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THE BIRCH FALL 2016


THE BIRCH FALL 2016


Contents 1. 2. 3. POLITICS

Tinatin Japaridze, Euro-Song for Mother Russia: Russian Identity, Informal Politics and Foreign Policy at the Eurovision Song Contest Anna Bisikalo, How Did Consensus Start to Form About the Holodomor as a Genocide During the Yushchenko Presidency?

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CULTURE

Samuel Falcone-Coffin, Agents of Struggle: Strains of Revolutionary Consciousness in Early Soviet Film and Society Sarah Krasner, The Soviet Union’s Tolkien Fanatics Jordan Todes, As We Stare into the Void: Absence, Truth, and Cinematographic Structure in Paweł Pawlikowski’s Ida

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LITERARY CRITICISM

Malina Gulino, Obscuring the Other: Veils in Russia’s Colonialist Imagination Oceana Gilliam, Black Russians? Gannibal, Pushkin, and the “Other” in Russian Perceptions of Race

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Hugh Zimmerbaum, “A Little Joke” (Anton Chekhov) Leo O’Brien, “On the Fields of Kulikovo” (Alexander Blok)

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Cecilianna Wahler-Edwards, “Diary of a Polish Airman” Brianna Philpot, “Lobsters”

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CREATIVE WRITING

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Tako Jobava and Bianka Ukleja (Photography) Kate Langdon and Jordan Luber, Rewriting History and Law in 21st-Century Hungary (Photojournalism) Leeza Gavronsky and Nastya Abramova, Reflections (Creative Writing and Illustration)

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ART & PHOTOGRAPHY

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TRANSLATION


ABOUT THE BIRCH

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Founded in 2004, The Birch is the first national undergraduate publication devoted exclusively to Slavic, East European, and Eurasian studies. The journal is run by Columbia University students and annually publishes work by current undergraduates from many different colleges. We accept submissions of creative writing, art and photography, literary criticism, and essays on the culture and politics of the region. You can find more information about The Birch online on our Facebook page (The Birch Journal), our website (thebirchonline.org), and by emailing us at thebirchjournal@gmail.com.

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OUR STAFF

2016

Editors-in-chief Alex Braslavsky and Kate Seidel Treasurer Seth Farkas Secretary Jack Treval Layout and Photography Editor Liz Zhou Politics and Culture Editors Anastasiya Moroz, Jeremy Ng, and Sarah Wallstrom Literary Criticism Editors MarĂ­a Morales and Sydney Kyne Creative Writing and Translation Editors Andrew Layden and Liza Libes


FROM THE EDITORS

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This year, The Birch made a bold step towards bi-annual publication and to publishing Politics and Culture as separate sections, and we are proud to present our first fall issue since 2008. We feel confident that our editing staff, a team fourteen strong, will continue in the tradition of selecting and presenting some of the best undergraduate essays, photography, creative writing, and art of the year. Many of our contributions this year take up the question of how political history is written in various media and often contested: how the Holodomor’s status as a genocide has been debated in post-Soviet Ukraine (Anna Bisikalo, 19), and how early Soviet filmmakers attributed agency in the Russian revolution on the basis of national or class affinity to fortify a new Soviet identity (Samuel Falcone-Coffin, 28). We also see how states place themselves in narratives about contemporary events to win their citizens’ favor (as in Hungary, where the government demonizes refugees and the LGBTQ community to gain support—Kate Langdon and Jordan Luber, 91) or to win other countries’ approval (as Russia does through the Eurovision competition—Tinatin Japaridze, 9). In our Culture section, we see an analysis of the award-winning Polish film Ida, which explores absence of a clear identity in post-Stalinist Poland. Our literary analysis also intersects with cultural themes as we see students this year interested in orientalism and how the veil is an emblem of cultural otherness that is both identified with and rebuked in Vereshchagin and Lermontov (Malina Gulino, 53) as well as in Pushkin’s relationship to his African ancestry (Oceana Gilliam, 61). Even those who aren’t writers by profession can write and rewrite fictions together as subcultures that exist alongside history (Sarah Krasner, 37). We students can take part in history, too, through our own observations (photojournalism in Hungary,

2016

Dear readers of The Birch,


FROM THE EDITORS (CONT) 91), memoirs (Leeza Gavronsky and Nastya Abramova, 96), and fictional explorations of the past (Cecilianna Wahler-Edwards, 79). We would like to take a moment to thank our all of our editors, contributors, collaborators, and readers. We hope you enjoy this fall issue of The Birch! Until spring, Alex Braslavsky and Kate Seidel


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Politics


EURO-SONG FOR MOTHER RUSSIA: RUSSIAN IDENTITY, INFORMAL POLITICS AND FOREIGN POLICY AT THE EUROVISION SONG CONTEST

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TINATIN JAPARIDZE

1. According to a poll conducted by Levada Center, Moscow-based independent polling service, when asked to recall “the most memorable event of the past four weeks,” 20% of the respondents highlight-

song selection process in particular and participation in general tell us about how the Russian Federation views and portrays its identity and image on the European scene? In order for these questions to gain validity, it is, above all, vital to establish whether Eurovision is a state-operated program utilized by the Russian state as a soft power tool. Therefore, in this paper, I first turn to the theory of Global Power Politics and draw upon the available evidence that the ESC is a state-operated project in the direct interest of the Russian Federation—both through ed Eurovision held in Vienna. Meanwhile, the U.S. and Western European sanctions against Russia were mentioned by 18% and Vladimir Putin’s annual direct line with the nation by just 13% of the population. For more details, see Levada’s report. “Samiye zapominayushiyesya sobytiya,” Levada Center, May 28, 2015.

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An annual event that attracts an estimated viewership of 180 million worldwide, the Eurovision Song Contest (ESC) offers participants the opportunity to showcase their cultural identity and nationhood. While not as widely known in the United States as it is in Europe, the ESC serves as an unprecedented platform that some European nations— particularly the former Soviet bloc countries—embrace with open arms. Russia has been participating in Eurovision since 1994, and as a proud winner of 2008, Moscow hosted a memorable ESC event the following year. Considering both the global outreach and a strong internal appeal of the popular television show within Russia itself,1 what can the


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its eager participation and the internal, state-managed selection process. Secondly, I examine the song selection patterns using two separate lenses of 1) Informal/Patronal Politics as a selection mechanism that is determined by informal politics and the proximity of the artist and/or the composer to the Russian state, and 2) Constructivism as a nation-branding system, whereby Russia uses the ESC stage to portray itself and its identity as either a neo-Eurasian or Western nation. Finally, I offer a concluding analysis on which particular theory dominates Russia’s selection pattern and what the nation’s regular participation in Eurovision can tell us about post-Soviet Russia in relation to the West. However, before turning to a theoretical analysis, let us look into a brief history of the contest and its significance beyond a mere source of entertainment as an annual show-business extravaganza. Eurovision: Olympics of Song writing The Eurovision Song Contest (ESC), little known in the United States, has gained a reputation as the Olympics of songwriting, encompassing all of Europe and reaching beyond to geographic and cultural outsiders such as Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and the newcomer of 2015—Australia. Inspired by the popular Italian Sanremo Festival, the Eurovision Song Contest (originally titled “The Eurovision Grand Prix”) first started in 1956 in the aftermath of World War II as a cultural move to assuage Europe’s suffering and distract

war-torn nations by promoting peace, harmony and solidarity through the universal language of music.2 To this day, the contest continues to embody its founding mission of uniting nations to celebrate diversity.3 Furthermore, the popular music event has been compared to the European Union. While the EU may have earned greater respect than the music industry, Eurovision has, arguably, achieved more to foster peace and dialogue among European nations.4 Even though it has acquired a reputation (particularly in the Western music industry) of a kitsch entertainment show with little musical value, it must be noted that the ESC has served as a successful launching pad for international artists, such as Celine Dion, Julio Iglesias and ABBA. As a result of the post-communist Eastern European countries flocking into Eurovision after the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact and, shortly thereafter, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the ESC has foreshadowed (if not predicted) European expansion from the early 1990s. Less than three years after the collapse of the USSR, Russia became a regular participant in the contest in 1994, where it only reached the ninth place. After a series of fiascos 2. Tinatin Japaridze, “Should Politics Have a Voice in the Eurovision Song Contest?” Center on Global Interests, May 29, 2015. 3. Tinatin Japaridze, “Building Bridges at Eurovision,” The Moscow Times, May 21, 2015. 4. Mark Lawson, “Putin and Cameron, take note: Eurovision has a fine record of predicting geopolitical tensions,” New Statesman, May 9, 2014.


5. Yana Meerzon and Dmitri Priven, “Back to the Future: Imagining a New Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest,” in Performing the “new” Europe: Identities, Feelings and Politics in the Eurovision Song Contest, ed. Karen Fricker and Milija Gluhovic (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 116. 6. Leila Alieva, “EU and South Caucasus” (discussion paper, Bertelsmann Foundation and the CAP at the University of Munich, Germany, December, 2006), 17.

7. Stacie E. Goddard and Daniel H. Nexon, “The Dynamics of Global Power Politics: A Framework for Analysis,” Journal of Global Security Studies 1:1 (2016), 5. 8. Ibid., 12. 9. Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), 46.

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Global Power Politics First of all, as highlighted above, we must establish whether the ESC is, indeed, a state-operated program, and is both encouraged and supported by the Russian government. In doing so, I turn to the theory of Global Power Politics, which sets itself apart from Realism but ultimately treats “the centrality of states to power politics as variable” and “takes for granted that non-military instruments [including culture] matter a great deal for power politics.”7 According to Goddard and Nexon, through this prism, culture is capable of enabling, constraining and constituting “power politics,” and therefore the symbolism behind soft power exceeds the use of culture for the sake of mere entertainment.8 The term “soft power” was developed and coined by Joseph Nye in the late 1980s as the ultimate “ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants” without using force or coercion. Nye argues that while the “crude commercialism” of mass entertainment can have minimal if any “political effect,”9 the success of popular culture as a powerful soft power weapon in both the Cold War and post-Cold War period cannot be understated. This, too, can be applied to the ESC and its stereotypical image as a “light entertainment” program often criticized for its so-called “bubble-gum”

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throughout the 1990’s (these fiascos will be addressed in more detail later in this paper) of tumultuous economical climate of Yeltsin’s Russia and the country’s “concerted,” though unsuccessful, “pursuit of Eurovision gold,”5 Russia made a near-triumphant return to Eurovision in 2000. Russia’s first significant success on the Eurovision stage and the evolution of its winning strategies coincided with an economic rise during Vladimir Putin’s first presidential term. It was after being hailed as the runner-up of the ESC 2000 that Russia began to devote growing interest and significant state funding to the contest. In this essay, I aim to demonstrate that, particularly from 2000 onwards, Russia has been an active member of the Eurovision “family” in its pursuit of a greater membership within the European family, ultimately winning the contest in 2008 with Russian pop star Dima Bilan’s symbolic “Believe.” While Russia is not a member of the EU, it is a proud member of Europe’s most popular song contest, which in the “absence of the immediate prospects of membership”6 can be interpreted as a signal of the country’s eagerness to join the European community.


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pop content. Utilizing the lens of soft power global power politics, I argue that both regular participation and successful performance at the ESC are in direct interest of the Russian state, and can, therefore, directly influence Russia’s choice of its Eurovision song. ORT and RTR—both state-controlled, federal TV Channels— produce the Russian chapter of the ESC in a top-down operation.10 Both channels are members of the European Broadcast Union (EBU), the official operator of the ESC, and have been acting as internal organizers and producers of the Russian entry since its 1994 debut.11 Prominent Russian rock critic, Artemy Troitsky, observes this trend as an inevitable legacy of the Soviet period: “Russia’s state ideology has always been and remains… music for popular entertainment and for the peace of mind of the government.”12 After Russia’s first—and so far last—ESC win in 2008, the contest was hosted in Moscow the following year with utmost fanfare and global media coverage. According to a number of 10. Since its ESC debut in 1994, Russia has used two methods for song selection— public voting and internal selections. However, after 2013, both Russian broadcasters, ORT and RTR have focused solely on the latter. 11. 1994-1996, the ESC was broadcast on RTR, however, in 1995, 1997, 1999-2007 the contest’s production and broadcast were handled by ORT. From 2008, the two channels have been alternating the event production, with RTR broadcasting on even years, and ORT—odd years. 12. Artemy Troitsky, 2010, quoted in Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future,” 114.

media outlets,13 the budget allegedly exceeded $40 million. During the week of general rehearsals, then Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin personally visited the venue, Olympiiskiy Stadium, in order to oversee the last-minute preparations for the final show. Moreover, six months earlier, as Moscow was entering the preliminary preparation phase to host the event, Putin held an official meeting with the legendary English composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, who penned the UK’s 2009 ESC song. During the meeting at his dacha outside of Moscow, Putin emphasized the importance of the event for his country, stressing that “holding such a major event [Eurovision] in Moscow is one more proof of the fact that after many years behind the Iron Curtain Russia is fully and finally returning to the European cultural space.” He also noted that “Russia has always 13. According to Reuters, the Russian government invested over $30 million (from the federal budget and the budget of the city of Moscow) into the organization of the 2009 event in Moscow. Additional funds of approximately $6.8 million were provided by the state-controlled ORT, the European Broadcast Union, and six private sponsors: Raiffeisenbank, Schwarzkopf, Rostelekom, Pepsi, Mary Kay and Gold Mine Beer. For more information on ESC 2009 sponsorship, see Amie Ferris-Rotman, “Moscow Eurovision most expensive ever at $42 million,” Reuters, May 16, 2009; Yulia Kotova, “Evrovidenie-2012 stalo samym dorogim v istorii,” Vedomosti, May 27, 2012; and Ksenia Boletskaya, “Ubitochnaya pesnya,” Vedomosti, May 6, 2009.


14. Vladimir Putin, “Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber,” The Russian Government, Nov. 15, 2008. 15. Ibid. 16. Fyodor Morkvo, “Bilana obvinili v khalture: Interview with Alexander Dugin,” Vzglyad, June 4, 2008. 17. Ayşe Zarakol, After Defeat: How the East Learned to Live with the West (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011), 43, 50.

