A: Anna Avdeeva
D: Daria Krivonos
M: Margarita Zavadskaya
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A: Hello, everyone! Today we meet with me, Anna Avdeeva. I’m a post-doctoral researcher at Soc&kom at University of Helsinki, and my background is in gender studies. Today here are also my colleagues Daria Krivonos and Margarita Zavadskaya who will introduce themselves.
M: OK, so hi, everyone! I’m Margarita and I’m a political scientist, so here I guess we represent different… we come from different academic backgrounds, and I’m the one who’s been studying bad guys, all kinds of dictatorships including Russia, for the last 15 years.
D: Hi, my name is Daria Krivonos. I also work at the University of Helsinki and I’m a sociologist. My field is migration, race, class; I’ve been interested in post-socialist migration. But also from the perspective of critical race and postcolonial studies. So I think it’s something that is relevant for today’s events, too.
A: Yeah, I think it’s important to say why we are here today and why we decided to talk and to meet and to make it public – somehow at least. So as far as I see it, and you can correct me or add your own thoughts about it, is that we – as Russian-background scholars here in Finland working and residing here in Finland and probably not only in Finland but like worldwide – feel the urgent need to voice our opposition against the Russian war against Ukraine and things which are going on right now. It’s terrible, it’s so inhuman, absolutely. And in some (sense as representatives) [01:51] of this aggressor, we have to voice our opposition, but discuss it mostly not in a personal way but more in academic and provide information on what’s going on in Russia currently, and how people take it, and what do we – as scholars – think about it, and what perspectives we have, and what is the future for all of us, I think.
D: Exactly. Yeah, I would also add that it’s not only that we represent, in a way, the aggressor country, but also we represent the second-largest minority group in Finland. And that’s why we also thought that it would be important to speak from this particular position, also from the position of close proximity to Russia. So from perspective of also Russian minority in a way.
A: Yeah, and protestors, I would say, since all of three of us and (--) [02:56] also do not support this war, so I think here we take different positions, and it’s important for us to speak, as far as I think. Margarita?
M: So and what kind of… I mean, for me, it’s a personal tragedy, so I think I’m still trying to digest what’s going on, but I think we’re still underestimating the consequences, long-term consequences for our personal careers, for our relatives’ families, and things like that. So it’s like something will have to (--) collective guilt, (something that has been) discussed quite a lot these days, so there’s something extremely uncomfortable, but this is something that we also… I mean, we have responsibility for. So as a political activist as well, because I’ve been observing elections for many years, it’s… I mean, when I woke up in the morning (--) my first thought was: OK, I really need to get rid of the citizenship. Then I realized this is legally very difficult, so that I need to have a power of attorney to send someone somewhere, and basically I need to go back to Russia, and (that was, I mean) [04:08], not the desire I actually had that morning, so I really wanted to fall back to sleep and wake up again and (--) because it’s really… it felt like a very bad dream. Finally, I also have friends, half of my family is from Ukraine, and this is… I mean, it’s a real tragedy, I mean, without any exaggeration so to speak. And I’m still trying to remain a political scientist and provide some kind of a… I don’t think that being neutral these days is a good thing, so I don’t really believe that scholars [comment in the background]… Yes, exactly. (Coming in) white lab coats and trying to pretend as if they study something with a distance. So we’ll try to keep some distance, of course, but I think it’s a very important disclaimer that it’s just impossible. And all of us, without any reservations, we strongly condemn what’s going on now. I mean, we’re very grateful that we were given voice, because now I think we’re not in the best position to speak, actually.
D: Yeah, but if I could also maybe add something, because we are also very aware of the critique of Ukrainian, (now) [05:15] Ukrainian colleagues and Ukrainian people that, in a way, also throughout history, we know, like, Russian imperial history. But also academically that Russian voices have been always at the centre. So we are also very aware of that, and by coming together and speaking now, we don’t really want to (recentre) Russian voices or (recentre) how we feel in our own feelings, but I think also maybe in a way provide some analysis of the situation of how we see that also from the academic perspective – taking into account, for example, Margarita’s long-term research and Anna’s research, and taking in consideration Russian imperial history when we talk about this and when we sit here, having microphones, (too). So again, the question is: whose voices can be (recentred) when we talk about that? I think we have to be aware of that.
