in one specific issue, which may change according to the current political agenda or funding opportunities. The latter two organizations are also involved in generating “positive content:” creating sites promoting patriotic ideas, for example, to help create a “virtuous” Russian Internet.

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Saving a Tatar Communist From Stalinist and Cold-War Historiographies: The Political Economy of Nations

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Mirsaid Sultan-Galiev (1892-1940) was a communist, an anti-colonial revolutionary, and a devout Muslim. Born in the Bashkir village of Elembet’evo in Ufa, he was raised in a family of mixed socioeconomic backgrounds: his mother a member of the nobility, and his father a peasant following Ismail Gasprinskii’s movement of reformist Muslim thought, jadidism. Joining the revolution in 1917, Sultan-Galiev saw Bolshevism as a gateway to freeing colonized lands.
Today, his name has been obscured by two clashing, yet mutually reinforcing narratives.

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The Shamakhmudovs, Part I: Family and Kinship Metaphors in the Soviet Symbolic Order

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“The family of an Uzbek blacksmith identified as Shamakmudov [sic] may be the most multi-national in the world, the TASS news agency reported today. Akhmed and his wife adopted 14 children of soldiers killed in World War II including Uzbeks, Russians, Jews, Tartars, Moldavians, and Gypsies,” various American local daily news outlets reported in December 1964. Indeed, the main Soviet information agency, TASS, had run a short article on this Uzbek family as an exemplar of Soviet “friendship of the peoples.”

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Frances Saddington has recently completed a PhD on the early Soviet picture book in the School of History at the University of East Anglia (Norwich, UK).

On a golden September afternoon in St. Petersburg, I found myself walking around the Leningradskii zoopark. I was in Russia to research early Soviet picture books, my brain was preoccupied with vivid images of Pioneer troops and racing locomotives, along with cannibal pirates and other fairy-tale characters. As I wandered past the farm animals and aviaries full of exotic birds, I let myself imagine what the zoo might have been like a century earlier, when the authors and illustrators I was studying might have visited.

I stopped short when I reached the big cats, realizing that a pride of bored, sleepy lions in a small, rusting cage looked just like an illustration in one of my favorite picture books. It was as though time had stood still and they had been here since 1928, waiting for me to turn up and take their photograph.

Many Beasts (Mnogo zverei) was written by poet Aleksandr Vvedenskii (1904-1941) and illustrated by the artist Vera Ermolaeva (1893-1937). An unusually subversive piece of verse for a children’s book, it told the tale of a trip to the zoo where foxes and seals greet the visitor cheerfully, but many of the other residents are deeply unhappy. Vvedenskii imagines that the camel would rather be in the desert, and an eagle sits on a stone all day feeling fed up because he is unable to fly. The parrots can talk, but they simply screech nonsense that nobody understands, while only the flies have any freedom, so they buzz around and mock the captive creatures.

Vvedenskii and Ermolaeva were important members of the Leningrad School of children’s authors and illustrators, who produced some of the most stylish picture books of the era. Ermolaeva was an incredibly gifted painter and illustrator, playing a key role in the early Soviet avant-garde. She was a leading organizer of the Segodniia (Today) collective, which, during the Civil War years, hand printed some of the first children’s picture books of the Soviet era. She also worked collecting advertising sign boards for the Petrograd city museum and was a close colleague of Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935) at the illustrious People’s School of Art in Vitebsk.

Ermolaeva’s work in Many Beasts is typical of her idiosyncratic, painterly approach to book illustration. She drew the animals as flat, slightly abstracted figures in earthy shades, which matched the unsettled tone of the poem. Her big cats are full of natural character, with the bored-looking lion and snarling puma fairly bristling on the page. The lion in the photograph that I took was bathed in the same golden light as the book illustration and stuck in a small, bare cage with several other animals. It had gone past the point of boredom and fallen fast asleep.

 

A month after my excursion to the Leningradskii zoopark, I spent a chilly autumn day at the Moscow Zoo, a place equally full of picture book heritage. Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) must have been inspired by it when he wrote his poem The Menagerie (Zverinets), published as a picture book in 1928 with illustrations by Nikolai Kupreianov (1894-1933).