Informal Politics Through patronal/informal politics, I observe the role of the “social equilibrium”22 between the state (i.e. federal television) and its client (i.e. artist, songwriter) in ultimate decision-making that determines who represents Russia on the Eurovision stage. The system of informal politics is comprised of personal “patron-client” relationships, thus developing a personal patronage that dominates “all aspects of its [country’s] political and business life.”23 Although informal politics in rela18. Joseph Nye, Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (New York: Public Affairs, 2004), 6. 19. Ibid., 6. 20. Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future,” 111. 21. Ibid., 121. 22. Henry Hale, Patronal Politics: Eurasian Regime Dynamics in Comparative Perspective (New York: Cambridge UP, 2015), 20. 23. Kimberly Marten, “Informal Political Networks and Putin’s Foreign Policy: The Examples of Iran and Syria,” Problems of

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solely crucial from a cultural perspective. In fact, it can also be indicative of a successful use of the weapon of a pop song as soft power that is meant to both “influence”18 and “attract,”19 and can thus be interpreted as one of the tools on the global power stage used by Russia to present itself as a “competitive” 20 nation through effective use of the Eurovision platform. Particularly since 2000, successful participation in the contest has become Russia’s “national reaffirmation device” towards reasserting its significance on the global scene both domestically and internationally.21

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been part of Europe,” and therefore, the Russian Federation “will seek to strengthen the European aspect.”14 The Prime Minister added that his country’s involvement in the ESC is of great importance for the future of Europe. “150 million young people who simultaneously watch Eurovision in Europe, including Russia, feel part of a shared cultural space, that adds something very important to the future of Europe.”15 The mastermind behind Russian neo-Eurasianism, Alexander Dugin argues that while he appreciated the popular Russian singer-songwriter Dima Bilan’s ESC Grand-Prix as a “geopolitical signal” which demonstrated that “most European countries support Russia,”16 European votes should be counted as those in favor and support of Russia as a whole and not of Bilan in particular. Dugin’s sentiment might mirror Putin’s mission to reclaim Russia’s dynamic status as a former Cold War-era superpower and be included in the global community after being historically excluded from the “rise of the West.”17 While music plays an undoubtedly important role in the formation of national and cultural identities, the choice of the nation’s ESC song is not


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tion to Russia has been most commonly associated with the interplay between domestic politics and turbulent economy of the wild 1990s,24 foreign policy analyst and Barnard College Professor Kimberly Marten proposes applying this lens to Russian foreign policy.25 In fact, this theory is not unique to the Russian system, but “with its history of independence and great power status […], Russia may present a purer model”26 of this prism in both its domestic and foreign politics. In the context of Russia and the Eurovision Song Contest, the lens of informal (domestic and international) politics suggests that through internal pre-selection, informal social networks within the patronal system of the Russian state decide on who will sing for Mother Russia and export its culture to Europe, thus determining the image that is ultimately showcased in the West. While Western European artistand song-selection relies primarily on public voting, Russia (as is the case with most former Soviet countries) favors internal voting “behind closed doors.” In addition, Western European countries seldom pick well-established artists, focusing instead on the quality of Post-Communism 62:2 (2015), 71; Henry Hale, “Formal Constitutions in Informal Politics: Institutions and Democratization in Post-Soviet Eurasia,” World Politics 63:4 (October 2011), 581–617. 24. Alena Ledeneva, How Russia Really Works: The Informal Practices That Shaped Post-Soviet Politics and Business (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2006), 1. 25. Kimberly Marten, “Informal Political Networks,” 71. 26. Ibid., 72.

the song and often selecting unknown acts. On the contrary, Russia frequently gives precedence to prominent artists who are regularly featured in ORT and RTR productions and “estrada” (Russian popular music) concerts, including this year’s representative—Sergey Lazarev, Russian pop star and a constant participant in Kremlin-funded events.27 Admittedly, practicing patronal politics on the ESC stage has not always been a successful venture for Russia. After selecting a relatively unknown artist, Youddiph, to represent the nation at its Eurovision debut in 1994 and, as a result, landing at number nine, for the following few years, the Russian organizers employed a different preselection tactic. In 1995 and 1997, ORT nominated prominent and frequent participants of Kremlin-funded musical projects—the “heavy artillery”28 royalty of Russian “estrada”—Philip Kirkorov (1995) and Alla Pugacheva (1997)— alas, to little avail. After coming in 17th in 1995, failing to qualify in the finals in 1996 and ending up at number 15th in 1997, Russia would decline from further participation for two consecutive years. With the dawn of the new millennium, the election of a new president, gradual post-90’s rise in its economy and a renewed interest in Eurovision as a nation-branding soft power tool, Russia’s bad luck would soon fade into the 20th century. In 2000, Tatar-born 27. Giannis Argyriou, “Russia 2016: Eurovision song to be premiered on March 3rd,” Eurovisionary, February 9, 2016. 28. Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future,” 115.


29. Alsou’s father, Ralif Safin, a prominent executive of Lukoil, the second-largest oil company in Russia, sponsored her participation in Eurovision. For more on Russia’s 2000 ESC entry, see Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future: Imagining a New Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest,” pp. 116-117, 121. 30. Ibid.

31. Emanuel Adler, “Seizing the Middle Ground: Constructivism in World Politics,” European Journal of International Relations, 3:3 (1997), 322. 32. Vera Tolz, “The West,” in A History of Russian Thought, eds. William J. Leatherbarrow and Derek Offord (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010), 208. 33. Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future,” 114. 34. Zarakol, After Defeat, 9. 35. Robert Nalbandov, Not By Bread Alone: Russian Foreign Policy Under Putin (Lincoln, NE: Potomac Books, 2016), 334.

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Constructivism Using the constructivist lens, a view in which “the material world shapes and is shaped by human action and interaction,”31 I analyze Russia’s Eurovision selection through both Eurasianist and Westernizer perspectives in order to determine if there is a link between the choice of a song (and its performer) and the national identity that Russia strives to showcase on the ESC stage. Eurasianists consider Russia’s uniqueness to be rooted in its geographical location, and hence take great pride in its ability to understand and represent both European and non-European cultures32 as a “buffer zone”33 that connects the two worlds of Europe and Asia. Therefore, the ability to merge Eastern and Western cultures34 is seen by Russia as a factor that sets it apart from the other participants of the Eurovision Song Contest. Within the framework of the contest, it embraces the “unique amalgamation”35 between East and West by reverting back to its roots and proudly sharing its traditions and culture with the European audience.

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“Oil Princess,” 29 Alsou, was tapped to represent Russia at the ESC with an English-language song penned by American songwriters Andrew Lane and Brandon Barnes. “Solo” came second on the night of the finals and at long last Russia found itself on the Eurovision map. Meerzon and Priven argue that the ESC silver was no coincidence, and it was Alsou’s Eurovision silver that marked the Russian state’s increase of “financial and artistic investment” in the contest.30 Therefore, the choice of a young pop star from a prominent family of a wellknown oligarch to represent Russia of the New Millennium at the ESC with a contemporary pop song was an internal and carefully calculated decision made behind closed doors of ORT, and could, in turn, be interpreted as an act of informal politics beyond the use of the ESC to merely showcase the country’s best available talent. However, even with vivid examples of patronal politics used in Russia’s ESC selection year after year, it is difficult to subscribe exclusive significance to this theory in analyzing the country’s nation-branding and image-crafting practiced on the pan-European stage. Thus, to delve deeper into this question, I now turn to the prism of constructivism.


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After proclaiming in November of 2008 that Russia’s participation in the contest is “one more proof of the fact that […] Russia is […] finally returning to Europe,”36 Vladimir Putin surprised the Russian media by proposing the creation of Intervision, an alternative song contest to Eurovision, which would feature participants from Russia, Central Asia and China.37 During a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing in October of 2009, Putin noted that Intervision can serve as a tool for “strengthening cultural ties between our peoples.”38 More recently, following the 2014 ESC victory of Austrian drag queen Conchita Wurst, the Russian Communist Party MP, Valeriy Rishkin called on his country to pull out of Eurovision altogether.39 “We must leave this contest immediately, it is high time that we stop tolerating this madness,” he stated. “Each year Russia spends 40 million euros on this.” As an alternative, Rishkin offered Russia to create its own song contest, Voice of Eurasia, thus distancing itself entirely from the European pop scene. 36. Putin, “Prime Minister Putin.” 37. The ambitious project remains “shelved” to this day. 38. Ira Iosebashvili, “Putin offers Asian alternative to Eurovision,” The Moscow Times, Oct. 15, 2009. 39. A follow-up poll was conducted by Levada Center and based on the results, 68% of the population across the Russian Federation consider Eurovision an important platform for their country and believe that Russia must continue its regular participation in the context. For more details, see the Interfax report, May 29, 2015.

The two proposals for an alternative song contest voiced by Putin and Rishkin echo Alexander Dugin’s concept of neo-Eurasianism—a more extreme form of Eurasianism that defends the cultural development and uniqueness of each country in accordance with the nation’s values, devoid of all outside interference with a grand mission of creating a multi-polar world. Unlike Eurasianism in its pure form, neo-Eurasianists consider the culture of the West to be “a local and temporary phenomenon” and believe that only through “multiplicity of cultures”40 can the world co-exist peacefully on the same geopolitical stage. Through this lens, the ESC can be seen as a tool of Western-cosmopolitan imperial power that rejects the adoption of the generic Euro-pop genre, and instead proudly capitalizes on its rich culture.41 This was successfully achieved when an Udmurt folk group Buranovskiye Babushki’s (Buranovo Grannies) “Party for Everybody” became the runner-up in 2012, both reaffirming Russia’s cultural uniqueness and its tolerance and sensitivity towards the “ethnic minorities.”42 By showcasing its folklore, Russia is claiming superiority over Western Europe, refusing to act as a generic Euro-pop copycat and instead 40. Alexander Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory, trans. Mark Sleboda and Michael Millerman (London: Arktos Media Ltd., 2012), 99. 41. Alexander Dugin, Eurasian Mission (London: Arktos Media Ltd., 2014), 38. 42. Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future: Imagining a New Russia at the Eurovision Song Contest,” 123.


43. This lens is beyond the scope of this paper, as Slavophilism (with the possible exception of the Buranovskiye Babushki) is rarely employed by Russia in the ESC. Actively emphasizing its Slavophilism would serve against the mission behind Russia’s participation in the pan-European show. However, these non-Western presentations serve as Russia’s reminder that it has a rich history and is an acting bridge between Europe and Asia, modernity and tradition—a belief that lies at the core of neo-Eurasianism promoted by the likes of Dugin. 44. Vladimir Putin, “Vladimir Putin congratulated the Buranovskiye Babushki on their successful performance at the 2012 Eurovision song contest,” Kremlin, May 27, 2012. 45. Zarakol, After Defeat, 43, 50.

Conclusions and Implications The analysis presented here indicates that the Eurovision Song Contest within the framework of Russia’s participation is a state-operated program. Therefore, successful participation is one of the key factors in the direct interest of the Russian state, demonstrated 46. Artemy Troitsky, quoted in Meerzon and Priven, “Back to the Future,” 121. 47. The ESC winning number in 2008, performed by Russian pop-star Dima Bilan was co-written alongside Jim Beanz, American vocal producer, songwriter, musician, singer and record producer, whereas the 2011 ESC composition, “Get You,” sung by Alex Vorobyov was co-written and produced by RedOne, three-time Grammy Award-winning Swedish record producer, songwriter, and record executive.

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pop music.”46 Although one could argue that a Eurovision win holds little validity on the global pop scene, it is clear that Russia is trying to reassert its former status, lost after the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, not only on the geopolitical scene but also on the global cultural stage. Alternative to the Eurasian prism, which places emphasis on Russia’s uniqueness, the Westphalian view claims that by participating in a European show, Russia is able to see itself as a rightful member of the collective European “family,” eager to belong both musically and visually within the Western framework. This may, additionally, shed light on the reason why Russia has numerously turned to foreign composers and producers to mold the nation’s ESC entry.47

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embracing its Slavic roots.43 After winning silver, Buranovskiye Babushki were publicly applauded for their “talent and energy” by President Putin, who noted that their ESC performance and the group’s Udmurt language repertoire offers “an excellent way to  popularize Russia’s great cultural diversity.”44 In contrast, the antipode of both Slavophilism and Eurasianism—the Westernizer view—places Russia on the ESC map as a rightful member of the European community, entirely aware of and in touch with what Western Europe wants to see and hear. Russia’s status as an outsider left out in the cold by the Westphalian state system resulted in an “inferiority complex.”45 This “inferiority complex” also persists in Russia’s eagerness to be accepted in the world of popular music, as music critic Artemy Troitsky argues that Russia’s ESC win is (in general public’s perception) directly associated with becoming a “world leader in


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through the lens of global power politics. According to Denis Volkov, a Levada Center expert, “For Russians, these victories serve as important indicators that things are going well. […] ‘At last, Russia is taking the place it deserves.’”48 While the theory of informal politics may arguably dominate Russia’s ESC selection process, it is not ultimately the deciding factor that dictates the state’s nation-branding tactic. The major argument of this paper is embedded in the lens of constructivism. It must be taken into full account that Russia is eager to belong on the European stage, hence its song choices that are predominantly Western audience-friendly. Therefore, the Westernizer prism appears to be the dominant theory in explaining Russia’s song choices and the mission behind its active participation in the ESC.49 Through promotion, marketing and image-crafting (not to mention significant state-funding), Russia, like most post-Soviet states, attributes great significance to the membership in the Eurovision “family.” By turning to Western composers and producers for the creation of a Eurovision-friendly product and often shying away from Eurasianism (and even more so from Slavophilism), Russia is seeking approval and acceptance on the European music scene as an equal, thus striving to 48. Fred Weir, “Springtime in Russia: Eurovision, hockey championships, and the world's most beautiful woman,” The Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2009. 49. Joan DeBardeleben, “Applying constructivism to understanding EU-Russian relations,” International Politics 49:4 (2012), 419.

reclaim its status as a “great power”50 by regaining “validation”51 from the West and strengthening its membership in the Western space.52 Finally, the purpose of this research is not solely to dissect Russia’s involvement and its patterns of song selection in Eurovision, but above all to emphasize the significance of the ESC for the Russian state and the people of Russia as more than a mere source of entertainment and memorable pop hits. Beyond viewing Eurovision as just another popular television show, Russia’s participation in the contest can offer a better understanding of where the country locates itself on the geopolitical and sociocultural map of the world, and how it relates to the global community as a modern but traditional state that has historically had its gaze fixed at both East and West simultaneously.

50. Deborah Welch Larson and Alexei Shevchenko, “Russia Says No: Power, Status, and Emotions in Foreign Policy,” Communist and Post-Communist Studies. 47:3-4 (2014), 275. 51. Ibid., 273. 52. David Remnick, “Letter from Moscow: Watching the Eclipse,” The New Yorker, Aug. 11, 2014.


HOW DID CONSENSUS START TO FORM ABOUT THE HOLODOMOR AS A GENOCIDE DURING THE YUSHCHENKO PRESIDENCY?

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about the famine was suppressed by the central Soviet government for decades after it occurred, internationally and within the USSR.3 In the late 20th century, diaspora Ukrainians in Canada and the United States agitated for research into the famine.4 Success came in 1984 for the World Congress of Free Ukrainians, an international organization that had spent two decades lobbying for the recognition of the Holodomor. That year, they were able to create the “International Commission of Inquiry into the 1932– 33 Famine,” which was funded by dona-

1. John-Paul Himka, “How Many Perished in the Famine and Why Does It Matter?” BRAMA, Feb. 2008. 2. Halyna Hryn, Hunger by Design: The Great Ukrainian Famine and Its Soviet Context (Cambridge, MA: Ukrainian Research Institute, Harvard UP), 2008.

3. Georgii Kas´ianov, Danse macabre: Holod 1932–1933 rokiv u politytsi, masovii svidomosti ta istoriohrafi (1980- ti–pochatok 2000-kh) (Kyiv: Nash chas, 2010). 4. “Ukrainian ‘Holodomor’ Facts and History,” Connecticut Holodomor Committee, accessed May 2, 2015.

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The Ukrainian Famine of 1932– 33 is now widely known by the uniquely Ukrainian moniker Holodomor, or “killing by hunger.” According to scholarly consensus, approximately 3 million people died during this time period, as a direct result of Soviet collectivization policies created and directed by Stalin.1 Ukrainian peasants were requisitioned for wheat and other food products to fulfill impossible grain quotas that would allegedly go towards a national Soviet ration. When it came time to redistribute the food, it was not delivered to the Ukrainians and existing food was taken from their homes by force.2 Information


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tions from the Ukrainian diaspora.5 In the 30 years since then, a wealth of information about the Holodomor has come to light and twenty countries, such as the USA, Canada, parts of Eastern and Central Europe, and others, recognize it as genocide of the Ukrainian people.6 The push for the global acceptance of the Holodomor as a mass extermination perpetrated by the Stalinist government was a critical issue for the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko (2005–2010). As a leader, his embrace of Ukrainian nationalism and vision for Ukraine’s future as a European, Western nation called for a political distancing from Ukraine’s Soviet past. Recognizing Ukraine as a victim of the Soviet regime was a way to do that, and his campaign for the acceptance of the Holodomor as a genocide was aided by strong emotional appeals and legislation. Yushchenko, through policies of memorialization and the rhetoric of Ukrainian victimhood, drove the majority of the Ukrainian public to see the 5. Frank Sysyn and George Shirinian. “The Ukrainian Famine of 1932–3: The Role of the Ukrainian Diaspora in Research and Public Discussion,” in Studies in Comparative Genocide, ed. Levon Chorbajian (Great Britain: Macmillan Press, 1999). The Commission confirmed that there had been a massive famine, and that the Soviet government took advantage of the ensuing devastation for political gain. While commissioners did not find evidence of a pre-conceived plan to induce famine, they did find Stalin ultimately culpable of the Holodomor’s consequences. 6. Victoria Rymar, “About the Holodomor,” Ukrainian Canadian Congress, accessed May 2, 2015.

