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Archive for the 'Russia' Category

Softly, Softly Belarus

By Lisa J Walters, on 11 June 2018

Andrew Wilson, Professor in Ukrainian Studies

This speech was delivered at the European Parliament, ‘Belarus: The Voice of Civil Society’, 5 June 2018

Belarus is changing. It is changing in ways that help European engagement. But, just to be clear, the one area where change is minimal is probably where we want to see it the most, in the political sphere. The label ‘Last Dictatorship in Europe’ may be out-of-date, but Belarus is not about to become a democracy any time soon.

No, what is driving change is sovereignty. First is the logic of sovereignty, which has been operative for some time; but often belated or delayed by political factors, namely Belarus’s formerly close relationship with Russia. Second is the threat to sovereignty since the Ukraine crisis in 2014; though partly this can be traced back to the war in Georgia in 2008.

President Lukashenka’s primary motives are regime survival and personal survival. He is pushing changes for instrumental reasons. Nevertheless, these changes are significant across four main areas: cultural policy, foreign policy, security policy and economic policy. Change, as I said at the top, has been least noticeable in domestic politics. However, in order to achieve Belarus’s goals in the other areas, there is some change even there.

All of this is done slowly. But the cumulative change is great. And arguably, this may take Belarus just as far away from Russia as Ukraine in the long-run.

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Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present

By Lisa J Walters, on 29 May 2018

Review by Julia Klimova, PhD candidate at UCL SSEES.

On 16 and 17 of February 2018, School of Slavonic and East European Studies (SSEES) at UCL hosted an international workshop on “Russia’s Global Legal Trajectories: International Law in Eurasia’s Past and Present”. Organized by Dr. Philippa Hetherington with generous support of the British Academy for Arts and Sciences and Pushkin House, the workshop was dedicated to the history of legal issues in Russia from the Russian Empire, Soviet Union and Russian Federation. The workshop lasted for two days and consisted of 6 panels and the total of 14 speakers. It united historians with legal scholars, which provided a rich basis for discussions of issues of legality at various points in Russian history.

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Into the void: Rethinking Dostoevsky’s Radicalism

By Lisa J Walters, on 29 November 2017

Dr Sarah J. Young, Senior Lecturer in Russian

Over two blustery October days as Storm Brian loomed to the west, scholars, students and intrepid members of the public gathered at UCL to look east and discuss the latest developments in Dostoevsky studies. The conference, titled ‘Revolutionary Dostoevsky: Rethinking Radicalism’ to tie into this year’s events marking the centenary of the Russian Revolutions, recalls Dostoevsky’s legendary status as a prophet of revolution and totalitarianism, as well as his own revolutionizing poetics.

The theme for the conference places in the foreground the contradictions and tensions that continue to make Dostoevsky’s works such a rich source of debate and discussion, not least the paradox of this supposedly conservative writer – at least in his mature years – whose characters, as Carol Apollonio noted in her entertaining keynote address, are never satisfied with the status quo. The idea that Dostoevsky might have as much to tell us about the so-called ‘alt-right’, Islamic fundamentalism or the perpetrators of ‘lone wolf’ massacres, as he did about the revolutionary Populists and anarchists of his own era, or indeed the murderous repression of Stalinism, indicates that his subject was fundamentally a deeper one. Beyond the vicissitudes of ideological fashions, and the provocateurs and opportunists who use them to justify violence (and who appeared in more than one presentation), the state – and fate – of the human soul is always at stake in Dostoevsky’s novels.

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Revolutionary Dostoevsky

By Lisa J Walters, on 16 October 2017

Dr Sarah Young, Senior Lecturer in Russian

This post was first published on sarahjyoung.com

Photograph of Dostoevsky published with permission of the Dostoevsky Museum, St Petersburg

Photograph of Dostoevsky published with permission of the Dostoevsky Museum, St Petersburg

