Ab Imperio (2012), 3

Ab Imperio (2012), 3
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Varieties of Exceptionalism

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Kazan', Russland 2012: 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
Kaplunovskiy, Alexander

Dear friends and colleagues,

The Editorial Board of Ab Imperio is pleased to present the new issue of our journal: 3/2012. The topic of the new issue is “Varieties of Exceptionalism”. This issue, as well as other issues for 2012, is also available to the subscribers of the academic database Project Muse – <http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/ab_imperio/toc/imp.2012.3.html>

“Ab Imperio” is a bilingual (English Russian) international scholarly journal dedicated to the study of empire and nationalism in the post Soviet space. The language of each publication (Russian or English) is indicated by a letter in brackets

Exceptionalism of Variety

From the Editors

Ab Imperio’s annual theme is always an experiment. There is always a gap between the bullet points of our annual program and the research foci of a given issue’s authors. Looking at the table of contents of the issue that was just assembled, it is informative to see which aspects of our annual theme are actively studied and which remain in the shadows. However, it seems we have never faced such a stark and telling contrast between the expected focus of the materials in the journal and the articles finally accepted for publication.

Our annual program in 2012 was formulated as “Structures and Cultures of Imperial and Post-Imperial Diversity,” and the current issue’s focus was “Varieties of Exceptionalism.” Presumably, the issue was to focus on the parallel existence of alternative “maps of diversity” in the imperial situation, where social, national, political, economic, and other differences overlap and produce complex social identities and spaces of belonging. “Exception” in one system of coordinates could be a norm or a regular practice in another. In any event, in the region that is studied by the authors of AI, exception is often business as usual (temporary rules and regulations, special missions, and special departments). Exceptions are the norm here, and this was equally true about the Russian Empire, which had no particular universal ideological framework, and about the USSR, in which a striving for uniformity and sameness was a function of the universal class ideology. Furthermore, Soviet universalism was often fed by the conception of evolutionary differences: what is an exception for one historical period can be a norm for another.

However, suffice it to look at the current issue’s table of contents to see that the sociological retrospective normalization of exceptionalism as a phenomenon of the past has nothing to do with the historical experience of living through exceptions and exclusions. Exceptions in most of the articles in this issue are treated in the context of trauma, discrimination, and violence.

Perhaps, the effect of the contrast with expectations emerged because the analytical recognition of “normalcy” of exceptions in the imperial situation somehow makes one expect the equally routine attitude toward diversity and exceptions from inside the imperial (or post-imperial) society as well. There is a real theoretical and ethical danger of romanticizing the principle of strategic exceptionalism, upon which the functioning of empire was based. This is a danger of constructing some kind of an “ideal” multiculturalism of the past. The materials published in this issue warn against exactly this kind of romanticizing because they demonstrate the importance of taking into account inequalities and power asymmetries, which always accompany exceptions and exclusions. Together, these articles show how utopian it is to expect the coexistence of many social, cultural, ethnic, and political spaces within one polity to be devoid of problems and conflicts. The question that is central to the authors in this issue of Ab Imperio is: What mechanisms help to resolve the contradictions that emerge in the process of living through the historical experience of diversity.

Our “History” section opens with the article by Olga Mastianica, who explores how educational institutions on the territories of the former Grand Duchy of Lithuania formed “women’s” social role in the mid-nineteenth century. In the complex cultural and political situation in the Western borderlands of the Russian Empire, the seemingly “fundamental” gender status differentiated into an array of “exceptional” situations and statuses defined by anti-Polish and anti-Jewish policies, and selective privileging of the nobility and Orthodoxy, which came into contradiction with the policies of discrimination of the Polish elite or the lower classes. In a certain sense, the same subversive potential of women (despite the ascribed roles of “guardians of tradition” and “foundation of nation”) Sophie Roche discusses in the “Anthropology” section in her article on the narratives of memory about the civil war of the 1990s in Tajikistan. The suppressed and marginalized (“exceptional”) women’s perspective clashes with the official political and national canons of memory.

