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Symposium: "The Soviet Legacy" Round table with Dmitry Bykov

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St. Mary’s Hall, Multipurpose Room
Friday, November 01, 2013 - 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM

Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the theme of the Soviet past has not only continued to be the subject of lively debate in both Russia and the West, but has taken on new relevance. The authoritarian rule of Vladimir Putin, the return of a resource-based economy, the resurgence of repressive politics in relation to any group or individual deemed disloyal, the failure to reform the inhumane penal system—together produce a striking sense of déjà vu and stimulate critical reflection about the Soviet legacy.

Heated debates in Russia today about Stalin and Stalinism, about the experience of socialism, and about the role of the Soviet Union in the Second World War serve as a touchstone for defining one’s position in the political and intellectual sphere and directly affect Russia's relations with its neighboring states.

A wide variety of opinions and assessments lie on the broad spectrum between the opposing tendencies of defending and demonizing the Soviet system. The reactualization of the Soviet asserts itself in a less politicized but equally provocative form in recent literature (the «new realism»), in cinema, mass media, and in every day communications. For the last Soviet generation, whose childhood took place in the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s, and which now has begun to attain key positions in business, cultural, and media, the Soviet system is associated as much with the imperial-patriotic trope of «getting up from one's knees» as with a gentle nostalgia for the past. In the meantime, the younger generation that has grown up under the influence of the current political and cultural atmosphere tends to perceive the USSR as a mysterious vanished civilization, a tendency that is expressed not only in an interest in collecting Soviet memorabilia, but, more seriously, in critical reflection.

We invite the participants in the symposium to consider possible approaches to conceptualizing the Soviet legacy in contemporary Russia. Among the topics for discussion that we consider central to the project of reconceptualization are the following: the persistence and self-reproduction of Soviet authoritarian institutions and practices; the influence of the Soviet experience of national politics on the contemporary Russian elite; the possibility of interaction between Western scholarly discourse on «the question of the perpetrator» in Soviet history (as put recently by Lynne Viola)  and the Russian domestic debate about the trauma of Stalinism; the Soviet past as a point of departure for thinking about the longue durée of Russian history in terms of big patterns; the influence of Soviet regimes of representation (e.g., «socialist realism») on the formation of contemporary Russian aesthetics; the integration of Western critical theory, in particular, postcolonial and poststructural approaches, into Russian cultural studies; the exploration of the periodization of the history of cultural movements from modernity to postmodernity, including an assessment of the critical category of «postmodernism» and its applicability to the Russian case.

For more information, contact:

Zhanna R Gerus-Vernola

Maya Brin Residency Program

+1 301 405 7376

vernola@umd.edu

sllc.umd.edu/russian/mayabrin/bykov