Holodomor Genocide as a crucial part of Ukraine’s national narrative and identity. However, his agitation and methods exacerbated geopolitical rifts, and his efforts have been criticized by scholars and by his political opposition. Finally, the subsequent presidency of Viktor Yanukovych and his policies pushed back against the ideology presented by Yushchenko. This article examines Yushchenko’s strategies for centralizing the Holodomor Genocide, and analyzes the two presidents’ opposing political viewpoints along with their different uses of the Holodomor in national politics. It remains to be seen whether or not members of the Ukrainian public will continue to identify with Yushchenko’s “post-genocide”7 conception of the country, in which Ukrainians are “collective victims of the Communist regime.”8 Attempts to Classify the Holodomor History is not an absolute and objective study of the past—it is largely affected by memory, which is fallible, and political ideology, which is powerful. History is malleable and it matters who molds it. In the case of the Holodomor, one can observe what Grigorii Kasianov describes as the “‘instrumentalization’ of history and historical memory as the catalysts for forming a ‘collective self-awareness’ of the nation.”9 The facts and 7. Tatiana Zhurzhenko, “‘Capital of Despair’: Holodomor Memory and Political Conflicts in Kharkiv after the Orange Revolution,” East European Politics & Societies 25.3 (2011), 597–639. 8. Ibid. 9. Kas´ianov, Danse macabre.


10. Alexander J. Motyl, “Deleting the Holodomor,” World Affairs 173.3 (2010), 25–34. 11. Viktor Yushchenko, “Address by His Excellency, Viktor Yushchenko of Ukraine” (speech, Congressional Session, Washington, D.C., 2005).

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people, or the unfortunate combination of poorly designed collectivization and natural drought. Raphael Lemkin, originator of the word genocide, described the Holodomor as such in a 1953 speech (that only surfaced in 2008). He described the Soviet Russian state as targeting “the whole body” of the nation of Ukraine, with the peasants, intelligentsia, and clergy each being integral parts that were killed off to stifle the entire nation’s progress.10 The peasants were the economic backbone and cultural symbol of agrarian-based Ukraine. The clergy were community leaders, and members of the Ukrainian intelligentsia attempted to galvanize the Ukrainian people at large to unify and identify as one nation. Unification was cut short by the extermination of these key groups. Defining a case of mass death as specifically “genocide” is an ideologically fraught issue. During Yushchenko’s presidency, the ideological divide was laid out clearly. Yushchenko wanted to publicly steer Ukraine towards the West and towards being a “Euro-Atlantic civilization.”11 This necessarily meant distancing Ukraine from Communism and, by extension, from contemporary Russia. The government of Russia refused to interpret the Holodomor as a genocide of the Ukrainian people. Therefore, those who were still aligned with Russia

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statistics of the Holodomor were suppressed, so there did not exist a public intellectual discourse about this painful past for decades. By the time the citizens and academics of Ukraine could discuss it openly, Ukraine was on the brink of splitting from the quickly dissolving Soviet Union. Circumstances perfectly positioned the idea of the Holodomor for use as a political instrument in nation-building and distancing Ukraine from Communism and its Soviet past. Other potential symbols of Ukraine’s independent path and attempts at statehood were the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), but their far right-wing politics and tactics made them too divisive to be useful rallying tools among the Ukrainian population as a whole. In addition, discussion and commemoration of the Holodomor garnered sympathy internationally, giving it political leverage at home and against post-Soviet Russia. Finally, the fact that the famine affected many regions of Eastern, Western, and Central Ukraine meant that it could serve to potentially coalesce a country that often suffers from geopolitical division between the nationalistic Ukrainian West and the Russian-aligned East. Today, it is nearly uncontested that a famine killed people en masse during the early 1930s in Ukraine. It is also evident that the Holodomor significantly stalled the economic, social, and national development of Ukraine. Its classification as a genocide depends on whether one believes that it was a deliberate extermination of the Ukrainian


could not accept the Holodomor-asgenocide narrative. A substantial part of the Ukrainian public “yearns for the good old days of Soviet greatness and cheap vodka, overlooks Stalin’s crimes against humanity, and cannot imagine Ukraine as having an identity different, or separate, from Russia’s,” according to scholar Alexander Motyl.12 Of course, for this group, the deliberate genocide of Ukrainians fundamentally did not align with their public and private beliefs.

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Yushchenko’s Legislative Activism With the political legitimacy that a revolution can bolster, President Yushchenko was bold in his efforts to have the Holodomor recognized legally as a genocide. The Orange Revolution, which led to a revote in the election between Yushchenko and Yanukovych, gave Yushchenko the presidency.13 With the sense that the majority of Ukrainians supported his leadership, Yushchenko presumably felt that his vision for Ukraine’s future was shared by his countrymen. To that end, his campaign for Holodomor recognition began soon after his inauguration. In 2006, he introduced a bill in Parliament to that effect, with the addition that it would be illegal to publicly deny the existence of the genocide. After serious debate, which included the Communist party threatening to impeach the President, the bill was passed with the stipulation that denying

that the Holodomor was genocide “is deemed an insult to the memory of the millions of victims of the Holodomor... and is contrary to law.”14 But, it no longer required administrative responsibility for such public denial. The Party of Regions also demanded that the bill mention the other ethnic groups within the Soviet Union that suffered in 1932–33. In 2008, Yushchenko returned to his original intention with a bill that would criminalize the denial of the Holodomor being a genocide (and denial of the Holocaust) with very harsh punishment.15 This more controversial bill was not passed by Parliament. As Grigorii Kasianov critically notes, there was no scholarly consensus on the genocide question at the time and making a legal ruling on it muddied the line between justice and politics. He describes Yushchenko’s proposals and the debate surrounding them as the “trivialization and primitivization of a complex and tragic subject.”16 In addition to Yushchenko’s actions in the sphere of national law, there was a strong push from his administration for the use of Ukrainian in schools, and for the recognition of Ukrainian as the national language.17 The language question was closely connected to his actions regarding the Holodomor, because together they formed a narrative—Ukraine is an independent nation, with a unique history and culture. This independent nation was targeted by the Soviet state and nearly killed off,

12. Motyl, “Deleting the Holodomor.” 13. Peter Finn, “In a Final Triumph, Ukrainian Sworn In,” Washington Post, January 24, 2005.

14. Kas’ianov, Danse macabre. 15. Ibid., 633. 16. Ibid., 640. 17. Motyl, “Deleting the Holodomor.”


National Narrative and Dissent It is crucial to consider not only Yushchenko’s legislative agenda during this time, but also his rhetorical appeals to the public. His speeches on commemorative occasions were poetic, describing the idea that contemporary Ukrainians are the “unlived lives” of those who perished in 1932–33, and that they must act and fight for their memories to be 18. Ibid., 30. 19. Zenon Zawada, “The Yushchenkos and the Holodomor,” Ukrainian Weekly, November 29, 2009. 20. Ibid. 21. Viktor Yushchenko, “ADDRESS BY PRESIDENT YUSHCHENKO: Remembering the Holodomor,” Ukrainian Weekly, December 2, 2007.

22. Ibid. 23. Viktor Yushchenko, “Holodomor,” in Holodomor: Reflections on the Great Famine of 1932–1933 in Soviet Ukraine, ed. Lubomyr Luciuk and Lisa Grekul (Ontario, Canada: Kashtan Press, 2008). 24. Himka, “How Many Perished?” 25. “Poll: Almost Two-Thirds of Ukrainians Believe Famine of 1932–1933 Was Organized by Stalinist Regime.” Interfax-Ukraine, May 2, 2015.

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respected. He read horrifying eyewitness testimonies and called for other nations to recognize the genocide.22 Yushchenko also made clear that Russians were among those who suffered the most from Stalin’s regime. To that end, he emphasized that his administration’s legislative and memorial actions were not motivated by seeking revenge against contemporary Russians. They were driven by Ukraine’s need for public recognition of the two countries’ challenging history.23 The President also grossly exaggerated the number of people who died in the Holodomor, citing figures as high as 10 million. Scholar John-Paul Himka took offense to this hyperbole, finding it “disrespectful to the dead that people use their deaths in a ploy to gain the moral capital of victimhood.”24 Whether Yushchenko’s appeals to Ukrainian victimhood were morally right or not, they were effective. A 2013 poll found that 64.1% of Ukrainians agreed that the Holodomor was man-made and headed by Stalin (though they were divided evenly on whether it was deliberate from the start or whether Stalin later capitalized on unfortunate events).25 In 2015, President Poroshenko stated that 80%

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but Ukraine prevailed. Yushchenko’s administration created policy to include the Holodomor in school textbooks and public education. To cement his narrative, the President had thousands of monuments and memorials of the Holodomor built18 and nearly 500 Soviet monuments (mostly of Lenin) destroyed.19 Yushchenko also oversaw the founding of the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory. The head of its Historical Analysis Department, Volodymyr Tylyschiak, stated that “The people’s fear of this horrible past is overcome,”20 indicating that Yushchenko’s efforts were helpful in creating a public discourse about what was considered “not a wound but a black hole”21 in Ukraine’s collective history. Yushchenko crafted part of a cogent national identity for post-Soviet Ukraine, and many citizens believed in it.


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of Ukrainians agree that the Holodomor was a genocide.26 Poroshenko does not cite where this statistic is from, and it is possible he is exaggerating the number to make a point. In any case, the momentum begun by Yushchenko’s policies increased the number of Ukrainians who believe in the Holodomor-asgenocide narrative. President Yushchenko’s policies and words were not equally well received across the country. Southern and Eastern Ukraine consisted of a population that still identified with the Russian and even Soviet identity due to geographical proximity and long-standing ties to the Russian population at the border. Though Yushchenko’s ideas about Ukrainian collective identity were grand and emotionally appealing, the methods for carrying out “de-Sovietization” were bureaucratic and indiscriminately imposed the official state line across all regions. The President’s memorial projects created geographic polarization and were met with resistance in the Russian-aligned regions. Regional political elites in Eastern areas like Kharkiv publicly complied but ultimately disagreed with Yushchenko’s narrative about the Holodomor.27 Scholar Tatiana Zhurchenko notes that Yushchenko’s memorial in Kharkiv had the spirit of strict Soviet ideological 26. “Poroshenko: 80% ukraintsev schitaiut Golodomor genotsidom,” Korrespondent, 28 Nov. 2015. 27. Zhurzhenko, “‘Capital of Despair’: Holodomor Memory and Political Conflicts in Kharkiv after the Orange Revolution,” East European Politics & Societies 25.3 (2011), 597–639.

imposition.28 Instead of allowing the citizens of Kharkiv to come to terms with the Holodomor themselves and remember it how they saw fit, he demanded the building of a memorial. In doing so, Yushchenko was using the authoritarian methods employed by former Soviet leadership—the very authoritarianism he was supposedly shifting independent Ukraine away from. Yanukovych’s Reversal Yushchenko’s efforts brought marked changes to Ukrainian public attitudes and discourse about the Holodomor. Viktor Yanukovych’s presidency sought to reverse many of the de facto national rituals put in place by his predecessor. One of his first actions post-inauguration was the removal of the Holodomor page from the official Presidential website.29 If Yushchenko’s goal was to orient Ukraine towards the West, Yanukovych tried to re-align the country with Russia or at least to craft it into a “neutral state.”30 On the day of National Remembrance of the Holodomor in 2010, Yanukovych held his own commemoration. He did not do a candle lighting ceremony (a tradition established by Yushchenko), nor did television chan28. Zhurchenko, “Commemorating the Famine as Genocide: The Contested Meanings of Holodomor Memorials in Ukraine,” Memorials in Times of Transition (2013). 29. Motyl, “Deleting the Holodomor.” 30. “Kyiv Post. Independence. Community. Trust—Politics—Yanukovych: Ukraine Will Remain a Neutral State,” InterfaxUkraine, January 21, 2010.


31. Zenon Zawada, “Two Separate Ceremonies in Kyiv Remember Holodomor,” The Ukrainian Weekly, December 5, 2010. 32. “Our Ukraine Party: Yanukovych Violated Law on Holodomor of 1932– 1933,” KyivPost, April 27, 2010. 33. “Bol’shevistskie lidery priznany vinovnymi v organizatsii genotsida v Ukraine,” Korrespondent, 13 Jan 2010.

Conclusion Ukrainian political narrative about the Holodomor was made more cohesive by the Yushchenko presidency and its policies. He offered “post-genocide” Ukraine a strong narrative of its past and future. Though he received criticism for using the tragedy as a political tool, Yushchenko succeeded in opening the dialogue about an extremely difficult time in Ukrainian history and giving solace and due commemoration to the Holodomor’s victims, survivors, and their families. Furthermore, the Holodomor, given its tangled history of suppression and the way it viscerally affected the population, cannot be apolitical and untethered to emotion. 34. “Our Ukraine Party.” 35. Motyl, “Deleting the Holodomor.”

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denying the Holodomor and of ignoring the January 2010 ruling of the famine being a genocide.34 The accusations did not make it to court, but the incident exemplified the dichotomy between Yushchenko and Yanukovych’s presidencies and respective approaches to the Holodomor issue. Furthermore, under Yanukovych, the Ukrainian Institute for National Memory was put under review and the respective heads of Education and Humanities in Yanukovych’s administration planned to stop the “hyperbolization” of the Holodomor.35 Yanukovych’s rhetoric and educational policies were almost a complete reversal of Yushchenko’s. Yanukovych tried to turn Ukraine 180 degrees from the West back to Russia, using the politics of the Holodomor as a fulcrum.

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nels display a black ribbon of mourning during the broadcast as they had done under Yushchenko. A separate, and much more heavily attended, commemoration was held, with Yushchenko in attendance. This event explicitly carried the word “genocide” in the title. Yanukovych had been invited and he declined to attend.31 This physical separation and differentiation of ritual illustrates the two president’s divergent ideologies. In order to maintain close ties with Russia, Yanukovych believed it was crucial for Ukraine to dilute the Holodomor narrative created by Yushchenko. In 2010, when speaking about the Holodomor, Yanukovych explained that it was not an act of genocide against one nation and that it would be “wrong and unfair” to recognize it as such.32 Earlier in 2010, the Kyiv Court of Appeals had found Stalin, Molotov, Kaganovich and others guilty of the crime of genocide against the Ukrainian people. The criminal proceedings did not go through, however, because the perpetrators were not alive at the time of the ruling.33 As a result of Yanukovych’s words, the political party Our Ukraine accused him of violating the 2006 law against


Yushchenko brought a deep national wound to the public and asked that it be reckoned with by the Ukrainian community. But, the ideological divisions in Ukraine among geographic, linguistic and political lines make the conversation difficult and emotionally taxing. Rather than healing by unifying around common historical suffering, Ukrainians at home and in the diaspora disagree about critical definitions and blame. But having the conversation itself is vital, and Ukraine’s wound cannot fully heal without there first being more pain and division.