How might we think of Dostoevsky as a radical writer? In his later years he certainly seemed anything but. From his searing critique of nihilist ideas in Notes from Underground and Crime and Punishment, and his scathing portrayal of revolutionaries in Demons, to his increasingly virulent Orthodox nationalism and support for the authoritarian Tsarist regime expressed in his Diary of a Writer, his reactionary views appear to be in no doubt. Yet he understood the depths of human misery and the need for utopian visions and the transformation of society. He always maintained an interest in social justice that seems contrary to his political position, and his death was mourned by thousands of radical students. In his youth he did move in revolutionary circles, and much later acknowledged that even if he might not have found been a leader of such a movement, he was, and remained, capable of being a follower. His novels – typically of their focus on the extremes of human behaviour – show that fanatical atheism and fervent religious faith are two sides of the same coin, something he saw as a particularly Russian trait. Was this then just a reflection of the tensions in his own character and the ideological transition he experienced, or perhaps sought, within himself?

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Is Russia Practicing a Dry Run for an Invasion of Belarus?

By Lisa J Walters, on 25 September 2017

Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

This piece was originally posted on foreignpolicy.com on 18 September 2017. Podcasts are available at: http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/09/22/staring-down-the-barrel-of-russias-big-guns/ and on iTunes

With tensions worsening between the two countries, Russia’s massive military exercise is firing a couple thousand warning shots at a reluctant ally.

Russia does military exercises regularly, but this year’s version, underway right now, deserves especially close attention. It’s called Zapad (“West”) and involves thousands of troops doing maneuvers on the borders of the Baltic states and Poland. The motivating scenario is to defend against an imagined invasion of Belarus by foreign-backed extremists. One of the fictional enemy states, “Vesbaria,” seems to be a thinly disguised Lithuania; the other, “Lubenia,” looks a bit like Poland. There will no doubt be the usual low-level provocations, with Russian planes buzzing borders, that will make the whole passive-aggressive show of strength look more like an invasion of the West than the other way around.

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Pot Calls the Kettle Black: Russian Report Describes the Spread of ‘Modern Technological Populism’

By Lisa J Walters, on 16 June 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

When it comes to political dirty tricks, you can rely on the Russians to know how to call things by their right name.  Russians also have the habit of using terminology to describe the wider world that is reflexively useful for conceptualising Russia itself. A recent Report by a new Russian think-tank on ‘Modern Technological Populism’ has therefore caused quite a stir; both because Russia has been accused of not-so-covert support for populists like Donald Trump and Marine LePen, and because the Report is the first product of an institution directly linked to the Kremlin.

The think-tank in question is the ‘Expert Institute of Social Research’ (which in Russian has the acronym EISI), founded in the autumn of 2016 and launched in March 2017. The EISI is attached to the Presidential Administration and is presumed to reflect the thinking of the new Kremlin propaganda chief, former Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko and his ‘Strategy 2030’.

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Beyond Fake News: How Trump’s Disruptive Technology Mirrors Russian Political Technology

By Lisa J Walters, on 13 June 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

The investigation into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia has already uncovered many layers and levels. More will no doubt be found; but the search would be assisted by a better understanding of just what has gone on in Russia these last twenty years. Hacking may have generated the most lurid headlines, but is just one of many techniques in the arsenal of what Russians call ‘political technology’.  And the West needs to take a closer look at itself – the U.S. election was simply the most dramatic example yet of the consequences of the dangerous combination of political technology with ‘disruptive technology’.

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Eurovision Comes to Kyiv, Ukraine Gets Three-Quarters of the Way to Europe

By Lisa J Walters, on 17 May 2017

Prof Andrew Wilson, Professor of Ukrainian Studies

I am in Kyiv for the Eurovision Song Contest final. All marvellous fun, though I have done some work too. Ukraine has embraced the official slogan ‘Celebrate Diversity’ with apparent ease; not least because it is the perfect symbol for the new Ukraine and its European aspirations – multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-confessional and tolerant.

Eurovision 1

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How to manage geopolitical risk and understand its implications on your portfolio and regional stability: Russia and the Ukrainian Crisis

By Lisa J Walters, on 23 March 2017

By Dr Eugene Nivorozhkin, Senior Lecturer in the Economics of Central – Eastern Europe
Centre for Comparative Studies of Emerging Economies

The economic and political turbulence around Russia in the aftermath of the Crimea annexation in March 2014 is an interesting illustration of how a geopolitical event is itself necessary but not sufficient to cause significant geopolitical risk for investment portfolios.