Pasternak’s zoo is a fascinating, almost mysterious place. The pond near the ticket kiosk shines silver in the wind and the roar of a growling puma echoes through the park. Bears hold conversations with visiting children, while the lioness paces up and down in meticulously measured steps behind the iron bars. A young Nile crocodile looks tiny, but will grow up to become far more terrible. The visitor is stunned by a fanned-out peacock’s tail, which looks like the night sky with fountains of falling stars.

On my own route around the park, I looked for tiny clues that would let my imagination recreate the zoo of the 1920s or early 1930s. Many things remain the same, including the huge pond near the entrance, the pony riding circle, and many of the enclosures in the zoo’s “new territory,” which was built in the late 1920s, across the road from the original site.

The most fascinating section of the new territory is Animal Island, a rocky edifice built to house large predators, surrounded by a moat to keep visitors safe. It is still inhabited by lions and other large creatures and retains its fascination for amateur zoologists of all ages. On the day I was there, grandmothers pushing prams stopped at the railings to let bundled-up toddlers peer at the big cats, who in turn shut their eyes disdainfully with no regard for the enthusiastic onlookers.

The structure was so innovative when it was constructed that it featured in a supplement to Iskorka (Sparkle), an illustrated magazine for pre-schoolers. Children were given printed shapes to cut out, which could then be glued together to make a three-dimensional model of the island. There were also cardboard animal templates, so that the model could be populated with lions, tigers, leopards, and bears, thus becoming a fully functional homemade toy.

Animal Island has barely changed, but today it is dwarfed by the tall, faded, late-Soviet apartment blocks that dominate the skyline near the zoo. The city is bigger and busier than anyone could have imagined a hundred years ago, but children still love to gaze at the zoo animals, take a pony ride, and buy a balloon to take home. The lions are still haughty, the birds are still noisy, and it would be nice to think that somewhere in the constant stream of visitors there is an artist, sketching ideas for a new picture book that will still be read a hundred years from now.


Exegi Monumentum Aere Perennius: Poetry as Memory in Ukraine and Beyond

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To say that contemporary literature engages with issues of memory may sound banal. In both prose and poetry, memory is everywhere. And when it comes to scholarship, the “memory boom” of the eighties and nineties has definitely not waned. It’s no coincidence that one of the most famous quotes from the poetry of Louise Glück is “We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.”

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The Dialectical Images of Russian History

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When university students are first introduced to the discipline of history, it is often as a practice of grand narratives – the surveying and engineering of broad explanatory models about the past. But what space do we give in the classroom to more minute critical labors – siftings through the debris of the Russian, East European, and Eurasian centuries; the historian as collector, or humble ragpicker?

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Destruction or Hope? Past or Present? Postmodern Unity in Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso no. 1

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For the majority of listeners, Andrei Tarkovsky’s film “Stalker” (1979) is not the first cinematic association that comes to mind when they experience Alfred Schnittke’s “Concerto Grosso no.1” (1977). (The music in Stalker was composed by Eduard Artemyev.) Yet in his book, “Alfred Schnittke’s Concerto Grosso no.1,” Peter Schmelz suggests that Stalker’s themes of time’s fluidity, nostalgia and hope are enacted in the piece.

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Men Who Paint, Men Who Post: Visualizing Russian Masculinity

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In his first personal Instagram post since his poisoning, a dazed Navalny sits up in his hospital bed, surrounded by smiling family. He is hunched, his collarbone and ribs visible beneath his gown. This confused man with raised brows recalled Repin’s 1884 portrait of Vsevolod Garshin, a writer who was famously depressed. Even while sitting for his friend Repin, Garshin appears viscerally alone. Navalny does, too.

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Is the “Resource Curse” Irreversible? Experiences of the Russian Regions

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In examining how the natural resource wealth of a country affects its economic development, some scholars have argued that windfall revenue from resource exploitation is a “curse” to the country because it creates incentives that reduce economic growth and living standards and worsen the business environment. Can resource-rich countries get out of this alleged economic “curse,” or are they stuck in it until the resources run out?