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Culture


AGENTS OF STRUGGLE: STRAINS OF REVOLUTIONARY CONSCIOUSNESS IN EARLY SOVIET FILM AND SOCIETY SAMUEL FALCONE-COFFIN

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The death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924 created a space for debate over the political nature of Leninism as an ideology. The U.S.S.R. was in a position to define itself and its existence, which placed a particular importance on the specific depiction of its past and how it came to be. It was a moment in which recent history of the Revolution and of pre-revolutionary struggle was highly politicized, as the state sought to utilize the recent memory of struggle as a tactic of propaganda to justify its own existence. One means towards the end of generating depictions of the revolution in the early Soviet era was the generation of a state-sponsored cinema. Lenin famously remarked on the vitality of cinema to the Soviet project in 1922: In the country’s position, you will have to expand production, and particularly make headway with useful films among

the masses in the cities, and still more in the countryside... You must remember always that of all the arts the most important for us is the cinema.1 In this highly politicized period of film production in which film became a critical tool for the Soviet state, two of the most prominent filmmakers and film theorists were Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin. Each produced a multitude of films in the 1920s depicting the revolutionary struggle that culminated in the insurrection of October 1917. In 1925 and 1926, Eisenstein and Pudovkin produced the films Strike and Mother, respectively, which depicted pre-revolutionary class struggles in a Petersburg factory around the time of 1. Vladimir Lenin, “Directives on the Film Business,” dictated January 17, 1922, in Lenin Collected Works, trans. Bernard Isaacs (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1971).


Political Consciousness in the Work of Pudovkin and Eisenstein Eisenstein’s 1925 film Strike was his first full-length feature and was a Modernist, state-commissioned depiction of a pre-revolutionary strike in a factory in 1903. The film, performed by the Protelkult Theatre, the theatrical branch of the Protelkult artistic movement, was intended to be an individual installment in a seven-part series titled “Towards Dictatorship” (of the proletariat) which 2. Jay Leyda and Zina Voynow. Eisenstein at Work (New York: Pantheon Books, 1982). 3. Cara Marisa Deleon, “Ideology and Reality: Society and Vsevolod Pudovkin’s Mother,” Senses of Cinema, July 2006. 4. Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Cultural Front: Power and Culture in Revolutionary Russia (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992).

5. Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Commissariat of Enlightenment: Soviet Organization of Education and the Arts under Lunacharsky (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 310. 6. Vladimir Lenin, “Party Discipline and the Fight Against the Pro-Cadet SocialDemocrats,” in Lenin Collected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1965), 3203.

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would never be completed. Notably, his most famous film, the canonized Battleship Potemkin, was produced within a year of the release of Strike. Eisenstein had been a high profile member of this sociopolitical movement, and his works even after the movement’s dissolution of the Red victory in the Civil War were highly influenced by the Protelkult aesthetic.5 In his depiction of the pre-revolutionary strike in a Petersburg factory, Eisenstein’s first shot is a quotation from Lenin’s call for the organization of a revolutionary party independently from the liberal bourgeoisie in his essay “Party Discipline and the Fight Against the Pro-Cadet Social-Democrats” on the power and revolutionary potential of the working class through organization. This political homage to Lenin’s theory of revolution through the scientific management of the masses is therefore clearly stated, as the shot reads: The strength of the working class is organization. Without organization of the masses, the proletarian is nothing. Organized it is everything. Being organized means unity of action, unity of practical activity.6 This invocation of Lenin’s conception of the revolutionary party as rooted in the actual struggle of the work-

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the failed 1905 revolution. Each film was a popular success amongst the ranks of the Bolshevik Party and the Russian working class at large.23 We can interpret a unique and nuanced account of the nature of the consciousness that fueled the antagonism between the working class and the Tsarist capitalist bosses of the factory. Because of the state’s use of film as a tool of propaganda and the impossibility to produce film independently of the commission, filmmakers were forced to commit themselves to the Soviet project through their art.4 These two perspectives of the Revolution in political memory can be understood as ideological hinges within Soviet cultural production, Bolshevik fractional political debate, and Soviet thought at large.


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ing class (in the factories, for instance) immediately politicizes the film as a sort of demonstration of Leninist organizational theory of film—or a recollection of the newly established revolutionary Soviet state as the result of the actual decade-long class struggle of the masses. After the use of Lenin’s call for organization as a political tactic of the working class, the film proceeds to exhibit a Leninist perspective of early class conflict in the Tsarist period, or in the context of cinematic production in the mid-1920s, the Revolutionary State in its embryonic phases. The film shows the agitation, organization, and suppression of a strike in a factory, segmented into six chapters of sorts, respectively titled “At the factory all is quiet,” “Reason to strike,” “The factory dies down,” “The strike draws out,” “Provocation and debacle”, and finally, “Extermination.” Eisenstein’s general plot trajectory depicts a shot of the factory’s machinery turning after showing a still view of the Russian word “но” (“but”) immediately following the title “At the factory all is quiet.” From this sequence, we see workers rush to the production line and begin their workday—and through their interactions on the assembly line with each other and Bolshevik agitators, the strike ensues. This use of the term “but” to imply that it was the function of the machinery itself that transforms the stillness of the factory into the agitation of the coming strike.7 Subsequently, juxtaposed shots of workers and capitalists, 7. David Bordwell, The Cinema of Eisenstein (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 58.

and strikers and police ensue. The film concludes with the Governor calling in the military to brutally suppress the rioting factory workers, complete with particularly brutal shots of the massacre of children. Importantly, the film’s unique depiction of the pre-revolutionary class struggle is minimal development of any character as an individual. We can therefore understand struggle as depicted in Eisenstein’s film as rooted in a sense of class consciousness, or in the collective organization of the masses into a unified class. Pudovkin’s film Mother similarly offers a depiction of an early struggle at a point of economic production in pre-revolutionary Russia, but one that varies greatly from Eisenstein’s in both aesthetic form and in thematic content. The film—based off of a 1906 novel by Maxim Gorky—depicts the complexities of allegiances within a family in the context of a strike in the failed Revolution of 1905. After a father and his son, Pavel Vlasov, find themselves in opposition during a strike, the wife and mother chooses to betray her revolutionary son to attempt to save her Tsarist husband’s life. Her husband dies in the conflict, and the Communist and militant worker Pavel faces incarceration in a heavy prison labor camp. While in prison, the mother pledges her loyalty to her son’s revolutionary cause. The film concludes with the the mother leading a mass of revolutionaries to free her son and his fellow political prisoners. Upon the reunion of the mother and her son after the liberation of the prisoners, the Tsarist troops massacre the freed prison-


The Politics of Film Theory An understanding of the plot content and aesthetic form of Eisenstein’s films would be incomplete without his contributions to the Soviet film tradition as an influential film theorist who sought to merge the revolutionary political ideology of the Bolshevik Party (the politics of dialectical materialism) into film theory. This fusion of Marxist theory and film theory was the basis for his use of montage, and in his conception of the montage as a dialectical depiction of reality he emerged as one of the most important and influential film theorists of the 20th century. In his 1929 work of philosophical film theory, “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” he makes an argument that the role of film as a form of art is to illustrate the dialectical nature

8. Sergei Eisenstein, “A Dialectical Approach to Film Form,” in Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leda (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949). 9. Ibid.

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of life and society at large through montage. He writes, The foundation for this philosophy is a dynamic concept of things…being—as a constant evolution between the interaction of two contradictory opposites. Synthesis—arising from the opposition between thesis and antithesis.8 Rooted in a Marxist philosophical understanding of reality, this binary approach to the technique of montage rendered the use of editing to have an effect beyond the individual shot or scene. Through the juxtaposition of shots, scenes, and images, Eisenstein believed that aesthetic “collision” could manipulate the effect and meaning of the work as a whole. The last of these categories, (or, in Eisensteinian terms, “methods of montage”), is the intellectual which he claims works towards a broader message based on the work as a whole, with all of its parts relevant in relation to each other. He describes this phenomenon as: Step by step, by a process of comparing each new image with the common denotation, power is accumulated behind a process that can be formally identified with that of logical deduction. The decision to release these ideas, as well as the method used, is already intellectually conceived.9 Eisenstein’s theory therefore conceives of each component of the film in relation to one another, so that the true

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ers and revolutionaries en masse. The film’s final shots show the faces of the mother and son in anguish—both at the idea of the loss of the attempted revolution and of each other at the ruthless hands of the Tsar’s military apparatus. In juxtaposition to Eisenstein’s conception of revolutionary struggle in Strike, Pudovkin’s choice to focus the plot on the devotion of the mother as the force of revolutionary change and Pudovkin’s aesthetic concentration on the heroic portrayal of the son and mother demonstrate a conception of individual glory as the motor of the revolution. This focus on the individual (the mother) as the fundamental agent of political change is in stark contrast to Eisenstein’s focus on the organization of the masses as the most elemental political subject.


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meaning of the film lies in of the interaction and relationship between shots, not in the individual shots themselves. The theoretical framework of the use of a dialectical understanding of society as the basis for the use of montage as a form in cinema offers an additional layer of critique through with we can view Eisenstein’s film Strike. Firstly, Eisenstein’s choice to begin the film with a tribute to the recently deceased Lenin explicitly seeks to reconcile his theory of film form with Lenin’s dialectical understanding of reality. Lenin, who of course placed his own philosophical understanding of epistemology in the tradition of Marx and Engels, themselves influenced heavily by Hegel, wrote a conception of reality as dialectical in his work “On the Question of Dialectics,” writing: The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts is the essence (one of the “essentials”, one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristics or features) of dialectics. That is precisely how Hegel, too, puts the matter.10 Eisenstein’s theoretical contributions, rooted in a Leninist politics based on a materialist understanding of reality, offer further layers through which we can interpret the message of his film. For instance, in the first scenes the juxtaposition between the shots of the factory’s stillness without the presence 10. Vladimir Lenin, “On the Question of Dialectics,” written 1915, in Collected Works, trans. Clemece Dutt (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1976).

of the workers with the factory’s bustle upon their arrival seeks to illustrate the relationship between the machinery (capital) and the workers (labor)—the central component of Marxism. Later in the film, the contradiction between the congruent shots of workers organizing the strike’s events on the shop floor and shareholders discussing its suppression present a dialectic that encourages the viewer to understand the systemic nature of the factory and its power apparatus. These contradictory shots in collision allowed for a systematic analysis of the factory and society at large beyond what was displayed in each shot—in line with Eisenstein’s conception of the potential to reach intellectual and political effects through montage. Pudovkin, also a prominent theorist of film, offered an account of the nature of montage that differed greatly from Eisenstein’s conception of the montage as dialectical. His account of the role of montage cannot be understood to have had a similar level of political content as a film theory. To Pudovkin, the purpose of montage was the effect of shots in relation to each other, not as a means towards an additional level of meaning for the work as a whole, but simply to modify the meaning or effect of individual shots, scenes, and images. Therefore, his use of montage is to the end of magnifying or emphasizing certain shots—more broadly, to give individual shots more meaning due to contrast than they would on their own. He writes in his work “Montage as Feeling”: Suppose it be our task to tell of the mis-


11. Vsevolod Pudovkin, “Montazh kak orudie vpechatleniia,” Kinostsenarii SS I, 73. 12. E[vgeny] A[lexandrovich] Dobrenko, Political Economy of Socialist Realism, trans. Jesse M. Savage (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007).

13. Ibid. 14. Amy Sargeant, Vsevolod Pudovkin: Classic Films of the Soviet Avant-garde (London: I.B. Tauris, 2000), 63.

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in itself. Gorky, who famously wrote of the 1917 Revolution that “everything is coming alive in our country,” was an atheist member of the intelligentsia who was respected by both older intellectual elite and revolutionary new intellectuals, putting him in a rare category as an author.13 More specifically, we can understand Pudovkin’s interpretation of the revolutionary consciousness and the collective political consciousness behind the revolution through his relationship to Gorky’s realism, so vastly different from Eisenstein’s. Pudovkin (whose favorite author was notably the iconic Realist Lev Tolstoy)14 argued that the role of film in society was to create a new vehicle out of proper materials and usage and in doing so, maintain and demonstrate its ‘core’ (the distinct artistic lineage of the work). To Pudovkin, the purpose of film, like any form of art, was to make anew out of an older tradition. Therefore, unlike Eisenstein who sought to create a new revolutionary art form like the rest of the Protelkult movement, Pudovkin saw the importance in recreating the old realist style in the new revolutionary state. Upon our analysis of Pudovkin’s influence from the realist tradition and more broadly, the Russian realist canon, we can provide a more nuanced analysis of the social, cultural, and political meaning of Mother. We can therefore read the character of the mother as a sort of Tolstoyan symbol of the Russian spirit, in contradiction to the western-

33 agents of struggle

erable situation of a starving man; the story will impress the more vividly if associated with mention of the senseless gluttony of a well-to-do man… On the screen the impression of this contrast is yet increased, for it is possible not only to relate the starving sequence to the gluttony sequence, but also to relate scenes and even separate shots of the scenes to one another, thus…forcing the spectator to compare the two actions…one strengthening the other.11 Here, we can understand Pudovkin’s conception of montage as a means of creating an effect in the film itself, not to build an intellectual meaning of the work beyond the collision of the two shots dialectically. In this sense, Pudovkin’s film theory is not on a similarly political or philosophical level as Eisenstein’s, as his concept of the aesthetic of montage is to utilize the technique to draw an effect on certain shots, not to create a new level of meaning through collision. While his theoretical work does not contain the sort of political vision that Eisenstein’s does, Pudovkin’s tribute to the 19th century realist tradition in his choice to produce an adaption of Gorky, an author championed as a sort of bridge between the 20th century Russian realist canon and Socialist Realism,12 can be interpreted as a sort of politics


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ized patriarchal Tsarist order, as symbolized by the father. Further, because of Pudovkin’s affinity for the Realist tradition (through his choice to follow the tradition of Gorky, his love of Tolstoy and his writings on the role of film), the mother’s transformation into a revolutionary and her choice to abandon the political commitment of the father for the revolutionary politics of her son represents an ideological shift. This shift in consciousness is of particular importance in the context of the history of the mother as a symbol for the soul of the nation in the Russian realist canon. In Mother, we can understand the shift in social and political consciousness as rooted in a sort of familial, national or cultural identification. The transformation of the mother—a symbol of the true Russian spirit—from a Tsarist into a Communist suggests that the Revolution was a moment of a collective redefinition of conscience along national, not class lines. In this, we can understand Pudovkin’s portrayal of the Revolution in memory as a distinctly Russian moment, and the agents of political change to be the heroic Russian workers, not the systematic organization of the mass working class in collective struggle. Theoretical Distinctions in Early Soviet Political Movements These two depictions of revolutionary consciousness—Eisenstein’s conception of the revolution as the dialectical organization of the working class and Pudovkin’s tribute to the heroinism of the symbolic Russian Mother—are of particular importance to the specific

political context in which they were produced. By the middle of the 1920s, an opportunity had arisen for a new form of debate over the nature of the revolutionary government. The death of Vladimir Lenin in January 1924 had created a political space for a new debate over the political memory of the Revolution and the moment of intensified political consciousness that it entailed. In this newly formed space for debate over the legitimacy of the revolutionary state, there were a variety of factions that began to form. These political factions, in disagreement in their respective understandings of the nature of Lenin’s political legacy and the Revolution in political memory, included the Left Opposition, led by Leon Trotsky, and the triumvirate (also known as the troika) led by Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Joseph Stalin. In 1924, one year before the production of Strike, Stalin presented an argument within the Bolshevik Party that socialism could be achieved only in the Soviet Union, based upon the political strength and resilience of its own working class, and separate from of the fates of the socialist movements throughout Europe and internationally. This premise, according to Stalin, would politically manifest itself in an inward turn to build a socialist economy within Russia rather than conceiving of the Soviet project as the management of the global working class. This political turn signified a revision of Soviet politics as they were under Lenin. The Left Opposition staunchly opposed the politics of Socialism in One Country, and under the leadership


15. Sheila Fitzpatrick, Alexander Rabinowitch, and Richard Stites, Russia in the Era of NEP: Explorations in Soviet Society and Culture (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991).