A: I support that we definitely… it’s our obligation to be self-critical (in this situation) [06:24]. Yet I think it’s also important, try to share the information, because many (--) some kind of informational bubble. And for instance, in my Facebook, which is rather the collection… Like, not a collection but academic community of scholars from all over the world and activists. Including some Russian-background people, I hear the discussions of how it was done, what are the results, and what could have been done. And here I think it’s really important to talk about how things are going right now in Russia, so, like, to make the picture more multi-dimensional, not to make it like flat. Because as far as I see as a gender (--) see that there is a crack between, (like, in) Russian society. As a gender researcher, I see like this gender crack first of all, because women – (and) the majority of them, (like, are not) supporting the war, while men are, like, less critical, yet even if we put aside this gender issue, we could see that it’s not like that… It’s not like 86 per cent, like, who supports it – and maybe Rita could provide more information on recent statistics and polls.
M: So this is (fortunate, unfortunate) [07:58] at the same time, because I’ve been studying survey data for the last ten years and, I mean, there has been all kinds of criticism towards the reliability (--) qualitative side and those who collect interviews from postcolonial studies, of course. And these days, (while) of a sudden, it became so important and so reliable [laughs]. OK, of course, in… yeah. Quote unquote. And I would like to say just a couple of words about how… Do we really need to attach so much political weight to these polls these days? Because first of all, when we’re talking about Russia, this is not a democratic state, this is the state that has been under severe pressure, especially during the last couple of years. I just (completed the) report for Freedom House, and the Russian political regime even before the war erupted, actually, had been downgraded even lower, so we hit a new bottom, I mean, when I say we, again, (--) right? (Who we are) [laughs], what we are representing here. So according to the independent polls, (53) per cent of Russians, (speaking back to the) [09:08] 1st of March, they not against the war, they (even) strongly support or somewhat support the war. But what is really important here is not the numbers but the words, because there was no word war in the formulation, because it goes against the law. It’s a special military operation. And it sounds as – you know – business as usual as it does, and (--) it has implications and shifts people’s responses. The second thing is that people may falsify their preferences. And finally, what (I’ve) learnt from the (survey industry these days, today we had our) internal conversations with my colleagues (--) very aggressive and scared when they ask questions. So even before the war erupted, so people were kind of unwilling to respond, we know (--) universal fatigue of, you know, being surveyed all the time, what kind of, you know, soap you prefer, what kind of… Do you like HBO or Netflix, and this kind of stuff. And when it gets really political and sensitive, people actually, they take this self-defensive position, and they react very aggressively, so I wouldn’t put too much weight on the results (we’re dealing now) [10:18]. But of course, there are politicians who are using this data that, I mean, making the claims that Russians do support the war, they want the war, and this means that, actually, the political responsibility goes beyond the Russian government (--) personally, and all Russian passport holders have to be held accountable to what’s going on. So I think this is something very sensitive, very important that needs to be discussed these days.
D: Yeah, and these polls are really politicized, and it’s very interesting how, indeed, it’s used as a political weapon that first you ask the questions in a way that, you know, people will answer them the way you need, and then you use the results to justify the actions that you’re doing. But also we know that a lot of surveys are held on the phone, via the phone, and people are also very (concerned, and I know many are) just scared to really respond what they really think, because they know very well that their phone number can be associated with the opinion that they voice on the phone. So it’s also one more dimension to the nature of these polls and the survey data.
M: I’m just wondering why (--) [11:32] qualitative evidence, (so it’s very) unusual for me saying these things, because I’m a quant person [laughs], and I’ve been advocating these methods for all my academic life, but why not just – you know – combine this with more nuanced data. I’m very surprised by the short-sightedness of those journalists and political experts (who has) been so critical of the method, now they (--) [laughs] I mean, they put so much trust in that. But yeah, so this is why I’m very curious: what is your take on this from the postcolonial perspective?
