In 2004, Mark von Hagen noted that many American journals and academic institutions, when renaming their field as “Eurasian studies” to signify the study of post-Soviet space, retained “Russia” in the title. This, as he wrote, spoke not only of the Russia-centeredness of Russian and East European studies in the US but also of “the still relatively preponderant role in the international relations of the Eurasian space that Russia might continue to play, however diminished that power is today”.

Almost 15 years later, and with many academic institutions following the American lead in renaming their area of expertise, Russia has regained much of its power and become somewhat synonymous with Eurasia. Or, in a more nuanced view, as Marlene Laruelle’s, Eurasia may refer to Russia and the post-Soviet new states, or, paradoxically, to the post-Soviet states without Russia, that is, it may “encompass all the ‘others’ of Russia, both external others – Central Asia, South Caucasus, Mongolia – and internal ones – North Caucasian, Tatar, Bashkir, and Siberian cultures”.

Regardless of the significations given to it, Eurasia seems to have become almost as an important point of identification for experts of the ex-Soviet regions as it has for the Russian geopolitical imagination in which Russian civilization and imperial influence is equated with the Eurasian space. Meanwhile, the boundaries of that space have proven to be even more fluid and blurry than anticipated in the 2000s.

The contributions to the recent bilingual (English and German) volume Russland und/als Eurasian: Kulturelle Konfigurationen (eds. Christine Engel and Birgit Menzel, Frank & Timme, 2018) show that Eurasia as an interpretive frame is far from exhausted, and the paradoxes mentioned above, are a necessary starting point for exploring its geographical, political, and cultural conceptualizations. Triggered by a conference in Berlin in 2016, the volume features members of the Aleksanteri Institute’s research staff as well as long-term partners of the Aleksanteri community.

Not all imaginative geographies of Eurasia are necessarily as centripetal, in regard to Russia, as one may expect. Ilya Kukulin brings forth an important development in discussions about Eurasia in Russian-language cultural and academic practices. He examines recent postcolonial readings of Russia’s Eurasian spatiality as well as current critical intellectuals’ efforts to methodologically deconstruct the established meanings of Russian Eurasianism with its totalizing narratives of historical unity. This stems from the publication by the Ab Imperio editors’ innovative textbook The New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia (Novaia imperskoi istorii severnoi Evrazii, 2017). The textbook manifests, again, the crucial role that history studies can and have indeed played in rethinking the epistemological fundaments of Eurasian studies at large.

Dr. Sanna Turoma is an Academy of Finland Fellow and Adjunct Professor working at the Aleksanteri Institute.


More about the subject: Language & culture