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Price Tags for Wet Land: Resource-Making in Late Imperial Russia

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On November 9, 2020, the Jordan Center hosted Katja Bruisch, Professor in Environmental History at Trinity College Dublin, for a talk on the peatlands in late imperial Russia. By tracing the messy and arbitrary process by which peatlands were appropriated as resources, the talk reflected the relationship between state, economy, and nature. A historian of modern Russia, Professor Bruisch is interested in the interplay between social, political and environmental change, particularly in the Russian countryside. She has worked on the role of experts in dealing with the ‘agrarian question’ in the late imperial and early Soviet periods. In her current project, she explores ways to integrate environmental perspectives into the history of the modern Russian economy, tracing the transformation of peatlands into hinterlands of industrializing cities and the social and environmental legacies of peat extraction and wetland drainage since the imperial period. Bruisch’s talk was hosted by Anne O’Donnell, Assistant Professor of Russian & Slavic Studies at New York University.

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Impeachment, Socialist-Style

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The 1984 State Tribunal trial was preceded by an amendment to the constitution and a complicated two-year parliamentary procedure. How was it even possible to introduce such an institution into state-socialist Poland? What led the communist leadership to limit their powers and establish a special court before which their actions might be sanctioned? The answer to this question is inseparable from the eventful history of the early 1980s in Poland, and also interrogates many stereotypes of how law and politics functioned the socialist Eastern Bloc.

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Ballet in the Cold War: The New York City Ballet’s 1962 Tour of the Soviet Union

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On February 5th, the Jordan Center welcomed Professor Anne Searcy for a talk on the exchange of Soviet and American ballet troupes for cultural diplomacy during the Cold War. In October 1962, New York City Ballet (NYCB) toured the Soviet Union, performing seventeen ballets by George Balanchine. Part of the Soviet-American cultural exchange, the NYCB tour was positively received by the Soviet audiences but has since been misunderstood as a sign of political protest. Searcy explored the Soviet responses to Balanchine and his company and argued that the Soviet viewers interpreted these new works through Thaw-era debates about choreography and music. The talk was hosted by Anne O’Donnell, Assistant Professor of Russian & Slavic Studies at New York University. Stream it here.

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“Red and Brown”: Left-Patriotism in Russia, its Ideology and Social Base, 1993-2021

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On February 22, Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia hosted Dr. Alexey Sakhnin, who spoke about the post-Soviet emergence of a political trend consisting of both leftism and right-wing patriotism. Sakhnin received his PhD in modern Russian history and society, with a dissertation dedicated to the debates about the Soviets within the Bolshevik party, later published under the title The Experience of October: How to Make Revolution. Prosecuted as one of the public faces of the Bolotnaya protests of 2011-12, he lived for five years in exile in Sweden, before returning to Russia to work as a journalist and left-oppositional activist. He was introduced by Rossen Djagalov, Assistant Professor of Russian & Slavic Studies at New York University. Stream it here.

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The Improbable Museum: Igor Savitsky’s Collection of Russian Avant-Garde and Karakalpak Art in Soviet Central Asia

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On December 4, 2020, Jordan Center for Advanced Study of Russia hosted Zukhra Kasimova, a PhD candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Kasimova was introduced by Rossen Djagalov, Assistant Professor of Russian Slavic Studies at New York University. Kasimova spoke about Igor Savitsky’s creation of “the second largest collection of Russian modernist art in the world.” The Museum is a unique collection of Karakalpak applied folk art and works of the Russian and Soviet avant-garde located in Nukus, which is approximately 800 kilometers away and a 15-hour train ride from the Uzbek capital Tashkent. Stream it here.

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Steppe School: The Late Russian Empire and Kazakh Agriculture

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In 1894, Vasily A. Saenko arrived in the small town of Zaisan in what is today far eastern Kazakhstan to take charge of the Zaisan Kazakh Agricultural School. For several years, the school had suffered from changing leadership and poor management. Saenko would begin to enact a program of reform that he hoped would extend far beyond the classroom and serve as a catalyst for the transformation of the local Kazakh nomads into settled farmers.

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In Search of Russia’s Archival Mystique

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If you’re a Russian historian, one of the first questions you usually get from an informed outsider is about the archives. Has the opening of the archives resulted in blockbuster revelations? Isn’t Putin shutting down the archives for good? You might protest that in terms of accessibility and ease of use, most Russian archives are more open than ever (at least pre-COVID), but it is unlikely that you’ll make a lasting impression. The perpetually tantalizing, perpetually closing Russian archives have a special mystique.

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