Returning to the “History” section, Timothy K. Blauvelt tells the story of the peasant uprisings in Abkhazia during collectivization as an exceptional case of unity of the local peasantry and local party leadership headed by Nestor Lakoba. The legitimacy of Soviet power in Sukhumi rested on the national (if not clan-based) solidarity of Abkhaz society, as well as upon the brotherhood in arms during the Civil War. Unlike leaders in other Soviet republics, Lakoba felt compelled to protect “his own” peasants from the destructive policies of the Center, and pushed forth the idea of the region’s exceptionalism defined through its “backwardness.” Blauvelt’s article demonstrates yet another level of Abkhazia’s exceptionalism: a republic of resorts – which, having only “autonomous” status (i.e., beneath the federal republic’s level), should not in principle be directly communicating with Moscow – de facto used this privilege because Soviet bonzes, including Stalin himself, made a habit of spending their vacations on the Black Sea coast of Abkhazia. Exceptional for the Soviet autonomies’ access to the highest corridors of power translated into exceptional policies: in Abkhazia collectivization was postponed to a significant degree and ended much later than in the rest of the USSR.

Brandon Schechter brings the conversation about the exceptionalism of Soviet nationalities policies from the regional to the all-Union level and puts forward a thesis about “the other indigenization,” which was overlooked by historians. Under the impact of Terry Martin’s work, the phenomenon of positive discrimination is usually viewed as a quintessence of the entire early Soviet experience of constructing a multinational society. Schechter discovers an important exception to this rule: prior to World War II, the policies of positive discrimination did not take root within the Red Army. This problem of multiethnicity began to be addressed only in the course of fighting Wehrmacht, when the need for mobilizing all available resources ran into the issue of non-Slavic draftees who did not speak Russian. The article reconstructs the dynamic picture of the development of Soviet military “indigenization” from the catastrophe of 1941 to the end of World War II, when the mobilization of non-Russian ethnic groups was undertaken through appeals to group honor and traditions but was also accompanied by attempts to harmonize narratives of historical memory in the emerging myth of the Soviet people’s war effort.

These developments were mirrored on the other side of the front lines, where Wehrmacht began to create foreign armed units. Andrii Bolianovskyi turns his attention to the mutually controversial policies of the German political and military authorities toward national units drafted from the prisoners of war and volunteers from the occupied territories of the USSR. The scale of collaborationism of former Soviet citizens was without precedent both for the period of World War II, and in comparison with World War I, when the Central Powers formed a very limited number of units from the subjects of imperial Russia. Despite the seeming marginality of the phenomenon of foreign soldiers in Wehrmacht, during the years of the war they numbered not less than 12 percent of Wehrmacht’s total figure. Bolianovskyi sees the causes for the mass scale of treason – normally a rare, exceptional phenomenon – in the hopes for the realization of national projects, in anti-Soviet views, and simply in the general demoralization that developed as a result of the “cold civil war” pulling apart prewar USSR.

The politics of exceptions during the immediate postwar period is the subject of the article by Maike Lehmann, which focuses on the repatriation of about 10 percent of the Armenian diaspora into the USSR in the aftermath of World War II. Strictly speaking, this resettlement was not a repatriation because the majority of newcomers were born beyond the borders of Armenia and even the USSR: they came from the Middle East, Western Europe, and America. The “reunification” of the Armenian people simultaneously underscored the ambition of Soviet Armenia to the status of the historical homeland of all Armenians in the world, and the conditional nature of ethnic solidarity as foreign and Soviet Armenians literally spoke different languages and followed different cultural codes and social practices. The “returnees” found themselves in the situation of double alienation and ostracism: they were both “other” Armenians and non-Soviet in spirit. Many were soon repressed and exiled as unreliable elements, that is, excepted from the imagined Soviet Armenian national body.