D: Yeah, but maybe more like from a… Because I’m a qualitative person: I’ve been doing qualitative research (--) research. So indeed, as I said, like, there has been a lot of critique [laughs] to this survey method and the polls, and we know that – first of all – that the person who asked the question and the person who answers the question, they should have exactly same understanding and interpretation of the question. But here, we are really unsure how people interpreted the question and what kind of picture they have and what information they have when answering… like, the fact that they support, I mean, the fact itself that they refer to it as a special military operation, it’s already like a big thing. And the question of how much information people have, we know that all the international media, all the independent media has been totally suppressed in the last year in particular, but also in the last weeks. So we know that as well, so when we interpret this data, we have to be quite careful, but at the same time, it would be hard to deny that also some are quite supportive of the war, while others are not.
A: Yeah, and I think, in this regard, it’s really important to take a look at recent legal initiatives in Russia and what have been done, and I think it’s quite revealing in terms, like, how Russian authorities consider or take the opposition to this, like, so-called special military operation, and here I would like to remind about (these two new) [14:02] articles of Criminal Code of Russia, which is 280.3 and 270.3, which has been taken recently, like, in couples of previous weeks. (The wide public called) them this (anti-fake) articles (which promise) imprisonment up to 15 years for discrediting Russian Army and the goals of Russian Army and their actions. And I think it’s quite illustrative in a sense that there is some opposition, and Russian authorities are quite scare of public protests, as far as I see (it at least, as a) social scientist working with qualitative data. I guess I expect that soon there will be cases, because as far as I know from student communities, there are already (personal charges and prosecutions) [15:07], and there is huge discussions and resistance in (St. Petersburg State University, in Moscow’s State Universities) where the deans have published these orders for what is called cancellation of study right for those students who participated in street protests. And I think it says a lot about the situation and it says a lot about who is participating in these protests, and that it’s not that flat, it’s not that evident that everyone in Russia (support that). There is actually a strong protest movement which consists of quite diverse groups (--) youngers, youngsters, and students, some middle-class people, and also I guess that soon there will be a number of people who left Russia already, so I (-) numbers like one million already. I cannot rely on these numbers. And again, it’s not about the numbers per se but about the fact that people trying to leave, and the prices for tickets to Yerevan, Tbilisi, and other countries have rocketed. And I think it tells a lot about what’s going on, and people trying to (leave it and) [16:41]… in fear for their families – at least what my Facebook says. I don’t know how relevant and reliable Facebook could be, but at least it provide information for some groups of protesters.
D: Yeah, and we also know that people who flee at the moment, they don’t even have any longer-term plans. People leave with tourist visa, so they don’t have any rights in the countries, and they don’t have any… I mean, they just leave without plans, and I think that it’s also kind of quite a strong statement that just whatever but not staying in that place.
M: To the best of my knowledge and according to the data we have, so this is the biggest exodus of Russian citizens since, I don’t know, since the Perestroika (time when so) many Soviet citizens decided to patriate back to Israel or Germany or any other countries (--) Soviet Union used to be a multinational state, and the interethnic relations, relationship they were far from being peaceful and unproblematic, so to speak. But going back to the protests in Russia, and how to estimate, because I recently… If I was accused, it sounds a bit too strong, but maybe… I heard some –
M: Yes, let’s put it this way. Some criticism that Russians haven’t done enough to stop the war, which is utterly true. That’s actually something which sometimes psychologists refer to as learnt helplessness. So that even in the situation when something can be done, something is possible, and as Anna says, Russian authorities (--) [18:26] what’s going on. So when they also live in their own information bubble, so they don’t have… they cut off any reliable feedback information. And all the decision-making process is utterly detached from the (reality, so the very decision) actually to engage with all kinds of, you know, with this military aggression was informed by the lack of credible information. And just (--) quick detour, just to confirm my words is that I don’t know whether it’s good or bad news, but the FSB department – which was responsible for providing information, including Ukraine, actually – is being prosecuted now by the president and his own circles, because… allegedly for money embezzlement. So speaking in laypeople’s terms, (these guys) were actually receiving the money for providing – sorry, my language – bullshit information to the government. And this illustrates how Russian decision-making process has been on the way during the last ten years, if not longer. And about protesters, it’s really hard to estimate how many people are protesting (--) [19:37] fact that Russians haven’t done enough, I mean, sometimes if you go to the streets in Russia or if you protest, it sometimes equals to standing with bare hands in front of a tank. I mean, the level of aggression and physical violence is enormous. And I do know colleagues, including (Grigori) –
A: The recent example of a person who had quite serious consequences of his protesting for his physical wellbeing. At least physical.
