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The present article aims to propose a theoretical framework capable of elucidating the intriguing resilience of the ideas shaping the attitudes of Russian ruling circles and intellectuals toward Ukraine. Offering a perspective that incorporates the latest findings on Russia’s “empire-nation dilemma” into the explanatory model, it delves into the historical context in which the Russian political and intellectual elite’s worldview and self-narratives were shaped – the period spanning from the 1830s to 1917. It reveals the intricate link between their sense of ontological (in-)security in relation to the West and the belief that assimilating Ukraine was pivotal for bolstering external power and ensuring internal stability within the Russian state.

In: Russian History
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Abstract

Since launching a full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, 2022, Russian authorities have provided several narratives to justify their aggressive actions and war crimes. According to the first, their war is only a response to the actions of the “Nazis”; therefore, the current war is a continuation of the Great Patriotic War in which Russia defeated Hitler. The second asserts the superiority of Russian culture over Ukrainian and explains the attack on Ukraine by the desire to protect the Russian language and culture on Ukrainian territory. Both of these narratives can be categorized as ressentiment, a term coined by Nietzsche that refers to a feeling of hostility towards an individual who is deemed responsible for one’s failures or hardships. This reaction involves glorifying an idealized past and vehemently opposing anything associated with the freedom and cultural values of another. Russophone anti-war poetry written after February 24th, both in Russia and abroad, deconstructs these propaganda narratives and offers its own narrative strategy for talking about Russian history, which I term the poetics of “de-ressentiment.” This essay analyzes anti-war poems by Russian-speaking poets and identifies the principles and tasks of de-ressentiment in the context of Russia’s catastrophic policies. The paper explores how Russian-language anti-war poetry tries to find the right language to discuss the most traumatic topics in Russian history and proposes a total revision of Russian history and culture. This de-ressentiment revision should break free modern Russia’s destructive focus on its past that deprives it of any future.

In: Russian History
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In: Russian History

Abstract

The rethinking and decolonization of Russian history has become a significant challenge for historians. This process should cover primarily the history of the Russian empire. The study of different regions of the Russian empire is one of the possible approaches because the empire was heterogeneous. The history of imperial institutions would thus move to the sidelines, while the history of regions, cities, different social, ethnic and religious groups, as well as the interaction within and between them should become the primary focus of historians. This approach would foster a shift from a Moscow-centric view.

Open Access
In: Russian History

Abstract

With Russia’s escalation in Ukraine, many long-standing positions and relationships have become much more complicated. Many nations in the Global South have elected to remain neutral to avoid damaging their long-standing relations with Russia, which they rely on for political or economic stability. The Russian government has instrumentalized this history of Russian and Soviet support for anti-imperialism to buoy its own relations with the Global South. This support has its roots in the Comintern period when the Communist International promoted anti-imperialism, anti-racism, and self-determination of nations. These efforts, in turn, helped develop the image of the Soviet Union as an anti-imperial bulwark, while also providing an alternate path in which many nations in the Global South found inspiration following the Second World War. This thought piece reconsiders the history of the Comintern to ask fresh questions about its role in anti-imperial and anti-racist movements. In doing so, it calls for a greater attention to the limitations of the Soviet regime during the interwar period, and a reconsideration of the imperial actions of the Soviet Union as relates to this history. It also explores how the history of the Comintern and the complicated history of Soviet support for global decolonization in the interwar period remains relevant to contextualizing present-day reactions to Russian aggression in Ukraine and why, despite the correctives of the post-Cold War period, historians now need to ensure further complexities in this history are not overlooked in the instrumentalization of this history promoted by Russia following February 2022.

In: Russian History
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Abstract

Dostoevsky’s nationalism has long been a sensitive and controversial topic in Western scholarship. At the core of the controversy is the problem of explaining the stark contrast between Dostoevsky’s philosophical message of universal love and the explicitly xenophobic, chauvinistic and war-glorifying statements found in many of his journalistic articles. Russia’s full-scale war in Ukraine has reignited the old controversy in ways that have brought to light the profound political implications involved in interpreting Russian history in a post-2022 context. Many Ukrainian intellectuals and public figures have come to question not only the appropriateness of Dostoevsky’s title as a “great humanist” but also the conventions of Dostoevsky’s reception in Western scholarship, which serve to maintain this image of the writer in the public mind, despite many of his unpalatable ideas. These sentiments are echoed by (as yet) a small group of Russianists in the West who argue for the need to reconsider Dostoevsky from a more critical, decolonizing perspective. This essay offers a historiographic review of the theme of Dostoevsky’s nationalism in Western and Russian scholarship over the past two decades. It also highlights the way in which Dostoevsky’s nationalist ideas have been used by Russian propagandists in popular media since Russia’s first invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

In: Russian History

Abstract

This discussion seeks to trace the origins of a particularly sympathetic approach to the Russian state and its needs with the field of Russian history in the United States. The response notes some of the major scholars who have greatly influenced the study of Russian history. These include Michael Karpovich, Richard Pipes, and Edward Keenan among others. The discussion grapples with the question of how Russian history in the US has or has not included Ukraine in its narrative and the terms of that incorporation. The original exchange, on H-Russia, comprised the first two commentaries. Susan Smith-Peter’s response was not part of the original H-Russia post. Sean Pollock was not invited to respond.

In: Russian History

Abstract

Muscovite princes like other medieval princes used the past to legitimize their policies. Their chroniclers traced Muscovy’s origins to the once metropole Kyiv according to the medieval logic of translatio imperii. After 1800, unlike their European counterparts, Russian historians did not dispense with medieval stories finally formulated by the mid 1500s, about their country. They still linked Moscow to Kyiv repeating an inherited tale about a supposed origins of “Russian history” to a non-Russian territory incorporated into their empire only in the late eighteenth century. They failed to separate the national from the imperial in their grand narrative of Russian history. This article reviews the evolution of Muscovites’ understanding of relations between Muscovy and Rus lands it did not control that historians of imperial Russia then adopted, rather than abandoned.

In: Russian History

Abstract

This piece argues that a greater understanding of the role of regions in Russian history could lead to different ways of writing Russian history that need not center the state. By including a wider range of intellectual and political actors from the regions, as well as tracing the long connections between them and Ukrainian thinkers, such a history would make regions subjects rather than simply objects. The original post and the significant number of responses provide an important snapshot of the thinking of the field of Russian history about questions related to the territorial integrity of Russia and Ukraine. The responses also deal with related topics concerning the role of indigenous peoples and the processes of colonization in the narrative of Russian history.

In: Russian History