The artificiality of the idea of unity of the seemingly archetypical and exemplary nation – the Jews – is illustrated by the horrific and in many ways exceptional material published by Pavel Polian in the “Archive” section. This material consists of the notes by a member of the Jewish Sonderkommando in Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Zalman Leventhal. His duties included serving the entire conveyer belt of death, from meeting the trains to pulping the bones of the cremated victims. The question that Leventhal himself asked was how could some Jews become executors of others. This question has no answer simply because of the inhuman conditions, under which people were placed during the war. But the problem is also in the incorrect question: it is presumed that “Jews” (or “Armenians,” “Abkhazians,” “Uzbeks,” “Lithuanians,” “Germans”) were a homogeneous community with a single interest, solidarity, and collective responsibility. However, it turns out – and it becomes especially obvious during social cataclysms and wars – that “nation” is a conditional category capable of legitimizing discrimination of others but only with great difficulty capable of mobilization for solidarity in creative action. The policies of genocide ascribed to the Jews of Europe a community and solidarity that, in fact, never existed.

This problem is further discussed in the “ABC” section in the article by Andriy Portnov. He follows up on the discussion of the book by Volodymyr V’iatrovych The Second Polish–Ukrainian War, 1942−1947 (AI 1/2012). Portnov focuses on the contextual and fluid sense of Ukraine-ness and Polishness which led to the bloody massacres in Volynia in 1943, and today feed the new war of memories in Ukraine and Poland. Russia also does not stand aside in this war, as is illustrated by the “Historiography” section, which focuses on the newly released collection of documents Ukrainian Nationalist Organizations During the Second World War. 1939−1945 printed by ROSSPEN publishing house.

It turns out, then, that most of the materials in this issue view the situation of exception as a liminal one, prone to erupt with conflict and even death. An exception to this rule is the article by Thomas R. Metcalf in the “Methodology and Theory” section, and Danielle Ross in “Newest Mythologies.” Metcalf looks at the transfer of the fairly unusual practice of British rule in India into the Philippines of the early twentieth century. At that time, the Philippines were practically a colony of the United States, a country that itself emerged under the slogan of struggle with colonialism. Ross looks at the opposite development in exactly the same time period: she explores the development of the Tatar national movement under the impact of the anti-utopian novella by Gaiaz Iskhaqi Extinction After Two Hundred Years written in 1902. The discursive selection of the figure of the traditional religious authority, ishan, as the epitome of everything backward, everything that brakes the development of the national sentiment led to marginalization and stigmatization of that social type. In practice, though, it was more a literary trope than a real social group: a person could challenge being included in the group of ishans, and national mobilization occurred at the expense of symbolic violence, rather than direct social or ethnic purges.

This discussion of the possibility of exceptions outside the context of trauma and struggle for survival (just as a matter of conscious choice of policies or discursive constructions of community) returns us to the theoretical presupposition from which we proceeded while planning this issue: the strategic relativism of empire rests on the normalcy of the regimes of exceptionalism. The materials published in this issue of Ab Imperio significantly complicate this thesis by stressing the primary role of studying the historical experience of living through exceptions, but also by bringing forward a new research question. If living through the specific historical experience in a heterogeneous and composite “imperial” society amounts to changing one area of exceptionalism and exceptions to another, is any identification with “empire” as a single coherent phenomenon of political imagination and legal order possible? It seems that “empire” appears to be just an analytically reconstructed context to study individual and group identifications. This context is important not as an ideal type of social and political organization (opposed to the ideal type of “nation”) but as a mechanism that reveals conditionality and the problematic nature of aspirations to homogeneity and universality of such modern normalizing conceptions as class or nation. Due to the very impossibility of reduction of different maps of imperial identifications and forms of groupness to any single “norm” we can see better how the norm of the modern national state violates diversity.

At the end of the day, this is what the materials published in this issue tell us. We can observe a paradox in the picture drawn by them: exceptionalism (and exclusion of the other from the social norm and even from life) is, usually, a personally experienced traumatic experience. However, the “norm” to which one aspires – of national solidarity (Armenians or Jews), political domination (Poles or Ukrainians), cultural homogeneity (Tatars or Soviet citizens) – remains largely an ideal that cannot be achieved. This means that the traumatic character of the historical experience of exceptions does not contradict contemporary attempts to normalize diversity but provides them with moral and historical depth. “Normalcy” of the exceptional means regular, which is not necessarily “simple” or “easy.”