M: People are being tortured in the police… I mean, and it has become unfortunately a common practice. But of course, a very important disclaimer: again, it’s nothing compared to those who are being shelled these days in Ukraine. This is something, actually, we’re not like, you know, three scholars whining about how hard the life is in Russia, so it is hard, but again –
A: It’s not that hard (--) [20:37] clear that it’s not about, like, comparing… It’s nothing, it’s just about some general framework of what’s going on in Russia, so.
D: Yeah, and I think it’s also important exactly what Rita started talking about, these multiple hierarchies that are at place. So I feel like we can accept any critique from Ukrainian people now. I’m just, I’m taking everything people are saying to me, but at the same time when, for example, some, let’s call like, Western colleagues or people on Twitter tell Russian people what to do, well, there I become a little bit more kind of dubious. I’m not sure that people are really aware or they were ever at risk of going to the demonstration and then arranging, like, day care or care for their children or for their relatives in case they’ve been detained. So again, I think it’s important to emphasize these multiple hierarchies which are at place. And emphasizing that it doesn’t compare at all to the shellings in Ukraine at the moment. But yeah, that’s the point [laughs], I just stop here. And just to add that when people speaking from quite safe positions, I feel like I’m not even in a position, while being in Finland in Helsinki, to tell my friends in Russia that they should go to demonstrations, because they will tell me: you know what, you are kind of in a very safe space now, don’t tell us what to do, because you’re not taking these risks. So talking about these multiple hierarchies.
M: It’s a very actual crucial point that I also don’t feel like I’m in a position to tell those who stayed in St. Petersburg, Moskva, other places, you guys you should just take to the streets and be brave, (ta-da) [22:41]. No, I’m not, and actually, I do everything possible to… I mean, tell my non-Russian, non-Ukrainian colleagues that maybe it’s not the right thing to tell people, because –
A: (And Belarusian) colleagues as well, because they have experienced this oppressive machine two years ago, and there have been like mass protests which been like really violently, like, suppressed, I think. So here, unfortunately, those who oppose the war and would like to take more critical action, they have an example of Belarusian colleagues about what could happen to them. And as far as I see, it wasn’t like that widely discussed in… like, I don’t like this term West, because you know, it’s like too (simplifying) (--) I haven’t seen mass discussions among my Western European colleagues, US colleagues about Belarusian protests, but there have been much discussion in Russian society actually about, like, what we can do and how we can do, especially when there is such a huge suppression from a suppressive machine. (Yeah, so I think) [23:57] it’s important also to say that there are still some kind of form of protests that people try to finance independent mass media – for instance Novaya Gazeta – you know, that they collecting money that there is like grassroot organizations (--) which supports people who’ve been detained, like imprisoned or caught at meetings, and they provide various form of legal and practical support just to bring water, food, and medicine to police station where people are waiting. And it shows that it’s not so, like, it not hopeless, I guess, in this sense, that people are looking for their forms of protest, and leaving country is also one of the form of protest here. And I think it’s also important to stress that even though there are these public letters from rectors of Russian state universities supporting this military operation, there are letters from students and our colleagues from Moscow, St. Petersburg, Siberian universities which are opposing and standing up against Russian war in Ukraine, whatever we call it, whatever the authorities call it, but people take a very critical position. And it might have far-going consequences for them, like being fired, no money. So they get to this position when you take your… like, when you perform your political position, when you perform your ethical position, you face the consequences. I think in this regard it’s really important to think about the future how it’s going to be and what’s going to be and what else can we do here. I think that the idea of (decolonization of these) [26:01] post-Soviet (studies is) quite important, so maybe Daria could share more thoughts as a specialist on decolonization and decolonial studies.