16. Joseph Stalin, Foundations of Leninism (Moscow, Foreign Language Publishing House, 1953).

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Foundations of Leninism” in an effort to appropriate Lenin’s legacy and reclaim the political memory of the Revolution that Russian socialism could exist, while not in its final phases, without a globally organized working class. He simultaneously called for the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries, marking a departure from Lenin’s calls for the working class to demonstrate its power through mass organization: The overthrow of the power of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of a proletarian government in one country does not yet guarantee the complete victory of socialism. The main task of socialism —the organisation of socialist production— remains ahead. Can this task be accomplished, can the final victory of socialism in one country be attained, without the joint efforts of the proletariat of several advanced countries? No, this is impossible... For the final victory of Socialism, for the organisation of socialist production, the efforts of one country, particularly of such a peasant country as Russia, are insufficient. For this the efforts of the proletarians of several advanced countries are necessary.16 This account of the state of the Russian Revolution during the time of debate immediately following the death of Lenin celebrates the struggle of pre-revolutionary times that brought about the Soviet state in a manner similar to Pudovkin—that it was the effort of one country’s heroic working class. The sort of conception of revolutionary class struggle as a mass orches-

35 agents of struggle

of Trotsky instead argued for a Theory of Permanent Revolution.15 Trotsky’s theory was an appropriation of a concept first presented by Marx in The Holy Family in an attempt to argue that Marxist-Leninism, in the wake of Lenin’s recent death, was incompatible with Stalin and Bukharin’s call for Socialism in One Country and that Communism could only be achieved through the mass organization of a global working class as a new category. In this political debate between the Left Opposition and Stalin, we can see the emergence of a disagreement in the understanding of revolutionary consciousness that manifested itself in the divergent depictions of struggle in state-commissioned cinema. From this relationship between the cultural and the political, we can understand these political debates as larger ideological questions of the Revolution’s political memory. The Troika’s vision of Russian Socialism hinges on the historical memory of pre-revolutionary struggle. In Stalin’s call for an inward turn toward Soviet socialism, we can extract his understanding of the sort of revolutionary consciousness that was behind the October Revolution. Stalin’s understanding of the revolution was not as a moment of scientifically managed struggle as a working class, but rather the individual efforts of the Bolshevik militants. He wrote in his 1924 work “The


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tration along class lines is more evident in the dissent from the Left Fraction. Trotsky delineated his theory of permanent revolution most famously in 1929 in his work “The Program of the International Revolution or a Program of Socialism in One Country”. In it, he argues that socialism can never be built off the struggle of a single nation, and to do so would be contradictory to the class consciousness that was the basis of the October Revolution. Trotsky argues that socialists must create an international program that responds to world political and economic systems that impact the entirety of the international working class (the ultimate agent of political revolution). Central to this analysis, unlike to Stalin’s, is the role of consciousness as a class. To Trotsky, the fate of the Russian working class is inextricably bound to the fates of the global working class, and only through the mass organization of proletariats around the world can Communism be won. This understanding of the conscience of the Bolshevik Party’s struggle in recent memory can be seen in the cinematic production of Eisenstein in his film Strike. Further, we can see the notion of conscience in societal memory emerge both in the spheres of cultural production and in political debate. Consciousness in Early Soviet Film and Society Cultural production during the middle of the 1920s in the aftermath of the Civil War and the Lenin’s death demonstrates the presence of two conceptions of revolutionary conscience

in post-revolutionary Russian society. A critical analysis of the state-commissioned works of Eisenstein and Pudovkin in comparison shows that Eisenstein’s depiction of consciousness was demonstrative of the Left Fraction’s conception of revolutionary consciousness, and Pudovkin’s was more compatible with Stalin’s. it is therefore understandable that Pudovkin—himself an ardent follower of the realist tradition—would go on to be a major figure in the subsequent movement of Socialist Realism under high Stalinist culture (a movement in which Gorky would notably be an intellectual forefather). The relationship between cultural production and politics demonstrates the vitality of ideology as a political tool. Consciousness enabled politics and subsequent aesthetic movements—as shown by the centrality of films as a platform of ideological debate around pre-revolutionary struggle in political memory during the point of transition after Lenin’s death.


THE SOVIET UNION’S TOLKIEN FANATICS

sarah krasner

SARAH KRASNER

Middle Earth in detail. Fans’ enthusiasm and willingness to immerse themselves in these details have spawned live-action role-playing (LARP) groups and, even as early as 1984, a tabletop role-playing game.2 The internet provided a new platform for these fans to work with, and countless sites around Tolkien’s work exist, from knowledge-based wikis to online role-playing forums. Russia is no stranger to the Tolkien phenomenon. Not long after its publication, The Lord of the Rings found its way behind the Iron Curtain and into the hands of science-fiction translators. Devotees of Tolkien—or Tolkienists— formed groups as the decades wore on, existing in spaces both outside and inside official state structures and institutions.

1. “Books by J.R.R. Tolkien,” The Tolkien Society, February 8, 2014.

2. “Welcome to Dagorhir Battle Games,” Dagorhir.com; “MERP,” IronCrown, January 15, 2014.

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In 1937, an Englishman by the name of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien published his first original novel.1 The novel in question was The Hobbit, Or There and Back Again, and despite being classed as a piece of children’s literature, it has drawn in fans of all ages from across the globe. Tolkien followed The Hobbit with the three-part work, The Lord of the Rings. After his death, his son Christopher Tolkien edited many of his writings on Middle Earth, which were then published, including the five parts of The Silmarillion. Together, they form the mythos and legend of another universe, complete with its own gods and creation myth, its own peoples and languages. Tolkien’s Elvish is a fully developed language and maps show the geography of


Throughout the years, from the first attempts at translation to the first Hobbit Games, Tolkien’s world has provided a way for Russians (and other Soviets) to connect with one another in ways, which were outside of the state, but not threatening to it.

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Tolkien in the Soviet Union Zinaida Bobyr, a popular science fiction translator and member of a group of western literature enthusiasts, was the first to endeavor to get a translation of Tolkien’s work through Soviet censorship.3 Tolkien’s work was high fantasy, something unacceptable to the Soviet government at the time, which still preferred adult works to be connected to socialist realism.4 Bobyr attempted to take Tolkien’s work and make it resemble one of the approved genres instead; either science fiction— which was the only genre of adult literature officially exempt from the requirements of realism—or a children’s fairy story.5 Resembling the Western concept 3. Olga Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology: The Russian Perspective of J.R.R. Tolkien,” trans. M.T. Hooker, Tolkien Studies 1(2004): 163-170. 4. Socialist realism was the dominant form of literature in the Soviet Union after 1934. It was supposed to focus on the worker, be allegiant to party ideology, and portray reality truthfully, historically, and concretely; “Socialist Realism,” New World Encyclopedia. 5. Birgit Menzel, “Russian Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature,” in Reviewed Work: Reading for Entertainment in Contemporary Russia: Post-Soviet Popular Literature in Historical Perspective, ed. Stephen Lovell and Birgit Menzel (Munich: Otto Sagner),

of “fanfiction” far more than an actual translation, Bobyr’s version combined The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings into one book under the name The Lay of the Ring.6 In her first attempt, Bobyr put the story into a science-fiction format with interludes containing characters similar to the heroes of Stanislaw Lem’s Eden, in which they use modern science to explain the magic of the One Ring.7 There were letters in the front, one written by “Tolkien” and one by an imaginary friend of his, who had been involved in an experiment.8 The other characters Bobyr inserted—an Engineer, a Physicist, a Chemist, a Computer Scientist, and a Coordinator—had also been part of this experiment.9 These characters were typical of socialist realist novels. This attempt failed, but Bobyr tried again, this time to make The Lord of the Rings into a fairy story. It was still abridged, but added something called “The Silver Crown of Westerness,” an object that gives omniscience and wisdom to its bearer—if it does not turn them into ashes for lacking sufficient preparation. Sauron, the main antagonist of The Lord of the Rings, could not wear the Crown because he was unworthy of it, although he does manage to 2005. 6. Ibid.; The Russian title was Povest’ o kol’tse. Other sources translate it as The Tale of the Ring. 7. “Indjener Kolets: Kak Trilogiya Tolkina ne stala nauchnoy fantastikoy,” Mir Fantastiki, October 26, 2013. 8. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology.” 9. Ibid.


10. “Indjener Kolets”; “Sauron,” Tolkien Gateway. 11. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology.”; “Aragorn,” Tolkien Gateway; “Elrond,” Tolkien Gateway. 12. Ibid. 13. “Indjener Kolets” dates the manuscript to 1966. 14. Alex Arbuckle, “Brilliant Illustrations Bring This 1976 Soviet Edition of ‘The Hobbit’ to Life,” Mashable, December 25, 2015.

15. This is based on a discussion with my Russian Conversation teacher at Smolniy. In discussing his own history with the Tolkien fandom, he mentioned that he went every year to productions of The Hobbit. 16. Colin Marshall, “The 1985 Soviet TV Adaptation of The Hobbit: Cheap and Yet Strangely Charming,” Open Culture, August 14, 2014. 17. Ilia Bilderman, “Soviet-Era Illustrations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1976),” Open Culture, March 11, 2014. 18. Alla Khananashvili, “‘Kak Eto Nachinalos’: Tolkin v Perevodax Gruzberga,” Arhkivy Minas-Mirta.

sarah krasner

from Mikhail Belomlinkskiy, the translation by Natalia Rakhmanova, G. Usova and I. Komarova became well known and loved. It spawned play adaptations that were performed every year in Saint Petersburg.15 In 1985, there was even an hour-long Soviet movie version of The Hobbit, which debuted on the Leningrad TV Channel’s children’s show, Tale After Tale.16 In an article on Open Culture, one writer, Ilia Blinderman, says: The Hobbit probably made such an indelible impression on me because Tolkien’s tale was altogether different than the Russian fairy tales and children’s stories that I had previously been exposed to. There were no childish hijinks, no young protagonists, no parents to rescue you when you got into trouble. I considered it an epic in the truest literary sense.17 The other major event was a samizdat publication of The Lord of the Rings, translated by Alexander Gruzberg. Gruzberg found The Lord of the Rings in the Library of Foreign Literature in Moscow in 1975.18 He proceeded to translate it and it was published and circulated as samizdat, without his name

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capture it.10 At the end of Bobyr’s tale, Aragorn, a human member of the Fellowship of the Ring and the King of Gondor and Arnor, uses the crown for his coronation, proving himself worthy of marrying Arwen, the immortal elvish daughter of the Lord of Rivendell.11 This was not the only change Bobyr made; she also got rid of the nine rings of men and had the wizard Gandalf give the Hobbits advance warning of the betrayal of Boromir, one of the Fellowship who tried to take the One Ring from Frodo. Even this fairy tale version did not reach bookshelves until 1990, at the end of perestroika. Bobyr was well-respected, knew a dozen languages, and those who knew her other translations could not believe that this one belonged to her.12 However, although official publication did not occur until 1990, the book was circulated as samizdat—clandestinely printed and distributed literature—from the 1960s on.13 Nineteen seventy-six was a big year for Tolkien fans in Russia. Foremost, it was the year that the first official publication of The Hobbit was released.14 Complete with illustrations


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attached. Errors appeared in it as it was reprinted, and various versions exist. It eventually made its way onto the BBS in the 1980s, where it gained a wider audience.19 Gruzberg originally kept names in transliterated form, one major difference between him and the later official translators. A Gruzberg edition found its way into print in 2002.20 It was in 1982 that the first official translation of the first part of The Lord of the Rings, The Fellowship of the Ring, was released. This original form was abridged and censored, and the publication of parts two and three was planned, but something happened on the international stage to prevent it. In 1983, American President Ronald Reagan began to up his Cold War rhetoric, calling the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and making various other comments, which appeared to liken the USSR to Tolkien’s evil empire, Mordor.21 This led to the abolishment of The Lord of the Rings translation and a series of articles in the Soviet press demonizing Tolkien.22 It was not until 1991/1992 that an unabridged, complete translation of The Lord of the Rings was officially published in Russian. Both of these translations were done by Vladimir Muraviev and Andrei 19. Ibid.; BBS refers to the Bulletin Board System, an electronic system for private email messages that existed before the Internet or actual email. 20. Mark T. Hooker, Tolkien Through Russian Eyes (Zollikofen: Walking Tree Publishers, 2003). 21. Gayle Forman, You Can’t Get There from Here: A Year on the Fringes of a Shrinking World (New York: Rodale, 2005). 22. Ibid.

Kistiakovsky and their 1982 publication was considered a defining moment in the history of Russian Tolkienism.23 Muraviev and Kistiakovsky Russified Tolkien’s work, making it more emotionally specific than the original, such as enhancing Sam and Frodo’s friendship and highlighting the motivation of aggression in the tale.24 The preface to the translation claimed that the world Frodo traveled in was not as magical as it seemed, but our own world in disguise, making it so that Tolkien’s text could be perceived as the personal experience of someone in conflict with the Soviet power structure. Markova says this distorted The Lord of the Rings into “a three volume banner for the fight for freedom and human rights,” which caused Russian readers to have a mutated perception of Tolkien’s works. With these publications to work with, the Tolkienist movement developed with two main forms of expression. The first to develop was the scholarly group, whose members were interested in studying Tolkien’s tomes and using them as a way to develop their own works. From this group came sequels, songs, poems and the “‘apocrypha’: fanfiction that fell under the category of alternative history or alternative universe.” 25 23. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ieology.” 24. Ibid. 25. Ksenia Prassolova, quoted in “‘Oh, Those Russians!’: The (Not So) Mysterious Ways of Russian-Language Harry Potter Fandom,” Henry Jenkins (blog), July 30, 2007. Alternate history and Alternate Universe encompass large amounts of creative territory. Primarily they deal with chang-


ing specific aspects of the source work’s canon, often involving changes to the timeline, historical background, or character decisions. 26. Daria Oblomskaya, “A History of Russian-Language Fanfiction,” RuFFHistory, 2005. 27. Ibid. 28. Alexander Tribunski, “For Tolkienists, It’s Serious Fantasy,” The Russia Journal, July 12, 1999.

29. Roland Oliphant, “The Russian Reenactors Wearing Armour to ‘Feel Free,’” The Telegraph, November 1, 2015. 30. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology.” 31. Tribunski, “Serious Fantasy.” 32. Forman, You Can’t Get There from Here.

