Ab Imperio (2014), 3

Ab Imperio (2014), 3
Other title information 
Ghettos and Time Gaps (bezvremenie): Negativity as “the Moment of Truth”

Published on
Kazan', Russland 2014: Selbstverlag des Herausgebers
124 € Jahresabo, 31 € Einzelhelheft



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
Kaplunovsky, Alexander

Dear friends and colleagues,

the Editorial Board of Ab Imperio is pleased to present the new issue of our journal: 3/2014. The third thematic issue within Ab Imperio’s 2014 annual program, “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” is devoted to the exploration of Ghettos and Time Gaps (bezvremenie): Negativity as “the Moment of Truth”.

“Ab Imperio” is a peer-reviewed, bilingual (English and 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.


When the annual program of Ab Imperio for 2014, “Assemblage Points of the Imperial Situation: Places and Spaces of Diversity,” was published in September 2013, the editors expected the most difficulties with the 3/2014 issue. Its theme seemed necessary within the structure of four issues exploring the process of producing the imperial situation, but there was little hope of receiving many high-quality contributions fitting the theme of the issue: “Ghettos and Time Gaps (Bezvremenie): Negativity as ‘The Moment of Truth’.” Indeed, how can historians and social scientists study the situation of seemingly arrested development, eventless and emotionally low-key? We knew from history that somehow such historical epochs gave way to periods of societal self-mobilization, self-organization along new principles and creativity in all venues of life, but how could we explain this sudden sea change?

Several months later, we all became participants in a grand master class of history that answered our queries and concerns in a most vivid way. We have tried to present part of this master class to Ab Imperio readers by putting together the thematic forum “Ukraine and the Crisis of ‘Russian Studies’: Participant Observation of History in the Making” published in the “Methodology and Theory” section. There is nothing metaphysical about the concept of “history in the making”: history is not a superhuman force, it is just a multilayered stream of events of which we are trying to make sense. Over the course of one year, beginning November 2013, Ukrainian society has become transformed from a loose agglomeration of socially inert, egoistic, and politically indifferent people into a self-mobilized community of conscious subjects bound by common civic virtues. As can be seen from the forum, the unity of the new Ukrainian society is based on a recognized and embraced cultural and social hybridity that allows individuals to espouse complex social identities and belong to several social networks and hierarchies at the same time. This is exactly how the phenomenon of the “imperial situation” is described in new imperial history, and how it was predicted to materialize in the post-imperial (and even post-postmodern) democratic society. There might be a more politically correct name for this post-imperial and “new imperial” hybridity, but what matters is the phenomenon it designates: a community woven from the irregular and partially overlapping combination of local communities and hierarchies based on incommensurable criteria (of authority and location, language and income); a community that has evolved from the state of bezvremenie, where history is happening somewhere out there, to the state of active appropriation of history and political subjectivities.

Most of the materials published in the forum discuss the phenomenon of the Euromaidan and developments in its aftermath. Still, they provide some important insights about the content of the “black box” of the period from 2004 to 2013, even if indirectly. The corruption of the “Orange regime” and the growing popular disillusionment with politics produced the situation of bezvremenie – a time gap with no “events” on the surface, but with hidden structural realignments of the social sphere. This could be a seemingly technical change: for example, the growth of Facebook users in Ukraine by a factor of 50 (from 63,000 to 3,000,000) from 2009 to 2013 (see the article by Jennifer Dickinson); or the crystallization of trusted information resources and centers of coordinated public debates (traditional and Internet media, such as Censor.net). The Euromaidan demonstrated that a very significant segment of Ukrainian society had reached consensus on many key issues, first of all regarding the supreme values that eventually bonded the society much more strongly than any normative social identities and scenarios (the point elaborated by Yaroslav Hrytsak). This is a very important conclusion that can be drawn from recent Ukrainian history: in order to act together, people need to spend quite some time talking to each other and thinking as a group, to learn how to relativize the significance of their differences and negotiate with opponents, to elaborate the very language of hybridity as a necessary precondition for the polyglossia of an imperial situation. Political reaction that often accompanies bezvremenie can have a productive aspect as long as it stimulates intrasocietal communication (although it can be equally destructive when it effectively halts free horizontal contacts).

