Ab Imperio (2010), 2

Ab Imperio (2010), 2
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Political and Economic Unions: Dialectics of Poverty, Wealth, and Political Domination

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Kazan', Russland 2010: Selbstverlag des Herausgebers
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Organization name
Ab Imperio. Studies of New Imperial History and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space
Russian Federation
Postanschrift: P.O. Box 157, Kazan' 420015. Tel./Fax: 7-8432-644-018
Kaplunovski, Alexander

Dear friends and colleagues,

"Ab Imperio" editors are pleased to announce the release of the second issue of the journal in 2010. "Ab Imperio" is a bilingual (English Russian) international scholarly journal dedicated to the study of empire and nationalism in the post Soviet space. The second issue of the journal is devoted to the exploration of "Political and Economic Unions: Dialectics of Poverty, Wealth, and Political Domination". The language of each publication (Russian or English) is indicated by a letter in brackets.

Please find below the table of contents and visit the website for more information: www.abimperio.net

For submissions, subscription or other inquiries please contact the editors at: office@abimperio.net

From the Editors

Most of the materials published in the current issue focus on Soviet history, or, more precisely, they deal with the first decades after World War II. In part, such narrow chronological limits (not characteristic of AI in general) can be explained by the issue’s thematic concentration: “Political and Economic Unions: Dialectics of Poverty, Wealth, and Political Domination.” It appears that the experience of mid-twentieth-century Soviet society turned out to be the most appropriate laboratory for analyzing social, cultural, political, and psychological mechanisms that transform “neighbors” into a society. Turning to Soviet history, our authors attempt to find out how the initially neutral state of “neighborhood” is rethought and re-marked as a relationship with “friends” or “neighbors.” In this, the authors use the approach of new imperial history with its attention to ever-changing loyalties and identifications.

From the perspective of the early twenty-first century, even the last decades of the Soviet period are now “history.” Historiography of the Soviet era has gradually become an important source of innovations that complicate our understanding of the past and provide valuable material for conceptualizing paradoxes of empire and nationalism. It was in the context of Soviet historiography that important discussions of the past decade developed, such as the formatting role of 1917 as a historical boundary; the formation of Soviet subjectivity; or the character of Soviet nationalities policies (“affirmative action empire”), and many others. Many of these discussions, in turn, helped to formulate key questions of new imperial history, as illustrated in the present issue.

Soviet history of the era of wars and terror clearly illustrates the ambivalent logic of the formation of political and cultural unions. Soviet official narrative and contemporary post-revisionist interpretations of Soviet history generally agree that Soviet society was formed as a single political nation due to the integrating role of Communist ideology. People who learned how to “speak Bolshevik” and think as “Soviet subjects” automatically joined the common cultural and political space (of “friends”). Let us leave aside abstract conceptions and look instead at the real social context of a society torn apart by the cold civil war of denunciations and repressions, deportations and “filtrations” of wartime, by the “second edition of serfdom” in the village and by the stigmatization of the population that lived through the occupation in the war (and let us not forget about ethnocultural heterogeneity). This society bequeathed to us the myth of a strong “political and economic (and cultural) union.” Yet, there are so few uncensored personal documents that allow us to make broad generalizations without a danger of becoming translating ideological clichés of the old Soviet ideological machine. Thus, the imperial situation in the Soviet context requires special attention to the historical dynamics and to practices dependent on the context.

One version of deconstructing the Soviet myth is offered by Timothy A. Nunan in his article dealing with representations of Soviet Central Asia in the 1930s on the pages of the magazine USSR in Construction (“SSSR na stroike”). This richly illustrated propaganda magazine, which targeted foreign and high-ranking Soviet readers, also happened to be a creative laboratory for a range of brilliant Soviet avant-garde photographers. Analyzing the magazine’s visual materials in a broader context including the politicized photography in the United States of that time, Nunan distinguishes between the specifics and regularities of the modern language of photography and representations of modernity on the one hand, and the more general ideological context of the journal on the other. Even in a single propaganda periodical, an attempt to create a coherent and uncontroversial Soviet narrative failed because the visual materials stubbornly refused to be unambiguous illustrations of ideologically correct texts. As it turns out, “Soviet subjectivity” cannot be seen, it can only be imagined on the basis of ideological texts. Yet, would representations by readers with different imaginations ever coincide and work together as a single narrative?