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these clubs, people impersonated elves and dwarves, fought in mock battles, and dressed in armor. In 1990, the first Hobbitskie Igrisha (Hobbit Games) was held, beginning a tradition of holding large tournaments, and providing the foundation for a surge in reenactments, not just of Tolkien’s battles, but of historical ones.29 In the mid-1990s, the City of Masters, based in Moscow, counted about 200 Tolkien clubs and organizations as participants in the Hobbit Games, and a Siberian Con began as well, with a program of tournaments, concerts, and a grand ball.30 Two main clubs formed in Moscow: Eglador, which met in Neskuchnii garden, and Mandos, which met at Tsaritsyno. The influence of The Black Book of Arda on the role-playing side can be seen in a remark in The Russia Journal by a man referred to as Vadim, “being among the dark force is so popular that the light forces are being outnumbered by 10 to 1.”31 Yet these clubs did not just form in the large cities, they came into being across Russia, and even other countries of the former Soviet Union. In 2002, Gayle Forman wrote about Kazakh Tolkienists who went into the mountains outside of Almaty to hold mock battles each weekend, having picked up the idea from a visiting Russian during the 1990s.32

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This group produced a book of Tolkienbased poetry from Novossibirsk in 1991, Nik Perumov’s The Ring of Darkness in 1993, and later, The Black Book of Arda by Natalya Vasileva, all of which were officially published as Russian copyright rules are very different from those in America. The Black Book of Arda is considered to be particularly influential, as it began the romanticizing of Evil.26 Another well-known work is The Last Ringbearer by Kirill Yeskov, which retells The Lord of the Rings from the perspective of Mordor. With the rise of the internet, unofficial works were published on various websites including Tol-Eressea, Arda-na-Kulichkah, and Elinor’s Archive Castle, all of which were created around 1995.27 Arda-na-Kulichkah is not just a fanfiction archive, but also contains scholarly articles about Tolkien and his work, some of which were first published in a variety of journals. The roleplaying aspect of the Tolkienist movement began at Moscow State University, where students formed an underground group that would go off into the woods, hold meetings, and practice hand to hand combat. These students preferred the world of Tolkien’s fantasy to the world of Soviet reality.28 In


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Vnye—Inside and Outside In his book, Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation, Alexei Yurchak coins two terms useful for understanding the Tolkienists, svoi and vnye. While vnye is a relationship to reality, in which members of Soviet society formed groups that were simultaneously inside and outside the state, cvoi refers to the people in one’s own group, who shared a tight network of common interest.33 Both terms are crucial to understanding the Tolkienists. Going back to the origins of the Tolkien movement, we can already see how cvoi played a large part in spreading the first samizdat works based on Tolkien, The Lay of the Ring and Gruzberg’s translations. Neither had their translations officially published, but rather they circulated through the author’s friends with handmade copies.34 When they eventually reached a wider populace, they did so through networks of like-minded people rather than through a bookstore or magazine kiosk. Even once Gruzberg’s translation made its way onto the BBS, bulletin boards focused on specific types of interests; even though they could reach a wider audience, it was still somewhat closed.35 Bobyr and Gruzberg also came out of another circle: the science fiction community. Soviet readers had previously 33. Alexei Yurchak, Everything Was Forever, until It Was No More: The Last Soviet Generation (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005), 128. 34. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology.” 35. Khananashvili, “Kak Eto Nachinalos.”

formed KLFs, Clubs of Science Fiction Readers, and considering that the first translators of Tolkien came out then, it is likely these clubs were foundational in the building of the Tolkienist community. The later clubs of Tolkienists were continuing the tradition of the science fiction clubs, while building and expanding their own svoi. This concept can be seen in Forman’s account of the Kazakh Tolkienists: not only do they seem to continue to count as theirs those who go away for some time (often for work, or school), but they accept those with common interests into their group with open arms. While there, Forman attended a Tolkienist festival and had no costume—or thought she did not. Yet the girls she was speaking with corrected her, telling her that Vika, another Tolkienist she had yet to meet, had been told of her and had made her a dress. When Forman expressed her surprise one of the girls told her, “Vika does this for all of us, and while you’re here you’re one of us.”36 Forman became svoi and so they extended to her the privileges of a group member. With regards to vnye, it can be seen in reference to the original role-playing movement. Many of the first Tolkienists were Komsomol members, so they still were acting and meeting within the normal, official structures. Yet they had a life that existed outside of the state apparatus while not directly contradicting it. Their fantasy lives, with new names and professions were not meant to oppose the Soviet state—or were they? Although it does not seem like the 36. Forman, You Can’t Get There from Here.


37. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology.” 38. She might have an argument that the Tolkienist movement in Kazhakhstan is opposed to the state, if only because the state arrested Tolkienists for their “alternative lifestyle”; Jesste Peresorikon, “Bilbo Baggins Must Die!” VICE, December 1, 2001.

39. Markova, “When Philology Becomes Ideology.” 40. Oliphant, “Russian Reenactors.” 41. Tribunski, “Serious Fantasy.” 42. Yurchak, “Everything Was Forever,” 128.

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tures of government and the movement’s ideological base was a revolt against the Soviet system,” it seems then that the Soviet Union would be equated with Evil by the Tolkienists.39 If there was truly “a clear analogy between Mordor and Soviet authority,” then the Tolkienists would be dominated by those on the side of Good and The Black Book of Arda, which romanticizes Evil, would be less popular.40 Also, Eglador would not have had a problem with Evil outnumbering Good 10 to 1, indeed, the problem within Eglador and the other clubs would be reversed; the roleplaying teams would be unequally distributed in the other direction.41 However, this was not how things played out. The Black Book of Arda and roleplaying on the side of Evil were indeed popular. Therefore, there is strong evidence the Tolkienists as a whole did not believe the Soviet Union was analogous to Evil or that The Lord of the Rings was an allegory for the Soviet power. Instead, the Tolkienists were simply “being vnye.”42 Although the Russian Tolkienist movement seems to have deteriorated somewhat since the 1990s, with Tolkienists moving into other historical clubs, or becoming disenchanted with the younger Tolkienists, who they say lack the original drive or admiration for the books, it is not gone entirely. Tolkienist websites, such as Tolkienist.ru, are still updated. Just recently, on J.R.R. Tolkien’s birthday

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Tolkien movement was in opposition to official Soviet institutions, Markova claims the essence of the movement was an opposition to the structures of government and the Soviet system. Markova says that the distorted Muraviev and Kistiakovskiy translation led the first Tolkienists to see a way out of the Communist ideology and the totalitarian world of “evil, lies, and slavery,” that they perceived the story of The Lord of the Rings as a person’s struggle with the power structure of the Soviet state.37 This is likely why Markova goes onto say that Soviet Tolkienists are not in a secondary world or escapists, but rather, that they are simply expanding the boundaries of the real world. While Markova offers a persuasive argument, it is difficult to believe the movement as a whole is based on opposition to the Soviet Union.38 While that might have been Muraviev and Kistiakovsky’s view, the ten-year-old boys eagerly reading The Hobbit and the intellectuals who gathered in forests to spend a few days living out the rules of Tolkien’s world seem to suggest that vnye is a better answer. This is supported by the prevalence of fanfiction about Evil. If the Russian view of The Lord of the Rings was that it was an allegory for a struggle with the Soviet power structure, and if, as Markova attests, “the essence of the [Tolkienist] movement was expressed as an opposition to the struc-


in 2016, Yandex added a new language to its translation service: Elvish.43 Although it seems that remains of the social networks of the 1980s and 1990s have migrated to the internet to live in chat rooms and forums (or perhaps there are simply fewer people writing about them), the Russian Tolkienist movement is the origin of Russian fan culture the same way that Star Trek was for modern American fan culture.44 It was the beginning of something greater, the initiation for many into a wider circle of fandom, where svoi to this day reigns supreme.

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44 the birch fall 2016 43. “Yandeks Otnyne Mozhet Perevodit’ Na El’fiyskiy,” Tolkienists, January 15, 2016, 44. Prassolova, “Oh, Those Russians!”


AS WE STARE INTO THE VOID: ABSENCE, TRUTH, AND CINEMATOGRAPHIC STRUCTURE IN PAWEŁ PAWLIKOWSKI’S IDA

jordan todes

JORDAN TODES

Jewry.1 Though the victims of Stalinism and the Holocaust have disappeared from the Polish countryside, they have not been extinguished from the national memory—in culture, in history, or in cinema. Cast in the heart of a disillusioned, post-Stalinist Poland populated by a sparsely adorned, monochromatic cinematography, Paweł Pawlikowski’s Academy Award-winning Ida (2013) explores the oft-tortured dynamics of personal tragedy and national fragmentation in the aftermath of the Holocaust.2 1. Andrzej Walicki, Philosophy and romantic nationalism: the case of Poland (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 91–96; Taduesz Piotrowski, Poland’s Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918–1947 (Jefferson: Mcfarland, 1998), 305–308. 2. Paweł Pawlikowski, Ida, Warsaw: Solopan Polska, 2013.

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The notion of a tangible, living absence—of an entity perpetuated, in part, through nonexistence—is deeply interwoven into the fabric of civilization. It is often envisioned as a transient phenomenon, necessitated by strife, unease, or patriotism and embodied by the oft-quipped line “absence makes the heart grow fonder.” However, the void shaped by an indefinite departure is fundamentally irrevocable, with profound personal, religious, and societal implications. Poland is perhaps the quintessential example of a civilization shaped by perpetual absence, a reputation which stems from the deprivation of nationhood in the aftermath of the three partitions and perpetuated by the subsequent ‘century of genocide’: during the Second World War and subsequent Stalinist repression, nearly a fifth of Poland’s population perished, including the near-complete obliteration of Polish


It does not attempt to confront or interpret the past; instead, Ida is concerned with the spirit of post-war Poland, characterized by ambiguity, silence, and a hollow, oft-penetrated visage of normalcy. Through a stark, formalistic cinematic structure, Pawlikowski reflects on questions without resolutions, their answers shrouded in the mists of time and made all the more powerful through their absence.

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The cinematographic structure of Ida Throughout, the cinematography of Ida is zealously austere, evocative of the auteur-dominated3 cinema of the Polish School.4 The film is established through mostly static shots in the academy ratio (11:8), a ‘boxy’ aspect ratio widely used in cinema before the advent of television, and clad entirely in the stark, hard-focused black-and-white film characteristic of the era5. In conjunction, these cinematic elements develop a sense of immersion: there is a general conception that Ida does not merely concern the past, but is established within it. The dialogue, staging, and film itself are restrained and somewhat severe, yielding only the minimal context needed with no ancillary moments. It is perhaps reflective of the communist Polish nation—thoughts and ideas are often presented in a symbolic, indirect manner, emulating the shattered post-war national complexion. In nearly every framing, there is a pronounced emphasis on verticality: buildings and trees stretch toward the top of the screen, extending it and dwarfing the figures beneath.6 There is a general

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3. Auterism is the general notion that a film reflects a director’s (auteur’s) personal artistic vision, in essence bestowing a unique signature on the films of a particular director. Prior to 1989, Eastern European cinema was generally considered to be auteur-dominated, despite the prominence of state-funded, political agencies in the censorship and production processes. Liehm, Mira, and Antonin J. Liehm, The most important art: Soviet and Eastern European film after 1945, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 346. 4. Broadly, the Polish Film School refers to the ideological and artistic movement in Polish cinema that emerged after the demise of Stalinism. Although the constituent films can be divided into a number of cinematic divisions—romantic-expressive, psychological-existential, and rationalistic are among the most prominent—the definitive hallmarks of the Polish School are an examination of the forces of history upon the individual, a distinct sense of romantic pessimism, and an exploration into the past (particularly World War II). Stylistically, these films are marked by extensive, powerful visual symbolism and a vivid allusional subtext—both motifs expressed in Ida. In a geopolitical context, the Polish School was heavily influenced by the Italian neorealist cinema, and thereby stood in open defiance of the poetics expressed in Socialist realist theater. Directors within the Polish School are often denoted as Kolumbowie—“a generation of Columbuses”—marked by wartime trauma and disillusionment with Soviet realism; although not an exhaustive list, noteworthy directors within the Polish school include Andrzej Wadja, Andrzej Munk, Wojciech Has, and Jerzy Kawalerowicz. Celebrated films in the Polish School include Wajda’s Ashes and Diamonds, Has’ How to be Loved, and Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels. Marek Haltof, Polish National Cinema (New York: Berghahn Books, 2002), 74–79. 5. Godfrey Cheshire, “Ida,” RogerEbert.com, May 2nd, 2014. 6. A. O. Scott, “An Innocent Awakened,” The New York Times, May 1st, 2014.


Ida: ensnared between two realms There is an obvious contrast in Ida, an orphaned novitiate and devout Catholic. In the opening scenes, Ida— known as Anna at this point—is introduced as a naïve, pious novice raised entirely within the confines of a convent, reluctantly visiting her aunt upon the orders of the mother superior. Upon arrival in Warsaw, this façade is instantly deconstructed: she is informed that her name is Ida, a Jew whose family was murdered during the Holocaust. Within this framework, then, her subsequent journey to Lublin with Wanda is not just the natural consequence of a personal desire to see the graves of her family; instead, it is an expedition into

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The thematic and cinematographic development of Wanda It is within this cinematic framework of a calloused, post-Stalinist Poland that grief and absence are inextricably bound to both the personal and national psyche. These underlying currents of anguish are most conspicuous in the portrayal of Wanda Gruz, a cynical, disenchanted minor state functionary and the aunt of the titular character, Ida. Although initially introduced as a hard-living, promiscuous communist, defined only by her hostile nature and undisguised abhorrence for religion, it is soon revealed that her character is far more complex, shaped by the Second World War, the Holocaust, and her role as a prosecutor in the Stalinist political show trials. Her past emerges intermittently, in unceremonious snippets and visceral reactions. The main figuration of absence in her life was that of her absent family, murdered during the Holocaust not by the Nazi occupiers, but by their Polish shepherds. Her grieving process was a descent into righteous fury, thinly veiled with scorn to bandage the unhealed wounds of the past. In a cinematic context, her attempts to revisit the past are mirrored by a shift toward darker, misty lighting. No attempt is made to establish her as a noble, polished figure—her sojourns into the past are ill-illuminated, hyper-

emotional, violent, and represent the darkest moments in the film. Often, the staging is such that these sojourns occur away from Ida, a reflection of the latter’s naïve innocence. This emotional distance is epitomized during the exhumation of their family, when Wanda flees the forest upon the sight of the wrapped child, leaving Ida alone in desolate sorrow. Although her initial return to her Warsaw apartment might superficially be viewed as a restoration of normalcy, there are latent cinematic tones of darkness—a dimmer visage, a brooding selection of classical music, an open window—that foreshadow Wanda’s eventual suicide. Her embodiment as a tragic figure—an indirect victim of the Holocaust, driven by buried sorrow to alcoholism, cynicism, and unabashed rage—was driven by the absence of her family.

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miniaturization of action relative to the static Polish countryside. Ida is not a battle for the soul of Poland, but a personal conflict conducted within its darkened, disheartened interior.


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her past, to disinter the remnants of a lost life. The main figuration of absence in her life is that of a nonexistent family. However, unlike Wanda, to Ida family represents an undefined entity, only loosely replicated within the walls of the convent. There is, in addition, a secondary absence: an unfamiliarity with secular life outside of a world governed by religious directives and sacrifices—a world of purity, piety and absolutes. Her grieving process—or rather a process of self-exploration—assumes the form of a bildungsroman, a gradual evolution of her idealistic, Catholic-centric morals into a more complicated characterization. From a cinematic perspective, Ida’s pursuit of an unknown past is paralleled by the application of natural, probing lighting. Throughout, there is a general portrayal of Ida as an otherworldly figure: her grey, featureless habit and stoic mannerisms are in striking contrast to the tattered, jaundiced portrayal of post-Stalinist Poland. In contrast to the portrayal of Wanda, the staging often emphasizes Ida, particularly at the more intense, darker revelations. Pawlikowski’s cinematic conception of Ida evolves as she delves further into the vagaries and subtleties of secular life—white tones gradually morph into grey, misty lighting, which overwhelms the translucent visage initially introduced—reflecting the jostling, if not destruction, of her faith and discipline. In this framework, her decision to abandon the cloister and adopt a secular lifestyle is not a unilateral abandonment of her spiritual ideals. Instead, it is a deliberate endeavor to fill her personal voids—an absence

of both family and world experiences— discovered through her travels, albeit in vain. The final scene—Ida’s flight down a gravel road, cloaked in her habit— symbolizes her alienation from both the spiritual and secular spheres. It is a flight from her unwrought past, with no destination ahead. A cosmos of grief, absence, and repression: Ida within post-Stalinist Poland In a broader context, Ida is concerned with the national psyche of a post-Stalinist Poland, established within the entirely personal battles it unfolds. In nearly every framing, faces and bodies— the living entities of the film—occupy the lower third of the shot, overlain by clouds, smog, and a general aura of despair. It is evident that Ida is a film set within Poland—or rather, within the Polish national psyche—as opposed to about it. The conflicts and turmoil Pawlikowski portrays, although perhaps indicative of the broader Polish nation, are entirely personal, driven by individual impulses rather than by an overarching vision of the nation: there is a tacit, disheartened acceptance of the Polish spirit, with no attempt to revise or critique it. Throughout, a dominant drab grey lighting overlies the bleak Polish landscape, evoking an impression of a forlorn populace. Indeed, the society exhibits a sense of trepidation—an unwillingness to discuss matters beyond trifling banalities, either from fear of the communist regime or a desire to avoid the traumatic past. Even within the cities, there is an impression of a ravaged,


7. Such an approach mirrors the official treatment of the Jewish community and Holocaust during the Communist era, both within the context of the Polish School and in Polish society at large. As discussed by Marek Haltof, “Although at times silenced by communist authorities, Jewish history has never been forgotten in Poland.” Haltof 225.