D: Yeah, I think more recently there were more and more calls towards decolonization of area studies and all the discussion, what is it all about, what can area studies contribute to social theory. But from the perspective of East European studies and Slavic studies, I think it has been largely dominated by the study of Russian society. I myself haven’t been maybe so active in the field of Russian studies, but once I just checked the American Association of Slavic and East European Studies conference and then I saw that there were some panels in Russian, and I was really surprised that it was taking place. Because, well, obviously, there are many other languages in which those panels could be taking place, but the whole idea that Russian language is used in these conferences, as language of discussion in the panels, I think it’s a very interesting thing, of course, one of the traits of this imperial nature of Russian studies. But also I was doing field work on Ukrainian migrants in Poland and, two years ago, I signed up for Ukrainian course. It was the last chance I could do that, because the Ukrainian language programme was closed in Finland after that.
D: Yeah, so now at the moment – I don’t know, maybe we should also raise this discussion – that in whole Finland you can’t study Ukrainian anywhere. So it was also seen as, like, not too many people were interested supposedly in the language, too much money… I don’t believe that too much money would go to that programme, but the decision was made to close the programme of Ukrainian language. But also I know a lot of critique from Ukrainian colleagues and Ukrainian friends how many Russian people talk about the war: even if they are against the war, they continue to use this narrative of the brotherly nations, that we’re brothers and sisters – well, we know it’s also highly problematic, because these relations have been always based on subjugation of Ukrainian people. And Russian imperial machine has been suppressing those voices throughout history. So yes, just some thoughts on this. (--) [28:58] participating in this discussion (and when) Anna invited me, I also felt a little bit like uneasy and thinking again, OK, this is Russian people going to speak, again. So yeah, I think it’s important not to (recentre) these voices, but I hope that we just manage to give a picture and give a context to the situation, also while being aware (from) the position from which we speak.
M: And just speaking of the future and piggybacking on what Daria also mentioned. (So what are the) prospects from political science on the situation now, so there is so much hope actually put on Russian protesters, but what we know from empirical studies, most of the democratization processes actually happen due to (--) and protesters usually just join and amplify the crack (--) and these, like, frontliners, hardliners (--) softliners and things like that. So usually, it’s the next step, but it’s not the beginning. I can recall one example when protesters’ mass demonstrations made the first step, it was Romania, and we clearly remember how Ceausescu ended up. So I’m pretty sure that there are so many people actually who would wish the same fate to the guy who launched all this mess. But going back to the academic endeavours, so basically the prospects of political change in Russia, I mean, it’s not about protesters – they are important, and they will be pivotal at some point, but they’re not the one who make the first move. That’s what we know again from (comparative) [30:43] perspective. Going back to the decolonization and this perspective, so what is really important these days is to reframe and to rethink the very language we’re using these days, because we have the term post-Soviet – what does it mean? Does it have any sense these days? I don’t think so. I will teach a course next academic year, and I do have this post-communist objective, and I will start my lecture with the very question, so do we still need to combine these states and these societies together in a single bundle? Is it still academically relevant? Post-Soviet clearly sounds as a very colonial, imperialistic term which is still widely used by the (-) and other Slavic associations.
D: Yeah, and I think that this critique towards the post-Soviet, it was already voiced during a protest in Kazakhstan. Again, like, what does this concept help us understand? The post-Soviet for Ukraine, the post-Soviet for Russia, the post-Soviet for Kazakhstan. Yeah, I agree that also the terminology that we use should be changed.
A: And the question is actually here, because talking about post-Soviet, the question is for me, for instance, as a social scientist, is like, why this Soviet element is so important?
S: For whom, also.
A: For whom, yeah, (it has passed) [32:19] like 30 years already, and (why don’t we are) talking about, I don’t know, why we are not talking about like post-Russian imperial countries or something like that, or areas. Still, in our minds, like the Soviet Union from which Russia has inherited almost everything in all senses, (why it’s still) important for us as scholars to speak about it, what does it say 30 years later? And it's not only Russian scholars who continue producing these ideas and narratives about post-Soviet, but it’s also like Western academia which is like… It’s the easiest way to explain people outside from Eastern Europe, also quite problematic term [laughs], let’s be fair. What you are doing is actually referring to these post-Soviet areas, post-Soviet practices, or whatever. So here I think it’s a challenge for the whole worldwide academic community about like why we’re still talking in these categories of some kind of, like, Cold War period, like the Soviet, post-Soviet, anti-Soviet, and so on. There is a huge challenge for all of us to rethink and to reframe the way we think, see, conceptualize, and the lenses we use for the analysis and research as far as I see it.