Serhy Yekelchyk addresses what appears to be an even more ideologically stable Soviet institution: elections to the Supreme Soviet and local soviets. To be more precise, his subject is the role of agitators during the election campaign. Looking at post–World War II Kyiv, Yekelchyk reconstructs the activities of these agitators: their appointments, meetings with ordinary citizens, propaganda, and collection of complaints and suggestions to be passed on to corresponding officials. As the author establishes, the political leadership treated the election campaign very seriously and did not look at it as a simple show (as adherents to the “totalitarian” approach would have it). On the other hand, people who took part in the election campaign (every fifteenth citizen of electoral age became an agitator) were not supposed to demonstrate a particular ideological consciousness as their work primarily consisted in transmitting official Soviet propaganda lines. Rather, agitators were needed for the very important social practice of quasi-democratic political participation of the Soviet citizens. Regularly, a significant part of the population took on the role of state representatives, willingly or unwillingly sharing responsibility for the politics of the state and at the same time “translating” it into a less formalized language of interpersonal communication with their neighbors in the building or district. Thus, a crucial element of socialization and civic integration of the population was pursued with no regard for the degree of the population’s ideological indoctrination and mostly outside of the state’s repressive apparatus. What was specifically Soviet or “Bolshevik” in this practice? How efficient or modern was the state that relied on neighbors’ self-activity (even if it was censored) in the business of translating official ideology into a language accessible to ordinary people?

The same problem of the degree to which political language and propaganda were adequate to social realities is discussed in the article by Christine Evans that focuses on TV in the early Brezhnev period. The arrival of electronic mass media made the problem of the gap between the documentary visual materials and the textual ideological narrative even sharper. The creation of the new information program Time (“Vremia”) in 1968 in accordance with world standards was meant to represent the new image of a single Soviet society. However, difficulties encountered by the program’s creators demonstrate the fundamentally discrete nature of the “Soviet chronotope” in the early 1970s and the illusory nature of the social union. As in the case of election agitators from the late Stalin period, specific ideological concerns came to play secondary roles in comparison to technical and cultural problems. Partially overcoming these problems, the program Time created a holistic image of a single unified country close to the politically correct ideal. But what part of social reality did this image reflect, and was there an integrated social space beyond the official realm translated by Soviet TV?

We arrive at similar questions from a different angle in the archival section. The famous American National Exhibition of the summer of 1959 in Moscow became a major blunder of the Soviet political leadership as it introduced millions of Soviet citizens to the image of a mass consumer society. Attempting to maintain parity in the arms race, the USSR was doomed to fail in the peaceful competition for the quality of life of ordinary citizens. For historians, the American National Exhibition of 1959 is particularly valuable because in the course of six weeks the organizers maintained visitors’ comment books, four volumes of which have miraculously survived to this day. This issue contains excerpts from the comment books introduced by articles by Aleksei Fominykh and Mark Lipovetsky. These excerpts allow us to look at the USSR and the United States through the eyes of Soviet citizens of Khrushchev’s times. The American organizers undertook special measures to protect notes in the book from KGB control, and many Soviet citizens came to the exhibition specifically to leave a note as a message to readers overseas. Patriotic and anti-Soviet, anti-Russian and anti-American, these notes completely derail the notion of the homogeneity of Soviet society and return us to the question of mechanisms that maintained its real or seeming unity. Moreover, these materials add a foreign-policy dimension to the problem of “marking” the Other as a friend or enemy. In a sense, the analysis of these notes allows us to conduct a pure experiment that can be significant for explaining inner Soviet relations of solidarity and animosity: visiting the exhibition, a Soviet citizen encountered a new life experience that was often reflected upon in the pages of the comment books.