New imperial history as developed by Ab Imperio is not about studying empires: the name is but shorthand for an even longer and more cumbersome formula suggesting research on culturally heterogeneous societies that are characterized by overlapping semiautonomous social hierarchies, legal regimes, and circuits of authority. The name refers not so much to the object of study as to the logic and dynamics of the historiographic process, in which colonial and imperial history in the mid-twentieth century became subject to fierce postcolonial criticism that, in turn, has been revisited by new imperial history (somewhat like the “synthesis” of “thesis” and “antithesis”). By offering a new way of looking at human diversity (social, political, cultural, and linguistic) in its historical trajectory, new imperial history can provide a crucial optical device to view and understand contemporary developments in the postimperial and even postnational era. How can a “democratic revolution” avoid the trap of descending into nationalist ethnocracy, or socially degrading cleptocracy? What mechanisms can bring about a new community of shared values – particularly the values of diversity and transparency? It is in this context that the Ukrainian case appears paradigmatic (and not for the reasons that historical pundits sometimes provide, as a place of politically marked linguistic divides or clear “East–West” boundary). As Ilya Gerasimov points out in his introduction to the forum, the Ukrainian revolution broke the historical paradigm of self-deprivation of agency (be it through the nationalist rhetoric of victimhood of colonization or fatalistic acceptance of the power of the state and the elites). What historians have long sought to do throughout much of modern history − to return the voices to those who were silenced − is happening before our eyes as old Soviet and post-Soviet cynicisms and lamentations are being replaced by the political action of self-organizing communities. Uniquely in the post-Soviet space, this process is largely driven beyond the confines of ethnonational form and Soviet performativity by the push from below. Its success is incomplete and as fragile as it can be, and it requires an intellectual effort to keep up with it. And although the Ukrainian revolution can have any outcome, the moment of acquisition of agency is crucial for writing its history.

Given the scale of the forum published in the “Methodology and Theory” section, the “History” section of this issue is necessarily laconic. It features just two articles that tell structurally similar stories in the same territorial setting, over the longue durée: from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1980s. Karsten Brüggemann studies the transformation of the political rhetoric of top imperial administrators in the Baltic provinces in late Imperial Russia, and the gap between this rhetoric and actual administrative practices. Saulius Grybkauskas reconstructs the history of the institution of second secretaries of the union republic’s party committees after World War II in the USSR as “imperial” plenipotentiaries within the federal administrative system (with special attention to the Baltic republics). Though important by themselves, these two studies also offer valuable insight into the main problem of this thematic issue of the journal. They show the practical limitations of control even by autocratic centralized governments (in the Russian Empire and the USSR). When the imperial situation emerges, these imperial plenipotentiaries may identify with alternative political loyalties (as shown by Grybkauskas), or at least advance an alternative understanding of what constitutes the supreme interests of the state (as demonstrated by Brüggemann). And the ambivalent (or multivalent) imperial situation can emerge under the sway of seemingly unwavering imperial control for several reasons, for example, because the interests of political stability require regional administrators to promote the interests of “their” territories and find a compromise with local political and social elites – which can contradict the way “stability” is understood in the capital.

The “ABC” section of this issue presents the next chapter of the history course, “A New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia,” developed by the Ab Imperio team. This chapter covers much of the fifteenth century and sixteenth centuries and is focused on the process of reinventing Muscovy as a sovereign polity, a legitimate heir to grand states of the past. While highly inventive and productive, this process of political innovation was largely pursued through direct political practices and experiments, in that the sphere of abstract reasoning (rhetoric and pamphlet-writing) was all but nonexistent in Muscovy. This “subconscious” and spontaneous quality of the radical sociopolitical transformation of the Muscovite society resonates with the focus of the issue on “negativity” and bezvremenie (so defined because such periods do not produce distinctive self-explanatory narratives). Though divided from our time by half a millennium, the case of Muscovy suggests that the invisible structural transformations of society are the results of sustained efforts by historical actors rather than the results of some anonymous and invisible interventions by the “hand of history.”