D: Yeah, also the question: how long can something be post-Soviet? How long is (post to be post) [laughs]? 30 years have passed, and it’s still kind of post, post.
A: I think also it’s still quite important, and we cannot deny the interest of Russian state in some territories. So here I think that the Russian threat should be also taken into consideration, so we cannot be like one-sided and say that, OK, now we deny this post-Soviet concept and blah, blah, blah. But still, (there is a zone of) [34:28] Russian interest and we have to deal with it, (so like, can) Russia try to spread its influence in Kazakhstan, in Belarus, in Ukraine, and many other places, countries, and locations. And I think it’s also important, so here is the question about, like, reframing it. The other question from my point of view, whether we still need to bear in mind this Russia as some uniting (--) coming back again to this imperialistic way of thinking and quite colonial.
D: Because Russia itself is not a homogenous state, and there are subjugated people within the territory of Russia. Yeah, the indigenous people and… yeah, also who’ve been historically suppressed by the state.
M: So just to also piggyback on that, so it’s very interesting how these identities will changed after the war. It must stop at some point –
A: And they will be changed.
M: And this question, this clash, you know, imperialistic kind of identities (--) [35:47] expansionist, so this is why we have this language of brotherly people and things like that. (--) don’t have strict borders. Borderline is always something (--) frontier thing. There was a concept of internal colonization (with) Russia itself, actually has been colonizing itself its own territories (--). Ukraine and most of the European states, they are typical modern-time nation states with clear borders, with much clear identities, compared to the empires in this regard. Ukrainian situation and the way (Ukrainian identity is) constructed is drastically different from what we are observing in Russia. So even the rallying around the flag which was discussed back in 2014. In Russia, it was rallying around the leader, and in Ukraine, it was rallying around the nation, the community, because the leader, I don’t think that Poroshenko got any credit for those events. But I think this is also something which needs to be taken into account and something which needs very dramatic overhaul of how not just academia but, I mean, the whole system of international relations, how the new Russia will reconsider and reframe itself and rebuild itself. Just to recall a historical reminiscence of the… I don’t like comparison with Germany, but I know that they’re very popular these days, but let’s not compare with Third Reich, but let’s compare with what happened after the war, after 1945. Germany was perceived as a sick person of Europe, if you remember. All European states (--) [37:35] effort actually to demilitarize and actually to help Germany to build an alternative identity that actually brought back people’s dignity. Because, I mean, what is one of the reasons why Putin made this atrocious decision, pernicious decision is that he wants to be respected. It sounds as dull as it does.
A: It’s a quite masculine thing actually. It’s about masculinity and it tells us a lot about masculinity especially in Russia. So it’s very toxic masculinity, whoever says what. Here this feminist perspective is really needed, in a way, what are the values in the society, like, why we value very particular people for what, and what they can provide us, because when you underprovide money for education (--) have all these pensions and forms of support for military, it says a lot. And it says a lot about how the… about the gender order, and without proper gender order there can’t be any balance and any perspective, like, in a good sense.
A: Yes, maybe just to return again to coloniality. I think that the academic community has been quite reluctant to take into consideration postcolonial studies in the context of… well, let’s call it Eastern Europe. And also from my own experience, yeah, I heard repeatedly, like, let’s not bring all this Western discussions in the context of Russian Empire. So instead of continuing to think, OK, how can we apply or how we modify or what is the particular context of the Russian Empire, the discussion would often end there. (They would say: just) don’t bring all these Western theories to understand the context of the Russian Empire. While I think that even though… Well, it has been referred to as a kind of alternative modernity in Russia, in the context of postcolonial studies in Russia. But I would also add that some theorists (were) [40:01] really concerned with Russia’s own subjugated position vis-à-vis the West. And I think it also… it might be part of the problem that we were looking into… Or like some of us were looking into a wrong direction that many people (would focus) on kind of, again, what is the position of Russia vis-à-vis the West, in relation to the West, that Russian people have been always mimicking the West and trying to be included (in this) European family. But I think that we should also ask at what cost, because also to be included in the so-called European family, you would need to oppress many other people. And I think that part of the story has been much less discussed.