In doing so, the Soviet citizen entered into a kind of discussion with Soviet official propaganda and with notes by his or her compatriots in the same book (not to mention the real or imagined intention of the American organizers). Influenced by years of propaganda, many people admitted that their main discovery at the exhibition was not the inaccessible goods (cars valued at a worker’s annual salary or color TVs) but Americans themselves, those Russian-speaking guides always surrounded by curious crowds. As these materials demonstrate, marking the Other as “friend” or “foe” is determined by circumstances and personal perceptions as much as by structural preconditions and ideological stances. Networks of horizontal solidarity emerge from immediate communication and mutual interest but the question remains open as to whether they can expand on the scale of the whole society (or on the scale of the relationship between two societies), or they need institutional support.

This principal heterogeneity and discontinued nature of Soviet society challenge both the Soviet official narrative and some of its recent interpretations in historiography but remain a point of departure for historians working on new imperial history. The synthetic work by Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper just published by Princeton University Press, Empires in World History: Power and the Politics of Difference, became an important milestone of this discipline. Cooper and Burbank view world history through the prism of the politics of managing diversity. The editors of AI interviewed the authors (the text of the interview is published in our “Methodology” section). In particular, we discussed the place of Russian history in the interpretations of world history offered by Burbank and Cooper. Among other issues discussed are the applicability of the concept of “empire” to different regions and epochs, the prospects and limitations of traditional national and new imperial historical paradigms, as well as the experience of heterogeneity and management of difference as a framework for world history. Empires in World History has filled the heretofore empty niche of a textbook in which the historical experience of humanity is viewed through the complex political, social, and economic context of empire. Undoubtedly, this book will generate many responses from historians and it is also clear that any future discussions of how fruitful is a view of history through the prism of heterogeneity will be conducted in the language offered by the book’s authors. The editors are grateful to Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper for their willingness to take part in this discussion and for their openness in discussing any questions: from the danger of essentializing empire as a category of analysis to the cultural codes of modernity that create (or do not create) new imperial experiences.

In the ABC section, the journal continues to monitor the instrumentalization of the politics of memory in contemporary Russia. The article by Nikolai Koposov looks at the latest news from the “historical frontlines,” thus following our previous publications on the governmental commission on counteracting falsifications of history. Indirectly, the question of instrumentalizing history is raised in the article by Andreas Umland and Anton Shekhovtsov in the section on political science. The authors explore extreme right party politics in contemporary Ukraine and attempt to explain the marginal role of Ukrainian ultranationalists by the special role of postcolonial discourse and liberal values, the presence of historically constituted regional differences, and the fragmentation of the Ukrainian political space, among other factors.

In a sense, the present issue itself became an experiment designed to clarify mechanisms of horizontal solidarity and the marking of otherness in the complex world of professional students of the past. The determinism of structural prerequisites for association or polarization (be it a formal belonging to a common profession or, on the contrary, spatial and organizational divisions) fades away in the face of contextual and situational factors (e.g., the scholarly interests and methodological preferences of various scholars). In this connection, it is hard to undervalue the role of the journal as a platform for new horizontal encounters as well as a space for the formal and professional enunciation of conflicts and differences.

Editors of Ab Imperio:
I. Gerasimov
S. Glebov
A. Kaplunovski
M. Mogilner
A. Semyonov

Table of contents


From the Editors (R&E)

Interview with Jane Burbank and Frederick Cooper
The Challenge and Serendipity: Writing World History Through the Prism of Empire (E)


Timothy A. Nunan
Soviet Nationalities Policy, “USSR in Construction”, and Soviet Documentary Photography in Comparative Context, 1931–1937 (E)

Serhy Yekelchyk
A Communal Model of Citizenship in Stalinist Politics: Agitators and Voters in Postwar Electoral Campaigns (Kyiv, 1946–53) (E)

Christine Evans
A “Panorama of Time”: The Chronotopics of Programma “Vremia” (E)


Aleksei Fominykh
“Pictures at an Exhibition:” Comment Books from the 1959 American Exhibit in Moscow, a Recovered Source (Introduction to the Archival Publication) (R)

Mark Lipovetsky
“Knowing Lemons:” The American Exhibition in Khrushchev’s Memoirs (R)

The American National Exhibition in Moscow, 1959: The Comment Book (R)


Anton Shekhovtsov, Andreas Umland
Right-Wing Party Politics in Post-Soviet Ukraine and the Riddle of Ukrainian Nationalists’ Electoral Marginality, 1994–2009 (R)