The article by Vadim Osin published in the “Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science” section is dedicated to the phenomenon of the receiving of academic degrees by different groups of state officials and by representatives of other nonacademic spheres in Ukraine and Moldova. This is a growing phenomenon (Osin relies on a sample of some 7,000 dissertations) that reminds us that normally bezvremenie is a moment of degeneration of the entire institutional framework of the society, when corruption and abuses of authority flourish. It is useful to keep this in mind when thinking about the Ukrainian revolution, in order not to idealize the society that produced it – and also to better understand the nature of popular civic protest as a mechanism of self-healing within a viable society. Not limited to condemning the practice of manufacturing dissertations for sale to VIPs, Osin’s analysis allows us to see it also as a constructive (if twisted) mechanism for forging new social hierarchies in place of the old ones that have disappeared. Obtaining academic degrees is just one episode in the complex process of converting office to social, economic, and political capital – the wrong response to a correctly identified social problem.

The “black box” of bezvremenie periods conceals a change in the social imagery and mental mapping of members of society. When these periods end, outside observers are surprised to see the sudden emergence of a whole new society in place of the seemingly hopeless one – or the no less unexpected disintegration of a presumably monolithic society that has failed to reinvent itself. Bezvremenie is also often represented as a state in which historical agency and political subjectivity do not exist, or are hijacked by hostile political regimes, or do not manifest themselves for some reason. As such, it rhymes with the classical postocolonial understanding of the history of the colonized as being interrupted, subsumed, and actually distorted by the colonial regimes, and with the image of decolonization as resuming historical time for the formally colonized nations. The reevaluation of bezvremenie in light of contributions to this issue of Ab Imperio suggests a more complicated picture. It excludes any preexisting identities that can be completely suppressed or eliminated altogether, and instead focuses on how a wide variety of local identities are negotiated beyond the alien and/or colonizing authority, and what exactly we should register when trying to grasp “history in the making.”

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

Table of contents




From the Editors
Time Gaps (bezvremenie) as “the Moment of Truth” (E&R)

Forum AI: Ukraine and the Crisis of “Russian Studies”: Participant Observation of History in the Making (E&R)

Ilya Gerasimov Ukraine 2014: The First Postcolonial Revolution. Introduction to the Forum (E)

Eyewitness Testimonies:

Borys Filatov
I Know for Sure, How It Will Happen: Facebook Post, April 21, 2014 (E)

Interview with Nataliya Gumenyuk
When It Is a Matter of Life and Death, Survival Instinct Is More Important than Some “Mentalité Differences” (R)

Interview with Viacheslav Likhachev
Maidan Will Attract Scholars Even One Hundred Years from Now (R)

Empirical Case Studies:

Jennifer Dickinson
Prosymo maksymal’nyi perepost! Tactical and Discursive Uses of Social Media in Ukraine’s EuroMaidan (E)

Volodymyr Kulyk
Ukrainian Nationalism Since the Outbreak of Euromaidan (E)

Debating Interpretative Frames:

Oleksiy Musiyezdov
Perception of Maidan: The Socioeconomic Foundations of Identity in Postmodern Society (R)

Denis Dubrovkin
Erich Fromm’s “Escape from Freedom” as a “Field Manual” for Donbass (R)

Alexander Osipian
Ukraine Managed to Acquire a Face of Its Own (R)

Anna Veronika Wendland
Leftist Neoimperialism and the State of “Russian” Studies: Participant Observation of the German Discourse on Ukrainian Crisis (R)

Sergei I. Zhuk Ukrainian
Maidan as the Last Anti-Soviet Revolution, or the Methodological Dangers of Soviet Nostalgia (Notes of an American Ukrainian Historian from Inside the Field of Russian Studies in the United States) (E)

Andriy Portnov
Maidan and after Maidan (R)

Yaroslav Hrytsak
Ignorance Is Power (E)


Karsten Brüggemann
Representing Empire, Performing Nation? Russian Officials in the Baltic Provinces (Late Nineteenth / Early Twentieth Centuries) (E)

Saulius Grybkauskas
Imperializing the Soviet Federation? The Institution of the Second Secretary in the Soviet Republics (E)