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Post-Stalinist Poland: Answers shrouded in the mists of time Representations of absence in Ida extend beyond the individual and national psyche: often, absence is perpetuated as a lack of objective truth. It is evident that certain aspects of the past are too painful or traumatic to recall— or, more commonly, lost to the vagaries of time. Although there are revelations about the prewar, pre-Communist era, there are likewise moments from which no answers can be gleaned. For instance, little is mentioned about the pre-war Jewish community, other than that it existed—beyond their deaths, the family is marginalized, as a mechanism to dehumanize their grief.7 The past remains obscured, only partially revealed through incomplete, distorted, and fractured accounts. There is a sense of resignation throughout, a general conception that delving into the wounds of the past could only result in pain, not reconciliation—yet Ida and Wanda persist, in futile pursuit of their shared heritage. It is reflective of post-Stalinist Poland: much like the horrors of the Holocaust, their wounds are immutable scars, emphasizing the irretrievability of the past. This motif of absence pervades Ida. From the initial revelation that Ida

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unhealed nation: the buildings are often dated and occasionally decrepit, such as the hospital in Lublin. The figuration of absence in Poland is both cultural and physical: there is the impression of a nation littered with ghosts, devoid of both manpower and the vibrancy associated with urban life. Public spaces appear bereft of people: for instance, at a commemorative party celebrating the founding of a nondescript Polish town, there are perhaps a dozen couples present within a ballroom that could easily accommodate one hundred. There is one exception, the saxophonist, who represents the emergence of vitality and modernism, but even then his lifestyle is emblematic of the West— an unachievable fantasy, in light of the rigid, comparatively destitute condition of the Polish nation in the Post-Stalinist period. The destruction of a dynamic, multicultural prewar Polish society and the subsequent emergence of a postwar, monolithic Polish culture is perhaps the most prominent theme throughout.5 There are formerly Jewish dwellings and properties occupied by the Polish peasantry, with a concealed anti-Semitism in part derived from a fear of their misdeeds. Although there are mementos of the past, they are but relics: the vibrant diversity they symbolize was obliterated through the Holocaust, yet they are not forgotten. In part, post-Stalinist Poland is characterized not by what was existent, but what was non-existent: memories and remnants from the pre-war era.


was Jewish to the final, unresolved shot in which Ida flees from an unaccommodating world, there is an uneasy void that characterizes post-war Polish society and raises questions with no distinct resolution. Through a charged, hauntingly indistinct yet piercing cinematic framework, Pawlikowski accentuates the unknowable and poses the unanswerable. It is not a film that challenges the broader national identity of Poland, as in the repertoire of the notable Polish auteur Andrzej Wajda,8 but instead dwells on the intangible, contemporary Polish spirit, molded by the darkness of the Second World War, the horrors of the Holocaust, and the repression of the Stalinist regime.

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50 the birch fall 2016 8. Andrzej Wajda is perhaps the most illustrious Polish director within the context of Polish cinema; his oeuvre includes iconic films in the Polish Film School (A Generation, Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds), the subsequent Cinema of Moral Concern (Man of Marble, Man of Iron), and in the post-socialist film community (Pan Tadeusz, Katyn, Wałęsa). On of the major themes in Wajda’s work is the concept of Polishness, or the dilemma of Poland’s national identity—such an approach is in marked contrast to the approach taken by Pawlikowski in Ida. Bolesław Michałek, “Andrzej Wajda’s Vision of One Country’s Past and Present” in Politics, Art, and Commitment in the East European Cinema, ed. David W. Paul (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983), 169–171.


Literary Criticism


OBSCURING THE OTHER: VEILS IN RUSSIA’S COLONIALIST IMAGINATION

MALINA GULINO

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Vasily Vereshchagin’s Uzbek Woman in Tashkent (1873) depicts a woman walking down the street on a sunny afternoon. Her clothing betrays her location in Central Asia; she wears a thick, black veil that covers her face and drapes over her entire body, save for a sliver of skin at her wrist that peeks out where her sleeve ends. Her black, shapeless form casts a dark shadow on the yellow wall immediately to her left, over the top of which two treetops and a bright blue sky are visible. The painting is Vereshchagin’s portrait of the Eastern woman, and by extension the veil becomes for Vereshchagin the physically tangible, yet enigmatic, indicator of her Otherness. Unlike its Western European counterparts, the Russian Empire elected to expand its territory contiguously, conquering the Islamic peoples immediately to its south and east. As a

result, Islamic veils figure in the Russian colonial landscape as a highly controversial marker of colonial difference. On one hand, as little more than pieces of cloth, the veils of colonized Caucasian and Central Asian women might suggest the often flimsy and precarious nature of European Russia’s insisted dichotomy with its Asiatic neighbors. On the other hand, the veil as a garment has multiple significant symbolic implications for both parties. Russian ideas about the veil reflect many of the tropes of Orientalist fascinations as outlined in postcolonial critic Edward Said’s Orientalism, his famous study of European depictions of the Middle East: the veil is unfamiliar, feminine, sexual, repressive, mysterious, and perplexing. The veil certainly holds a place of considerable symbolic significance in the Russian colonialist imagination, but—as fashion itself tends to


1. David Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, "Vasilij V. Vereshchagin’s Canvases of Central Asian Conquest," Cahiers D’Asie Centrale 17 (2009): 199.

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tion of women in Central Asia by placing the subject next to a tall, prison-like wall that entirely cuts her off from the blue sky and green trees beyond.1 Schimmelpennick provides a useful analysis of Vereshchagin’s intentionality; however, the characterization of the woman’s clothing as “sexless” hints at the more complex sociopolitical factors at work in this painting, which may in fact complicate Schimmelpennick’s observations. The paranji (the Uzbek term for burqa), even as—and precisely because—it manifests as a reaction to female sexuality, is imbued with sexual history as an object. Consequently, the band of light flesh juxtaposed with this symbolically loaded garment may also become a source of erotic fascination in the painting. The painting, in other words, allows the Western/Russian viewer to consider the woman as a mystery to unwrap. Still, Vereshchagin frames the woman as an object of his pity, which performs an immediate moral chastisement to that kind of eroticized viewing. In that regard, the painting appears to present a considerable deviation from Orientalist paradigms. Edward Said notes that “the Orient was routinely described as feminine, its main symbols the sensual woman, the harem,” but Vereshchagin’s Oriental woman notably wears a “sexless” paranji—an artistic choice made more peculiar by the fact that she is the only woman in the

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do—that significance changes over time and contexts in notable ways. This paper will consider the veil as it appears in literature and art of the 19th and early 20th centuries as a marker of cultural battleground amid the larger battle between Russia and the colonized regions in the Caucasus and Central Asia, through the study of Vereshchagin’s Orientalist portrait, Mikhail Lermontov’s Romantic novel A Hero of Our Time (1839), and the pseudonymous Kurban Said’s Ali and Nino: A Love Story (1937). Though almost a century apart and wildly different in viewpoint, the novels both grapple with the cultural weight of the veil and its female wearers. The veil serves principally in the Russian imagination as the ultimate allegory for the mystique of the Orient, and subsequently, the veil as a material object quickly becomes overdetermined and hotly contested within these narratives. However, before delving into these novels, Vereshchagin’s Uzbek Woman warrants a more thorough examination. As interest in Russian Orientalism as a scholarly field has increased in recent years, scholarship on Vereshchagin has grown dramatically. In his study of Vereshchagin’s Turkestan paintings, David Schimmelpennick van der Oye, an art historian who studies Russian depictions of and attitudes towards Asia, describes Uzbek Woman as: a female passer-by entirely hidden by her burqa and face mesh. The only glimpse of skin is a small flash of wrist accidentally exposed amidst the sexless garment’s folds. The painter underscores his protest against the confined segrega-


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Turkestan series.2 The painting’s unique depiction of a woman does not make Uzbek Woman an anomaly in the series, but instead actually centers her as an ideological core of it, a metonym for the East as it comes under the rule of Russia. Therefore, Vereshchagin still fulfills the Orientalist’s function to justify Western colonization. He paints her paranji as the instrument of her subjugation and thus makes her target of Russia’s supposed civilizing mission, putting Russians in a position to liberate her from her Muslim oppressors. This moral gaze seems to anticipate the ideology of the USSR’s anti-veil campaigns in Central Asia, perhaps explaining why “Soviets tended to praise Vereshchagin as a progressive and a forerunner of the official Socialist Realist style,” which in turn underscores the colonial ambitions still present in the supposed anti-colonial Soviet Union.3 But similarly to the monstrous failure of those campaigns, Vereshchagin in painting the Uzbek woman as silenced also perpetuates her silence. Said points out that in “Flaubert’s encounter with an Egyptian courtesan [which] produced a widely influential model of the Oriental woman; she never spoke of herself, she never represented her emotions, presence, or history.”4 While Vereshchagin’s engagement with the Oriental woman is not a sexual one, he does nevertheless deny her any sense of interiority in the painting. Moreover, he depicts his lack 2. Edward Said, Orientalism. (New York: Vintage, 1979), 225. 3. Schimmelpennick, “Vereshchagin’s Canvases,” 182. 4. Said, Orientalism, 6.

of access to her body, via the paranji she wears, as what compels him to see her as a silent object. Historical context, however, reveals that the paranji actually speaks volumes. Though Vereshchagin paints no markers of modernity in the background of Uzbek Woman, making the paranji appear traditional and timeless, Soviet historian Douglas Northrop explains, “the paranji and chachvon were surprisingly recent innovations, appearing widely only after—and perhaps partly in response to—the Russian colonial conquest of the mid-nineteenth century.”5 Consequently, the garment Vereshchagin portrays as emblematic of a regressive culture in need of Russian civilization is actually evidence of cultural progress. In light of this connotation, the Uzbek woman’s paranji does not act as a kind of muzzle, but rather as a statement of political dissidence. She rejects not just the sexual gaze of men, but also specifically the patronizing gaze of Russian colonialists like Vereshchagin. In effect, Vereshchagin’s painting invites viewership onto someone who explicitly does not want to be looked at. The civilizing mission here thus becomes an act of violence, and moreover a kind of sexual violation. While the violence in Uzbek Woman in Tashkent is symbolic, and in fact significantly obscured, the Oriental woman in Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time experiences quite literal violence. Adhering to 5. Douglas Northrop. Veiled Empire: Gender & Power in Stalinist Central Asia. (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2004), 44.


6. Peter Scotto. “Prisoners of the Caucasus: Ideologies of Imperialism in Lermontov's ‘Bela’” PMLA 107.2 (1992): 257. 7. Mikhail Lermontiv. A Hero of Our Time, trans. Vladimir Nabokov and Dmitri Nabokov (New York: Everyman's Library, 1992), 25.

8. Ibid., 32. 9. Ibid., 34.

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significant attention she pays to clothing throughout the narrative. Clothing in her song figures as a testament both to power—here, military power— and or cultural identity. Subsequently, Lermontov consistently presents Bela’s Caucasian clothing as a reflection of her state of oppression. This relationship becomes most explicit when Bela’s brother, Azamat, abducts her with “her hands and feet tied, and a yashmak [a kind of veil] wrapped around her head” to bring to Pechorin.8 Similarly to the paranji in Uzbek Woman, the yashmak in this portrait of Bela’s abduction reflects her oppression by Muslim men. The veil is the physical and most obvious indicator of her non-Russianness, and it in this scene serves the practical function of obscuring her face and contributing to her dehumanization. But here, it also has explicitly sexual connotations, as Azamat is taking this bound and veiled woman to essentially become a sexual object for Pechorin. There is a tension between the veil as a gesture of sexual modesty and the kind of eroticized treatment it gets here. Given the ambiguous implications of the veil for the characters, Bela’s stylistic choices are in fact extremely performative. After Pechorin first receives Bela, he complains to Maksim Maksimych, “I myself have tried in vain to see her today; keeps sitting in a corner, wrapped up in her veil, neither speaks nor looks at one.”9 In Islamic tradition, women wear the veil in the presence of unrelated men, suggesting Bela’s veiling

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the Romantic tropes exemplified in the work of Aleksandr Pushkin and several Western European writers, the novel’s “Bela” chapter describes a Russian officer named Pechorin as he goes out into the “uncivilized” Caucasus, seduces the eponymous Circassian girl , and eventually leaves her to die. The storyline is largely metonymic; in his study of the novel, Peter Scotto, literary critic and scholar of Russia’s relationship to Eurasia, proposes, “‘Bela’ gazes outward to the ideologies that governed relations between Russians and the peoples whom an expanding empire was bringing under its control.”6 If “Bela” is about a Western gaze, then its titular character’s veil quickly figures as a politically weighted object as it intercepts and complicates gaze. Unlike Vereshchagin’s paranji-clad woman, Bela never appears particularly modest, and in fact invites the Russians to look at her. In her first appearance at a Circassian wedding, she approaches Pechorin and his captain, Maksim Maksimych, and sings, “Svelte… are our young warriors, and their caftans are trimmed with silver, but the young Russian officer is svelter than they, and his coat is braided with gold.”7 Bela eagerly performs this Orientalist fantasy of her sexual availability in her flirtation with Pechorin. More importantly, she immediately underscores the


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here serves as her protest against the illegitimacy of this union. As an Orientalist fantasy of a character, Bela never really gets to speak about her condition in a substantial way—she gets only the select phrases Maksim Maksimych relates to the narrator—making her symbolic gestures especially poignant. Pechorin himself seems to understand this protest, as he surprisingly respects the boundaries she indicates with her veil. Simple domination is not enough for Pechorin’s Oriental ambitions; he wants the affection for the oppressor that comes with hegemony. The goal, then, is to get Bela to remove her veil. And Bela does grow fond of Pechorin, so much so that she breaks down when he eventually gets tired of her. When Pechorin leaves, Maksim Maksimych finds her distraught, “sitting on the bed, in a black silk beshmet,” again performing her trauma through clothing.10 However, a beshmet is a men’s garment, so Bela is actually performing both the felt absence of a man and a longing for reunification with her people. Maksim Maksimych does not directly say whether or not she is wearing the veil in this scene, but a few moments later she “cover[s] her face with her hands,” suggesting that she is not.11 The absence of a veil places Bela in a kind of cultural vacuum: she marks an irreconcilable distance between herself and the Russians through her beshmet, but in accepting Pechorin and Maksim Maksimych as her surrogate family, she can no longer fill the position of a proper Circassian woman. 10. Ibid., 44. 11. Ibid., 45.

Bela, in fact, dies without a clear cultural identity. After Kazbich stabs Bela in a fit of sexual jealousy, Maksim Maksimych and Pechorin “t[ear] up the veil and b[i]nd up the wound as tight as [they] c[an]” to try and save her.12 On the plot level, the men’s efforts are certainly noble, but allegorically, the Russians’ salvation mission for this Caucasian woman actually consists of ripping apart her connection to her culture and violating her modesty. A similar issue arises when Maksim Maksimych buries Bela. As Scotto notes, “the silk (the Russian term for it denotes a type manufactured in Turkey or Iran) and the Circassian braid with which she decorates her coffin are emblems of who she was. In Pechorin’s hands, however, expensive gifts and luxurious fabrics become the instruments of her ‘taming.’”13 If Maksim Maksimych buries Bela in an attempt to reunite her with her history, the absence of her veil further problematizes this gesture, as it makes her immodest in the eyes of her religion and culture. The Russians take a young woman away from her homeland, and then return her violated, penetrated (her death is, after all, a stabbing), religiously desecrated corpse back to that land. Lermontov, therefore, invites a reading of “Bela” as a critique of the civilizing mission proposed by Vereshchagin and other 19th century figures. Similarly, Kurban Said’s characters in Ali and Nino spend most of the novel debating the comparative merits of European and Asian civilization. For 12. Ibid., 51. 13. Scotto, “Ideologies of Imperialism,” 257.