The Ukrainian crisis prompted a number of countries and international organisations to apply sanctions against individuals, businesses and officials from Russia.  In addition to diplomatic actions, the measures included travel bans and freezing assets owned by Russian officials and friends of Putin. A broad set of measures targeted sectoral cooperation with Russia and more general economic matters. In particular, Russian state banks were excluded from raising long-term loans in international financial markets. Bans were implemented on arms deals and exports of dual-use equipment for military use. The EU/US ban included exports of selected oil industry technology and services, to name just a few.

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Russian Montparnasse: Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris

By Blog Admin, on 16 August 2016

Dr Maria Rubins, Senior Lecturer in Russian Literature

Russian Montparnasse

Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris

Palgrave Macmillan, 2015

[Revised and expanded Russian translation is in print at the NLO Publishing House in Moscow.]

 

Today, the famous Montparnasse cafés have become quite upscale establishments, and it is hard to imagine that in their heyday a homeless apatride could nurse a single drink on a café terrace for the entire night. During les années folles, as the interwar period was dubbed in France, “Le Dôme,” “La Rotonde,” “La Coupôle” and other brasseries near the intersection of Boulevard Montparnasse and rue Vavin were the epicenter of transnational modernist culture. Legendary artists and writers of the time – Modigliani, Soutine, Aragon, Chagall, Man Ray, Hemingway, Picasso – all passed through Montparnasse. The star of Parisian music halls, the American dancer Josephine Baker, would sometimes arrive in a café in the company of her pet leopard. And many a painter’s muse, the model Kiki, would take a dip in a water basin at the centre of “Le Dôme” to cool down after a champagne-drinking marathon.

Barely conspicuous in the bohemian crowd, young Russian émigré writers also thrived in this cosmopolitan and provocative environment. Alienated from their homeland, marginalized in their adopted country, and feeling constrained by conservative aesthetics prescribed by the émigré literary establishment, these young men looked toward European avant-garde for inspiration. Montparnasse offered a unique site where they could interact with Western peers and observe contemporary life, where hierarchies were suspended and where all cultural, ethnic and linguistic hybrids with unstable identities and precarious legal status could get a sense of belonging and relative freedom.

 

OPL1153075 Brasserie Cafe du Dome, Paris, 1920 (b/w photo) by French Photographer, (20th century); Private Collection; French, out of copyright

OPL1153075 Brasserie Cafe du Dome, Paris, 1920 (b/w photo) by French Photographer, (20th century); Private Collection/Bridgeman Images

The Montparnasse genius loci left an indelible mark on the style, thematic repertoire and personal lives of the young Russian writers. Many pages in the works of Gaïto Gazdanov, Vasily Yanovsky, Nikolai Otsup, Serge Sharshun, Boris Poplavsky (nick-named the “Prince of the Kingdom of Montparnasse”), and others contain colorful descriptions of a café scene, where, in Elsa Triolet’s words, “amidst the cigarette smoke permanently hung a scandal”.

In this book I treat Montparnasse not just as a place of gathering or a background depicted in interwar art and fiction but as a creative locus that generated its own aesthetics and discourse. Born out of exile and existential anxiety, Montparnasse literature responded to unprecedented cataclysms that shook the world, and also reflected technological and cultural shifts of the interwar period. Arguably, the real shock of modernity occurred in the 1920-1930s. This was, by David Trotter’s definition, the first “media age,” when radio and telephone entered the homes of millions. Air travel, symbolized by Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight from New York to Le Bourget, altered conventional perception of distances, geography, and the rhythm of human existence. World wars, mass migration, flows of refugees; widely popularized scientific discoveries, including radioactivity; the rise of mass culture and commodification of artwork; the dominance of cinema and progressive visualization of culture in general; the cult of celebrity; skepticism about positivist ideas; and discrediting any rational forms of self-knowledge under the impact of Freudian theories – these were the key processes that marked a drastic break with tradition and defined the world as we know it. In the interwar period, due to new communication technologies, artistic styles, fashion, music and ideologies began to circulate rapidly around the globe. As the “cultural capital of the world,” Paris was at the nexus of these trends.