Vadim Osin
Academia and the Political Regime: Neopatrimonial Scholarship in Ukraine (and Moldova) (R)


_Project AI
History Course “A New Imperial History of Northern Eurasia”_

Chapter 5. Modern Times: The Problem of Defining Sovereignty and Its Borders in the Grand Duchy of Muscovy, 15th−16th Centuries (R)


Igor Lukoianov
Rafail Sholomovich Ganelin (1926−2014). Oration about a Patriarch (R)

Irina Levinskaya
A Freethinker (R)


Alexander M. Martin, Enlightened Metropolis: Constructing Imperial Moscow, 1762−1855 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013). 352 pp., ills. Bibliography, Index. ISBN: 978-0-19-960578-1.
Katherine Pickering Antonova (E)

S. Iu. Malysheva. Prazdnyi den', dosuzhii vecher: Kul'tura dosuga rossiiskogo provintsial'nogo goroda vtoroi poloviny XIX – nachala XX veka. Moskva: Academia, 2011. 192 s. Bibliografiia. ISBN: 978-5-87444-389-4;
L. R. Gabdrafikova. Povsednevnaia zhizn' gorodskikh tatar v usloviiakh burzhuaznykh preobrazovanii vtoroi poloviny XIX – nachala XX veka. Kazan': Institut istorii AN RT, 2013. 384 s. ISBN: 978-5-94981-169-6.
Gary Guadagnolo (E)

Marjorie L. Hilton, Selling to the Masses: Retailing in Russia, 1880–1930 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012). 320 pp., ills. Bibliography, Index. ISBN: 978-0-8229-6167-3.
Philippa Hetherington (E)

I. R. Takala. Veselie Rusi: Istoriia alkogol'noi problemy v Rossii. Sankt-Peterburg: Zhurnal “Neva”, 2002. 335 s. Spisok literatury, imennoi ukazatel'. ISBN: 87516-005-5.
Botakoz Kassymbekova (E)

Dnevnik istorika S. A. Piontkovskogo (1927−1934) / Otv. red. i vstup. stat'ia A. L. Litvina. Kazan': Kazanskii gosudarstvennyi universitet, 2009. 516 s. ISBN: 978-5-98180-720-6.
Oleg Budnitskii (R)

O. Iu. Nikonova. Vospitanie patriotov. Osoaviakhim i voennaia podgotovka naseleniia v ural'skoi provintsii (1927−1941 gg.) Moskva: Novyi khronograf, 2010. 471 c. ISBN: 978-5-94881-138-3.
Dorena Caroli (E)

D. Shirer. Stalinskii voennyi sotsializm: Repressii i obshchestvennyi poriadok v Sovetskom Soiuze, 1924–1953 gg. Moskva: ROSSPEN, 2014. 543 pp. ISBN: 978-5-8243-1806-7;
David Brandenberger, Propaganda State in Crisis. Soviet Ideology, Indoctrination, and Terror under Stalin, 1927–1941 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012). 376 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-0-300-15537-2.
Oksana Ermolaeva (R)

Violeta Davoliūtė, The Making and Breaking of Soviet Lithuania: Memory and Modernity in the Wake of War (London: Routledge, 2014). 212 pp., ills. Bibliography. Index. ISBN: 978-0-415-71449-5.
Eglė Rindzevičiūtė (E)

Elissa Bemporad, Becoming Soviet Jews: The Bolshevik Experiment in Minsk (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013). 276 pp., ills. Selected Bibliography, Index. ISBN: 978-0-253-00822-0.
Claire Le Foll (E)

Olga Gershenson, The Phantom Holocaust: Soviet Cinema and Jewish Catastrophe (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2013). 295 pp., ills. Index. ISBN: 978-0-8135-6180-6.
Jeremy Hicks (E)

Istoricheskaia kul'tura imperatorskoi Rossii. Formirovanie predstavlenii o proshlom: kollektivnaia monografiia v chest' prof. I. M. Savel'evoi / Otv. red. A. N. Dmitriev. Moskva: Izd. dom Vysshei shkoly ekonomiki, 2012. 551 s. ISBN: 978-5-7598-0914-2.
Ada Dialla (E)

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