A: But I think that here it’s actually more about rethinking the dialogue of Russia and its position, because as far as I see the war right now, it’s the (--) [41:01] you are not taking us. So we’ll go our own way, and our own way is, like, to build up some kind of strong state and to defend ourselves from your aggression. Because this discourse that it’s either we or they who will start the war, it’s quite illustrative. And I think it’s the problem, like the very core of it lies (--) very concept of dualism that’s like… There are we and they, and so… I think like this war has showed that we have to start thinking about how to rethink the whole organization of these relations and who is speaking with whom at what positions and to make it like more critical (--) collaboration, but are there any other forms possible actually, (why it should be) either this or that, so maybe there is some space for manoeuvre, and we can think further and go further and actually go beyond this framework, historically imposed on us.
M: It’s of crucial importance, because for instance, if we watch Russian media, which is a real torture for most of us (--) [42:26] I don’t think that we [laughs] do it on a regular basis, but still, if we have to. This war in Ukraine, in the view of Russian elite (--) of a single person is that we’re not against Ukraine (--) because Ukraine doesn’t have a essence, it’s not an –
D: Agency –
M: Agency (--) it’s not the partner or, I mean, it’s not like someone with whom a dialogue can be carried out. So (there’s a situation of) not a dialogue but of kind of, you know, strange kind of relationship with the States, United States I mean, and Joe Biden. (--) romantic relationships when the one who got rejected is still desperately trying to reach out to the person who clearly moved on. Sounds as pathetic as it does, but that’s the situation, so Ukrainian (-) Volodymyr Zelenskyy and these brave people who are fighting for their motherlands, they’re not taking as the ones who have their own voice, so they have no agency. That’s extremely problematic, because it’s just out of this worldview that is being shared by those people who belong to the Russian establishment, inner circles. (--) [43:38] it has a generational dimension here –
M: Exactly, aspect, that’s what Anna mentioned in the beginning of our conversation, is that there is a lot of disagreement among the Russian society, but it’s hard to measure, because people are (scared, aren’t willing) to talk. So it’s going underneath. And basically, there is a… What we see from the polls, to the extent we can trust them, of course, so that those who are older, they tend to be more pro-war, rather than those who are younger. So unfortunately, we don’t have data on… We do have data, of course, women are less supportive of the war, and this is a universal tendency almost everywhere. But also there is a… interesting thing is that the middle class is more supportive of the war as well, (not all) middle class, of course, I’m not talking about creative industries people who have accounts on Instagram –
A: (Quite surprising me now) actually.
A: (--) how we define middle class in Russia.
M: Exactly, and this is the main question here, because Russian middle class are those people who are (--) [44:42] public sector or companies (--) public sector, like Gazprom and things like that. And we know that Russian economy has been very (imbalanced) in terms of private versus public industries and businesses. And this is another explanation, so those who are paid by the state, they tend to share more pro-state views. So it sounds very counterintuitive, but this is what we’ve learnt from the recent surveys, and then there is a book by (-), a brilliant young scholar who actually tried to explain why is it the case. Bad news, yes, I know [laughs].
A: It’s not bad news, but it’s still… it raises whole like this question we had previously, and we had like this… a lot of discussion on what is middle class in Russia. How do we define it? Is there any middle class in Russia in fact? (--) different positions and, like… So I think it’s the time for us to rethink almost everything in social sciences, in regards, like, in particular to Russian society, in order to understand how it became possible, I guess. Because still for many of us, it’s impossible, it’s ununderstandable, it’s impossible to get, like, how and why even those scientists, we know all these kinds of possible explanations and all this various information.