My book was initially intended as a study of the prose fiction of the younger émigrés of the first wave, but then evolved into a reflection on the spirit and legacy of transnational modernism. Montparnasse became a metaphor for the interwar cultural production across Europe, which articulated the experience of modernity. It gradually became clear to me that Russian Montparnassians could not be understood only as an extension of the Russian national tradition, but had to be read against Hesse, T.S. Eliot, Aragon, Breton, Henry Miller, D.H. Lawrence, Bataille, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and other writers who best expressed the sense of civilizational collapse and the advancement of a new era. Such works Georgy Ivanov’s nihilist “The Atom Explodes,” for example, condemned as provocation in Russian émigré circles, shares an aesthetic and conceptual lexicon with modernist texts like T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland, Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, and Breton’s Nadia. Ivanov, Yanovsky, Felzen, Bakunina, Adamovich, Poplavsky and other Montparnassians were among the first to realize that the Russian classical tradition was inadequate in the post-apocalyptic reality, and to set out to create a new language.

 

CHT253043 Cosmopolitan bohemia at Cafe La Rotonde, Montparnasse, 1924 (litho) (b/w photo) by French School, (20th century); Bibliotheque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France; (add.info.: La Boheme cosmopolite;); Archives Charmet; French, it is possible that some works by this artist may be protected by third party rights in some territories

Cosmopolitan bohemia at Cafe La Rotonde, Montparnasse, 1924 by French School, (20th century); Bibliothèque Historique de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France. Archives Charmet/Bridgeman Images.

While Russian Montparnasse literature was no less vibrant or experimental than coeval writing in other tongues, it long remained practically unknown beyond a narrow circle of Russian readers. To a much greater extent than other expatriates in interwar Paris, Russians lacked cultural networks, a vast audience in their homeland, translations and opportunities for marketing. But low visibility was also a self-fulfilling prophecy: the young writers called themselves the “unnoticed generation,” driven by the Surrealist discourse of anonymity and the myth of the “lost generation.”

Russian Montparnasse is a book about a transnational literary community that simultaneously drew upon, blurred and transcended Russian and foreign traditions and amalgamated different cultural lexicons and national narratives, anticipating more recent trends of cultural globalization. Their corpus of texts raises questions about the role in artistic expression of migration, borders, and dual identities. Today, the migrant has come to occupy a central place in arts and political discourse, prompting critics to rethink the relevance of conventional “national” affiliations for many authors and texts that thrive in the no man’s land beyond nation-states, languages and cultures – Rushdie, Nabokov, Kundera are just a few of the names that spring to mind in this regard.

I came to think of Russian Montparnasse as an early unconscious attempt to open Russian culture to a transnational dialogue, to transcend the national agenda and to reconfigure canonical values. Exile, which these writers saw as their curse, in fact allowed them to discover new directions in verbal art.

 

Further information from the Palgrave Macmillan site:

Maria Rubins

RUSSIAN MONTPARNASSE: Transnational Writing in Interwar Paris

Published by by Palgrave Macmillan in the Series “Palgrave Studies in Modern European Literature”

ISBN 9781137508027

This book is a case study in transnational modernist literature generated by exile, dislocation and cross-cultural exchanges, focusing on the younger writers of the interwar Russian Parisian diaspora, known as Russian Montparnasse. Maria Rubins argues that their hybrid, bicultural and bilingual writing transcended the Russian national master narrative, anticipating more recent diasporic tendencies. The book sets the Russian Montparnasse corpus into trans-cultural and intertextual dialogues with key Western and Russian texts to demonstrate that their artistic response to the main challenges of urban modernity and cultural rupture resonated with broader aesthetic trends in interwar Europe. By systematically reassessing the role of Russian Montparnasse in the articulation of modernism, this study expands our knowledge of the evolution of the transnational literary canon, contributes to the academic debate about national vs. transnational analytical approaches to bicultural artistic production, and challenges the conventional status of language as the chief marker of literary affiliation.

 

Please note: Views expressed are those of the Author(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of UCL, SSEES or SSEES Research Blog.

 

 

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