New Perspectives on Russia and Eurasia

Highway in Moscow

 

This series of research seminars and open lectures sheds light on the recent and current phenomena related to Russia, Eastern Europe and Eurasia. It provides deep scholarly information on social, political and cultural issues of today, but also about their background and the processes leading to them.  The scholars presenting their research are members of the Aleksanteri Institute's staff and researchers from its network from PhD students to renowned international academics. 

The research seminar doesn't have a set date, so please keep an eye on this page or our event calendar! The events are open and free to all, and when possible they're also streamed live on the Aleksanteri YouTube channel and provided later as video recordings on that same platform. 

 

In the Eye of the Beholder:  Misperceptions of Electoral Integrity in Central-Eastern Europe

This seminar is a first presentation of the new three-year research project Electoral Malpractice, Cyber-security, and Political Consequences in Russia and Beyond (ElMaRB) where we lay out the main research problem and questions we intend to address. Margarita Zavadskaya will present the early results of the empirical analysis and invites to discuss further developments of the project.

The ElMaRB is a three-year research project that deals with a challenge of electoral malpractice in the post-communist countries, both democratic and autocratic, those that were a part of the former USSR and those that were in the realm of the Soviet influence with a special focus on domestic developments in Russia as the main ‘black knight’ in the area. The project explores what affects the misperceptions of electoral integrity in post-communist countries in Europe. Is Russia any different from other post-communist countries? Our research team addresses the following research questions: does the information about compromised electoral integrity affect citizens’ trust in political institutions, modes of political participation, and their support for a regime? If so, how does it affect turnout and propensity to protest? What affects political behavior stronger: the ‘objective’ quality of elections or public perception framed by mass media? In more practical terms, what are the ways to prevent possible adverse political effects of electoral malpractice and, more specifically, negative imagining of elections in mass media?

Russia over the 20th century according to Andrei B. Zubov et al.                

In 2009, Dr Andrei Borisovich Zubov and some 40 co-authors published a two-volume history of Russia (Istoria Rossii. XX vek; Tom I: 1894-1939 gg., Tom II: 1939-2007 gg.). It was launched as a complete break with Soviet historiography, offering a focus on society and humans instead. It represents a most welcome and thorough enlightenment effort in my assessment. The historiography of Zubov and his co-authors is not flawless, but the very organization of their analysis merits attention as well as their data, anecdotal evidence etc. and, last but not least, their specific interpretations. For instance, they begin by arguing the lack of solidarity among citizens in pre-20th century Russia as setting the scene for what they term a disaster hitting Russia in the 20th century, namely the years from 1917 until 1954. The seminar will focus on how they analyze this decisive and, indeed, tragic epoch.

As for the time before the Bolshevik seizure of power in late 1917, Zubov et al. realize that czarism was doomed, but highlight reformers like Stolypin as well as Kornilov as people who represented an alternative scenario. They detail the German aid to Lenin and portray him and other Bolsheviks as brutal and deeply immoral in their atheism crushing religious belief. Moreover, their chapter on The Russian Civil War carries the title “The War for Russia – October 1917-October 1922”. Here they display sympathy for the cause of the Whites and cite the data of the well-respected Rudolph J. Rummel about the terrible toll of the war. They insist that the famine accompanying the war was a planned “golodomor” like later in Ukraine.

The analysis of the post-Lenin era begins in 1923, when Stalin emerged as heir apparent. Zubov et al. downplay NEP as a “false Thermidor” and highlight the development of the repressive apparatus and draw comparisons to both Mussolini, Hitler and fascism. They turn the year 1928 into the watershed for the “Onslaught on peasantry” (Razgrom krestianstva). They argue Stalin’s responsibility for the genocidal measures that followed, yet do admit the need for investment while also using Solzhenitsyn’s term the “Second Serfdom” about forced collectivization.