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

Table of contents



Exceptionalism of Variety (R&E)

Thomas R. Metcalf
From One Empire to Another: The Influence of the British Raj on American Colonialism in the Philippines (E)

Thomas R. Metcalf
Afterword: All Сolonialisms May Be Different, But in the End All Are the Same (E)


Olga Mastianica
Woman Between the Legal Estate and Ethnic Identities: The Case of Women’s Education in the Northeastern Region in the 1830s–1860s (R)

Timothy K. Blauvelt
Resistance and Accommodation in the Stalinist Periphery: A Peasant Uprising in Abkhazia (E)

Brandon Schechter
“The People’s Instructions”: Indigenizing the Great Patriotic War Among “Non-Russians” (E)

Andrii Bolianovskyi
Between National Aspirations and Hitler’s Colonialism: East European Military Units in the German Armed Forces in 1941-1945 (R)

Maike Lehmann
A Different Kind of Brothers: Exclusion and Partial Integration After Repatriation to a Soviet “Homeland” (E)


Pavel Polian
Eyewitness, Chronicler, Accuser: Zalman Leventhal and His Texts (R)

Zalman Leventhal
Notes (R)


Sophie Roche
Gender in Narrative Memory: The Example of Civil War Narratives in Tajikistan (E)

ABC: Empire & Nationalism Studies

Andriy Portnov
Histories for Domestic Use (R)


Danielle Ross
The Nation That Might Not Be: The Role of Iskhaqi’s Extinction After Two Hundred Years in the Popularization of Kazan Tatar National Identity Among the ‘Ulama Sons and Shakirds of the Volga-Ural Region, 1904−1917 (E)


Forum AI on
Ukrainskie nacionalisticheskie organizacii v gody Vtoroi mirovoi voiny. 1939–1945 / Pod obshchei red. А. Artizova: V 2 tomakh. Moskva: ROSSPEN, 2012. Tom. 1. 878 S. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1676-6; Тom 2. 1167 s. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1677-3

Alexander Gogun
Old Themes and Missing the Point (R)

Elena Borisenok, Tatiana Tsarevskaia-Diakina
Once Again, Back to the Point: Response to Alexander Gogun (R)


Ilya Gerasimov (E)
Anti-Jewish Violence. Rethinking the Pogrom in East European History, Edited by Jonathan Dekel-Chen, David Gaunt, Natan M. Meir, and Israel Bartal (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 2011). 220 pp., 1 map. Index. ISBN: 978-0-253-3
Lucien J. Frary (E)
Robert O. Crummey, Old Believers in a Changing World (DeKalb, IL: Northern Illinois University Press, 2011). 267 pp. Index. ISBN: 978-0-87580-650-1.

Alexey Vdovin (R)
Katya Hokanson, Writing at Russia’s Border (Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press, 2008). 301 pp. Bibliography, Index. ISBN: 978-0-8020-9306-6.

Gulnar Kendirbai (E)
Yurii Malikov, Tsar, Cossacks, and Nomads. The Formation of a Borderland Culture in Northern Kazakhstan in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries (=Studien zum Modernen Orient 18, ed. Gerd Winkelhane) (Berlin: Klaus Schwarz Verlag, 2011). 322 pp. Appendi
Andrey Lazarev (R)
Marcus C. Levitt, The Visual Dominant in Eighteenth-Century Russia (DeKalb: Nothern Illinois University Press, 2011). 374 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-0875804422.

Irina Rebrova (R)
O. Gavrishina. Imeriia sveta: fotografiia kak vizualnaia praktika epokhi "sovremennosti". Moskva, Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie 2011. 192 s. ISBN: 978-5-86793-898-7; I Narskii. Fotokartochka na pamiat: Semeinye istorii. Fotograficheskie poslaniia i sovetskoe detstvo (avto-istorio-graficheskii roman). Cheliabinsk. Enciklopediia, 2008. 516 s. ISBN: 978-5-91274-028-2

Sharon A. Kowalsky (E)
Elisa M. Becker, Medicine, Law and the State in Imperial Russia (Budapest and New York: Central European University Press, 2011). x+399 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-963-9776-81-4.

Johanna Conterio (E)
Anne E. Gorsuch, All This Is Your World: Soviet Tourism at Home and Abroad After Stalin (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). 272 pp., ill. Bibliography, Index. ISBN: 978-0-19-960994-9.

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