Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Mika Perkiömäki (University of Tampere)

"Rivers Are No Longer Nature for the kWh People": The River in Sergey Zalygin's "An Ecological Novel"

The novelist Sergey Zalygin (1913–2000) was a prominent figure in the Soviet environmentalist movement. In the 1960s, he actively – and successfully – campaigned against the building of a huge hydroelectric power station on the lower Ob River in Salekhard. He was also the first to write openly about the enforced collectivization of the 1930s. Many of his Stagnation-era essays handle literature's connection to nature, and his influence on cancelling the Northern river reversal project was decisive. As the first non-Communist Party member to become editor in chief of "Novy Mir" (1986–1998), he was the first to publish Solzhenitsyn's "The Gulag Archipelago" in the Soviet Union. This presentation examines Zalygin's "An Ecological Novel", which he published in "Novy Mir" in 1993. The autobiographical novel tells the story of a Soviet water engineer. The story begins with his role in World War II and the Transpolar Railway soon after the war. It continues by considering the hero's significance in cancelling the plans of the Salekhard power station before describing his consultative visit to the construction site of the Aswan High Dam. The story ends on the Pripyat River, which was badly polluted with radionuclides after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. On the river, a group of notable nineteenth-century Russian geographers confronts him with disconcerting questions. My presentation focuses on the image of the river in "An Ecological Novel". Through the Ob, the author shows how distorted the Soviet authorities' relationship to nature was and the real reasons behind the cancellation of the Salekhard station. The Nile is represented as a sacred river, the harnessing of which is an act of barbarism. It is no coincidence that the consequences of the Chernobyl catastrophe are presented through the Pripyat, as rivers have often been used in Russian literature to discuss the interaction between culture and nature. Zalygin's work belongs to this tradition, which already since the 1970s has looked to the past for solutions to the modern environmental crisis.