Nikolay Koposov
The “Memorial Law” and Politics of History in Present-Day Russia (R)


Vladimir Bobrovnikov
The Gift of Empire: A View from the Mountains (R)
Bruce Grant. The Captive and the Gift: Cultural Histories of Sovereignity in Russia and the Caucasus. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009. XVIII+188 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8014-7541-2;
Iu. Iu. Karpov. Vzgliad nagorcev. Vgliad s gor: Mirovozzrencheskie aspekty kultury i socialnyi opyt gorceb Dagestana. Sankt-Peterburg: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 2007 (Seriia Ethnographica Petropolitana). 656 S. ISBN: 978-5-85803-331-8


Svetlana Malysheva
Malte Rolf. Sovetskie massovye prazdniki / Per. s necemkogo V. T. Altukhova. Moskva: “POSSPEN”; Fond Pervogo Prezidenta Rossii B. N. Eltsina, 2009. 439 S. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1086-3 (R)

Mikhail Suslov
Laura Engelstein, Slavophile Empire: Imperial Russia’s Illiberal Path (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2009). xii+239 pp. Notes, Index. ISBN: 978-0-8014-7592-4 (paperback edition) (R)

Kirsten Bönker
Franziska Schedewie, Selbstverwaltung und sozialer Wandel in der russischen Provinz: Bauern und Zemstvo in Voronež, 1864–1914 (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter, 2006). 473 S., 1 CD (=Heidelberger Abhandlungen zur mittleren und neueren Geschichte; Bd. 15). ISBN: 3-8253-5171-8 (R)

Ilya Gerasimov
Aaron B. Retish, Russia’s Peasants in Revolution and Civil War. Citizenship, Identity, and the Creation of the Soviet State, 1914–1922 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008). 294 pp. Works cited; Index. ISBN: 978-0-521-89689-4. Hardback (E)

Balázs Apor
Tomasz Kamusella, The Politics of Language and Nationalism in Modern Central Europe (Houndmills and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). 1140 pp. Selected Bibliography, Index, Index of Dictionaries. ISBN: 978-0-230-55070-4 (E)

Marianna Mouravieva
Elena Shulman, Stalinism on the Frontier of Empire: Women and State Formation in the Soviet Far East (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008). xiv+260 pp., ill. ISBN: 978-052-189-667-2 (R)

Krista Sigler
G. Ia. Iankovskaia. Iskusstvo, den’gi i politika: Khudozhnik v gody pozdnego stalinizma. Perm: Permskii gosudartvennyi universitet, 2007. 312 c. ISBN: 5-7944-0855-3 (E)

Stanislav Alekseev
Religioznye i etnicheskie tradicii v formirovanii nacional’nykh identichnostei v Evrope. Srednie veka – Novoe vremia = Religion et ethnicité dans la formation des identités nationales en Europe. Moyen Âge – Epoque Moderne / Pod. red. M. V. Dmitrieva. Moskva: “Indrik”, 2008. 301 s. ISBN: 978-5-85759-479-7;
Mezhdu Moskvoi, Varshavoi i Kievom. K 50-leiju prof. M. V. Dmitrieva / Sost. O. B. Nemenskii. Moskva, 2008. 320 s. ISBN: 978-5-87604-009-1 (R)

Ekaterina Gorbunova
Lindsey Hughes, The Romanovs: Ruling Russia, 1613–1917 (London: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd., 2008). 308 pp., ills. Bibliography, Index. ISBN: 978-18472-5213-5. (R)

Michael Rouland
Tsentralnaia Aziia v sostave Rossiiskoi imperii / Pod. red. S. Abashina, D. Arapova, N. Bekmakhanovoi (=Historia Rossica). Moskva: “Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie ”, 2008. 452 s. ISBN: 978-5-86793-571-9;
Marco Buttino, La rivoluzione capovolta: L’Asia centrale tra il crollo dell’impero zarista e la formazione dell’URSS [An Upside Down Revolution: Central Asia between the Collapse of the Tsarist Empire and the Formation of the USSR]. Napoli: “L’Ancora del Mediterraneo”, 2003. 488 pp. Fonti, Glossario. ISBN: 88-8325-101-6 (E)

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