Zubov et al.s material on 1930s is rich. They stress the stifling of society amidst the onset of The Great Terror and highlight the amateurism and cynicism of many vydvyzhentsy. They portray Stalin as responsible for barbarism, spymania and hysteria throughout society, and detail his stunt of counterfeiting dollars. They engage themselves in the drama surrounding the Civil War in Spain, and their chapter on Soviet armament makes it clear that Stalin did not abandon the cause of the world revolution. They contrast the spiritual freedom and enlightenment among Russians in exile with the enslavement of Russians living inside the Soviet Union as their balance sheet for the year 1939.

Zubov et al. invent the controversial term “The Soviet-Nazi War” for The Great Fatherland War of 1941-1945 while also stressing the dilemma of decision-making behind the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. They perceive a genuine change of foreign policy during the World War II and go into Lend-and-Lease aid. Unsurprisingly, they detail the battles of Stalingrad and Kursk, but also – and to the shock of Russian reviewers – write approvingly about Vlasov and his anti-Stalinist Vlasovites.

Equally controversial, Zubov et al. analyze the post-war era in terms of “Stalin’s preparation for a World War III”. They go into the famine of 1946-47 and argue a change from a “sub-Soviet” to Soviet society amidst the onset of the Cold War. The entire post-Stalin era 1953-1991 carries the headline “The Degradation of Communist Totalitarianism”.

Mette Skak is Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, Aarhus University. She holds an MA degree in Russian language and history and a PhD in political science from Copenhagen University. Her research interests are strategic culture, Soviet and post-Soviet Russian affairs. Dr. Skak is a visiting fellow at the Aleksanteri Institute from mid-February till mid-March.

Nurturing obedient subjects? Exemplary Soviet pioneer camps Artek and Orlyonok and its' transformations during the Soviet era

Projects to recover the "body and soul" of children through the organization of children's collective outdoor recreation in the 20th century were popular around the globe. Their researchers note that each of them not only addressed health amendment issues but was also associated with the to develop citizenship skills and strong patriotic identity. The Soviet Union was no exception to this trend. The first children’s camps for spending summer holiday appeared in the Soviet Union at the dawn of Soviet power and were conceived by the Soviet ideologists as a place were a responsible Soviet subject would be formed. During the Soviet era, the type of person needs to be raised was constantly changed, influencing the everyday life of the pioneer camps. At the same time, the actors of the changes were not only officials from the Central Committee of the Komsomol, but also ordinary educators. The focus of my presentation will be on the transformations of two exemplary camps in the USSR, Artek (1925) and Orlyonok (1959), and in particular — the preconditions and consequences of the shift, that occurred with the All-Union pioneer camps during the Thaw under the influence of the new ideology of «socialism with a human face,» based on such categories as spontaneous activity and individual initiative.

Until the late 1950s, Artek, like other Soviet southern resorts, were fulfilling преимущественно recreational and healthcare functions and served as a famous illustration of Soviet proclamations of the Party's concern for children. Retaining the structure of the medical institution, which imposes significant restrictions on the attendee’s agency, Artek (and his new twin-brother in the Caucasus — Orlyonok received at the end of the 1950s the mission to educate activists — initiative pioneers selected from all over the Union who would organize the public life in their school groups after their return from the All-Union camp. As a result, there is a tension between the inherited social order of the healthcare institution and the new ideological aims. Turning to analysis of archive internal documentation of the All-Union camps for activists Artek and Orlyonok, as well as interviews with their former employees, I would like to consider how the camp counselors developed new technologies of upbringing active soviet subject (making the transition from rigid tools of vertical supervision to soft horizontal behavior management, such as play, discussions, humor) and how the Thaw era shift influenced its staff strategies of self-presentation in the late Soviet and post Soviet era.

Anna Kozlova is a junior research fellow of the Center for Applied Research at the European University at Saint-Petersburg. She graduated from the Ph.D. program of the Department of Anthropology (EUSP) in summer 2019, and  is completing her thesis in the YRUSH programme at the Aleksanteri Institute.