D: Yeah, and having this situation as ununderstandable. I was also asking myself, and I was talking to my fellow sociologist, like, what did we get wrong, or maybe we just (--) [46:46, laughs] didn’t want this war to happen. We were just telling everyone that, oh no, the chances are so low. And again, kind of returning to this narrative (--) so many connections, (well, how can you) do that. But, well, probably the explanation I give to myself is again kind of coming back to this imperialism that when you really consider some people as lesser than others, you can justify everything. So this is the explanation I give to myself that why we really overlooked that, because I think sociologists… Well, I have this kind of sense that we really never took seriously kind of Russian imperial state. We maybe tended to think about it as a nation state really and we (theorize it as this) kind of maybe inward-looking (--) middle class or working class, also middle class much more than working class, I think we don’t know anything about working classes in Russia, much less. But kind of… Yes, the idea that when it’s legitimate to consider somebody as lesser, as having no voice, having no agency, then you can really justify whatever action you can… Yeah.
A: And here is also the question, I think, of location, talking about the research, because (--) [48:14] recent, like, 30 years in Russia at least (in the field of) gender studies and sociology was done in, like, the field was in Moscow, St. Petersburg, in some sense, Samara (where was quite) strong gender research centre, (Ivanova, and that’s all). And we have no clue what’s going on in smaller cities and what’s going on in other parts of Russia. And again, it’s (-) by the convenience, it’s easier to get into the field in big cities, but again, it’s middle class, it’s middle class of big cities, and it’s very particular picture which does not provide any insight on actual processes, and I think this is another point of critique towards ourselves and our colleagues who are, like, in some sense, doing some kind of Russian studies, that we have to go further and not take it, like, for the convenience for ourselves, but like doing the real science, I guess.
D: Yeah, for a really long time, I think we studied each other [laughs]. Because also during the pandemic, when there was this initiative to make people keep diaries and just to kind of track what was happening, I received like maybe three requests from [laughs] fellow sociologists (who ask): oh, can you help us do this research? But then, of course, the question was: OK, who are you (--) [49:40] studying each other as friends? Yeah, and also who produces knowledge and who is in the field of sociology – quite often these are the people who also come from big cities, mostly.
A: I think (we’d better to round up) [laughs]. So maybe the final brief comments from everyone (was).
M: So I think we desperately need some good news and hope, and there is hope. So we know that there is this charity company going on, Toivo, here in Helsinki, which actually… (I think we should also take)… join this idea that there is hope (even in this) hopeless situation, and I think (--) tip of the iceberg, so what we just touched upon is like very impressionistic (--) (attempts) to, I mean, not rationalize but at least to comprehend what’s going on now. I think what we can do is just to think into the future, so what kind of ideas in terms of knowledge production exactly, so what we can offer for discussion, so how we can rethink and reframe the studies, and what kind of information we supply those who make political decisions.
D: I think my final comment would be about our collective emotions. Also I could see, especially during the first days of war, there were lot of posts about shame and guilt. And I think that it was really shared collectively, and I myself felt exactly like that, like, ashamed and guilty, but then, I didn’t want to turn it in some kind of a performance of, you know, like, oh, this is not in my name, or trying to distance myself from what the Russian government was doing. At some point, I think I also realized, and we know that feelings of shame and guilt are very immobilizing. So I think also it’s important not to stay in this incapacitated state – even though it might be difficult for many people. But I think just it’s important to think from where we speak and what emotions we experience and what does it tell us about our collective position and not to be stuck only with emotions of shame and guilt but really to try to mobilize ourselves and act and speak and write and do something.
A: Yeah, I think that I follow (you, too, in sense that) [52:28] we have to be critical and self-critical towards our position, so this idea of neutrality is impossible currently, and we have to bear it in mind, because at least in Russian academia, this idea of objective, neutral science is quite strong still in many fields, and now we see that it’s impossible. Decolonization, self-critique, feminist lenses towards what’s going on, and orientation towards what we can do. I don’t know what I can do in actual political actions, but as a scholar, I can influence and impact on the knowledge production, and this is what we can do, and it’s really necessary in order to avoid anything similar, or like, in the future, and I hope it will end soon. Thank you very much!
D: Thank you.
M: Thank you.