14. Tom Reiss, The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and a Dangerous Life (New York: Random House, 2005), xiv.

15. Northrop, Veiled Empire, 29. 16. Kurban Said, Ali and Nino: A Love Story. Trans. Jenia Graman (Woodstock: Overlook, 1999), 15.

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yny, and from 1927 it actually began a series of aggressive anti-veil campaigns in order to “erase the marks of colonial difference” in its majority Muslim republics.15 While actively condemning Soviet rule over Azerbaijan, Akhundov nevertheless appropriates some of their rhetoric. His statement serves as testament to how ideologically charged veils are in the Russian colonial imagination, but it also betrays how ideologically charged veils are in Ali and Nino itself. Taking place in the last years of Tsarist Russia, but published well into Soviet rule in 1937, Ali and Nino puts veils at the center stage in the debate between East and West, and ultimately offers both a critique and a passionate defense of the practice of veiling. Perhaps in response to the multitude of narratives about oppressed veiled women, Nino in repeatedly rejects the veil. The very first words she speaks in the novel are: “Ali Khan, you are stupid. Thank God we are in Europe. If we were in Asia they would have made me wear the veil ages ago, and you couldn’t see me.”16 Nino reflects the European and Russian point of view when she claims that the veil is oppressive, and so defines herself as European through her rejection of the veil. For Nino and her family, this assertion of European identity is of the utmost importance because it establishes their proximity to the European Russian institutions of power dominating Baku. Her suggestion

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them, this debate is central to not only their personal identity, but also their understanding of the other, as the novel depicts a doomed romance between an Azerbaijani boy (Ali), whose allegiance lies with Asia, and a Georgian girl (Nino), who sees herself as European— though, curiously, both reject Russia. It is important to note that Kurban Said is a pseudonym for a still anonymous author who may himself be European. This paper, however, will not attempt to draw conclusions about the authorship of Ali and Nino—partly because Tom Reiss’s book The Orientalist makes a compelling argument that “Kurban Said” is Lev Nussimbaum, but primarily because the novel itself appears fairly ambivalent on its continental or cultural allegiance. American historian Tom Reiss’ book The Orientalist does provide an interesting anecdote for consideration: Reiss’ guide in Baku, Fuad Akhundov, tells him that the novel “tears away the fabric which has covered [him] growing up here in Soviet Baku like a shroud, like a funeral veil dropped by the bloodiest version of the West, the inhuman Bolshevik Revolution, upon this fantastic world of the highest cultural and human aspirations.”14 For Akhundov, the novel directly opposes Soviet ideology, and he incites the image of Bolsheviks dropping a veil over Azerbaijan to suggest the forced seclusion and regression that accompanied Soviet rule. Curiously, the Soviets also saw the veil as an indicator of female seclusion and a regressive misog-


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that the veil would impede their flirting is certainly frivolous, and reflects the youthful naiveté with which she imagines the conflict between Europe and Asia, but it does underscore a belief that Nino maintains through the entirety of the novel: that the veil is an obstacle to a dialogue of countenance between herself and Ali, and subsequently between Europe and Asia. Ali’s defense of the veil is complicated by the fact that he, perhaps hypocritically, openly admires Nino’s appearance on several occasions. Nevertheless, Ali’s internal dialogue, however, reveals a different underlying logic to the veil than the dynamic of female supplication Nino imagines: Where is the veil on Nino’s face? It is strange: you cannot see the woman behind the veil, but you know her: her habits, her thoughts, her desires. The veil hides her eyes, her nose, her mouth. But not her soul. There are no problems in the Oriental woman’s soul. Unveiled women are much different. You see their eyes, their noses, their mouths, even more, much more. But you will never know what is hiding behind those eyes, even when you think you know her well. I love Nino, yet she perplexes me. She is pleased when other men look at her in the street. A good Oriental girl would be disgusted.17 Ali sees Nino’s lack of veil as an obstacle to fully facing one another, because he cannot contextualize as a key part of his life a woman who physically marks herself as being outside of his culture. Peculiarly, Ali reverses the Oriental 17. Ibid., 58.

trope of the veil as mysterious, and by extension something that must be uncovered or revealed to the West. He seems to suggest instead that Muslim women use the veil as a means to make their “souls” known. The veil does not present mysteries, but solves them, and furthermore can only make its truths known to another “Oriental.” While the Russian depictions of the veil seem to focus on the mystique of the veil as a justification for some sort of access, be it sexual or colonial, Ali instead finds himself completely bewildered by Nino’s eagerness to be looked at. To borrow the argument posed in regards to Uzbek Woman of the veil as a resistance to colonial occupation, Ali sees Nino’s eagerness as a desire to be consumed. His view rests on a belief that he and Nino are both subject to patronizing Russian discourse, and that therefore in one respect they are both Asian. He believes that “a good Oriental girl would be disgusted” to be looked at in the street, partly because this “good Oriental girl” opposes the colonialist and voyeuristic gaze of the Occidentals with her veil. This, for Ali, is innately connected to his own hatred of Russian colonial rule, which ultimately culminates in his fight for Azeri national independence. In other words, Ali sees Nino’s lack of veil, and her subsequent desire to have men look at her, as indicative of some sort of acquiescence to colonial domination. In the colonial landscape of Ali and Nino, the veil also manifests as a form of geographical mapping. When the couple travels to Tiflis, the Georgian Nino becomes supremely contented, and tells


18. Ibid., 116. 19. Ibid., 182.

20. Ibid., 182. 21. Ibid., 218.

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ulations. She tears them up and I order a closed coach with crystal windows.”20 Nino interprets wearing the veil as an acceptance of inherent inferiority, but to be fair, the novel’s Orientalist depiction of Persian men seems to uphold her argument. Nino also sees the veil as degrading largely because in the dominating Russian discourse, women who wear veils are degraded. Taken against her wishes to this foreign, Eastern land, Nino in some respects sees herself in a similar position to victimized women like Bela. In ripping up the police regulations, Nino symbolically rips up the veil in an attempt to assert a position of authority as a European by recreating both the actions of Russians like Pechorin and Maksim Maksimych, and the future measures of the Soviets. Nino, however, eventually realizes that her European identity, as grounded in her rejection of a piece of cloth, is limited, when she assists Ali in entertaining English diplomats visiting Baku at the end of the novel. As a hostess, Nino demonstrates her European manners and assimilation to European customs, even wearing an evening dress Ali finds uncomfortably revealing. Even so, she still finds herself the object of the Englishmen’s Orientalist fascination and pity. Ali relates, “A major’s wife had even asked her whether she had ever been to the opera. ‘Yes I had,’ she had answered gently, ‘and I can read and write too.’”21 After years of performing English customs and drinking English tea, Nino realizes that the English see

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Ali, “Walk through Tiflis. Do you see women wearing the veil? No. Do you feel the air of Asia? No.”18 Again, Nino associates Europe with liberality and Asia with repression, as a place where a person would physically “feel the air” bearing down on her. Furthermore, she bases her argument that Georgia belongs to the supposedly more progressive Europe based on the fact that Georgian women do not wear veils, making a population of veiled women a kind of line of demarcation separating Asia from Europe. To put on a veil, then, becomes for Nino a contradiction to fundamental truths of her heritage imbedded even in geography. Her position becomes particularly problematic when political turmoil forces the pair to relocate to Persia. Despite geographically living in a space where veiling is prevalent, and even mandated, Nino continues to refuse to veil herself. Frustrated, Ali wonders, “How can I make her understand that a Khan’s wife simply cannot walk along the streets unveiled?”19 Ali presents the veil as a matter of convention in a region outside Russian rule. He accepts that his wife is European and Christian, but for him, the issue of veiling here is separate from those identities, as it becomes a matter of respecting custom. Nino instead sees the veil, and her refusal to wear it, as a matter of principle. When Ali brings her exquisite veils to wear, he narrates, “she smiles sadly and puts the veils away: ‘It degrades a woman to cover her face, Ali Khan. I would despise myself if I put this on.’ I show her the police reg-


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her like a backwards Oriental. Now feeling herself subject to this Western gaze, Nino becomes uncomfortable in her dress. During the reception, she whispers to Ali, “What are all these men to me? I don’t want them looking at me like that.”22 As German critic Anja Hansch observes in her reading of Ali and Nino, in this scene, “Nino’s feelings are not depicted as belonging to the cultural other but are coming close to Ali’s feelings.”23 When the fear of Western dominance and objectification becomes as real for Nino as it has been for Ali, the Azeri nationalist, she comes to a small understanding of why Ali admires the veil. This moment marks the culmination of her maturation from her earliest and rather flippant statement about the veil, and so Nino coming to at least somewhat respect the veil, if not accept it, catalyzes the reconciliation of Western and Eastern identities between Ali and Nino. This reconciliation is, of course, inevitably and necessarily brief; when the Red Army invades Azerbaijan, Ali dies in the fight to defend his country. Keeping in trends with Lermontov and Vereshchagin, Ali and Nino also posit West and East as diametrically opposite. Within this imagination, the veil serves as a sort of universal symbol for the Orient. The veil also often, conveniently, becomes a way to dismiss the human 22. Ibid., 218. 23. Anja Hansch, "Making the Other — Loving the Other —Making Love to the Other," in Body, Emotion and Mind: 'Embodying' the Experiences in Indo-European Encounters, ed. Martin Tamcke and Gladson Jathanna. (Munster: LIT Verlag, 2013), 219.

complexity of Oriental women, and so this symbol of supposed Muslim misogyny becomes in the Russian imagination a target of misogynistic and colonialist violence that extends onto its female wearer. The veil as an ideologically overdetermined garment, whose meaning to Russian colonialists seems opaquely foreign and obfuscating, becomes the simplest and most incontrovertible way for Russia to assert difference from the Orient, and asserting this difference is necessary for Russia to forge its own still developing identity as European.


BLACK RUSSIANS? GANNIBAL, PUSHKIN, AND THE “OTHER” IN RUSSIAN PERCEPTIONS OF RACE

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OCEANA GILLIAM

ered Russian, nor can he be considered a black Russian. Pushkin, on the other hand, is undeniably Russian, but also embraced his African ancestry and identified himself as black, calling “Negroes” his brothers. Unlike Gannibal, who was born in Africa and subsequently raised in Russia, Pushkin was born Russian yet also embraced his African heritage, making him a black Russian. Russians during the 18th and 19th centuries distinguished blacks from the rest of society, thus acknowledging racial differences. Through an analysis of various works, I have tried to determine if distinctions between races went further than mere physical differences and if moral qualities were attributed to different races. In other words, were people of African descent viewed in a certain moral light by Russians because of their physical differences? And did those perceived to

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Introduction People familiar with the biography of Alexander Pushkin, the “father of Russian literature,” know that he was descended on his mother’s side from an African named Abram Petrovich Gannibal. This paper explores the following questions with respect to the biographies of both men: how did Gannibal and Pushkin perceive their African heritage? How did Russian society in their respective times perceive them? Were Gannibal and Pushkin othered because of their African heritage? If they were othered, how did it manifest itself and in what ways did it have an impact on their lives? From my analysis of Gannibal’s and Pushkin’s biographies, Pushkin’s unfinished novel The Negro of Peter the Great, Pushkin’s letters, and other primary and secondary sources, I argue that Gannibal was not consid-


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be different experience “othering”? According to sociologist Yiannis Gabriel, “Othering is the process of casting a group, an individual or an object into the role of the ‘other’ and establishing one’s own identity through opposition to and, frequently, vilification of this Other.” Thus, Gannibal and Pushkin were considered the “other” because of their African ancestry. Yet what Gabriel does not examine here is the extent to which the “other” engages in “self-othering”, in which individuals other themselves from society because of their self-perceived differences. In the cases of Gannibal and Pushkin, being the “other” led not only to unfortunate circumstances; in some cases, it actually played in their favor.

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Abram Petrovich Gannibal (1696– 1781) and Othering A native of Cameroon, Gannibal was stolen from his tribe in Logon, where he was a prince, and taken to Constantinople by the Turks. He was bought from the Sultan in 1705 by the Russian ambassador and given to Peter the Great as a gift, who raised him as his godchild. Clearly, Gannibal’s status as the “other” was not an automatic cause for rejection by Peter the Great. To Russian society at the time Gannibal was exotic, interesting, different, and his “otherness” lay in this. But Gannibal to Peter was also an other within an other: he was a smart African. Peter did not see Gannibal’s blackness as something that innately defined his intellect. In fact, Peter sent Gannibal abroad to be educated in Paris. One of Gannibal’s rela-

tives later wrote that Peter had attempted “to put Russians to shame by convincing them that out of every people and even from among wild men—such as Negroes, whom our civilized nations assign exclusively to the class of the slave—there can be formed men who, by dint of application, can obtain knowledge and learning, and thus become helpful to the monarch.”1 Despite the fact that these comments are still repulsively racist, it is apparent that Peter believed that blacks had the potential to be more than servants. One could argue that Peter did not see any difference between Gannibal and the other men he sent abroad to become educated, challenging Russian assumptions about blacks. Through education and eventually becoming a member of Peter’s court upon his return from France in 1722, Gannibal established a name for himself as a man of talent and intelligence. Yet being the other also posed negative consequences. After Peter’s death, Gannibal was physically othered from society by Menshikov and his supporters, who “viewed the learned blackamoor with suspicion and hatred, both because he was a foreigner by birth and because he possessed an education.”2 However, even if we make the claim that Menshikov did not exile Gannibal because he was African, it is 1. Hugh Barnes, Gannibal: The Moor of Petersburg (London: Profile, 2005), 97. 2. N.K. Teletova, “Pushkin on His African Heritage: Publications during His Lifetime,” in Under the Sky of My Africa: Alexander Pushkin and Blackness, ed. Catharine Nepomnyashchy, Nicole Svobodny, and Ludmilla Trigos (Evanston, IL: Northwestern UP, 2006), 63.


3. Voltaire, The Works of M. De Voltaire. Translated from the French, with Notes, Historical and Critical, by Dr. Smollet and Others. Volume the First (London: J. Newbery, R. Baldwin, W. Johnston, S. Crowder, T. Davies, J. Coote, G. Kearsley and B. Collins., n.d.), 240–1. 4. Henry Louis Gates Jr., foreword to Under the Sky of My Africa, xi.

5. Catharine Theimer Nepomnyashchy and Ludmilla A. Trigos, “A. Gannibal: On the Occasion of the Three Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of Alexander Pushkin’s Great-Grandfather,” in Under the Sky of My Africa, 5. 6. Teletova, “Pushkin on His African Heritage,” 64–5.

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to her, an “arap and not [their] breed.”5 Apparently, her father, who gave Abram permission to wed her, did not see a serious problem with his skin color, especially since Gannibal had proven himself by that point to be a capable and intelligent man. Nonetheless, Evdokia resented Gannibal and was unfaithful to him. Rumors about the “blackamoor engineer and his reputation as a cuckold tormented him,”6 and his marriage to Evdokia ended when she gave birth to a white baby. Despite his indisputable accomplishments, it is apparent that Gannibal did feel pressure to be more “Russian.” Yet the extent to which he wanted to blend into society is unclear. Because Gannibal sustained a head injury while fighting in the French army (1719–1721) he may not have worn a wig. The portrait that depicts Gannibal shows him without a wig and with his natural dark hair. However, it is nonetheless styled in accordance with eighteenth-century fashion. It should also be noted that in the only portrait of his son, Ivan, he too is wearing his natural hair in the style of the time. Thus, it may be more significant that they are portrayed with their natural dark hair, rather than how it was styled. It is evident that Gannibal wanted to adopt Russian culture and challenged Othering by assuming a

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evident that his African heritage was used as an excuse. During Gannibal’s lifetime, Enlightenment thinkers attempted to explain differences in physical appearance, giving birth to scientific racism. Across the board these thinkers “reasoned” that blacks were the lowest form of humans, and sometimes not even in the same species as whites. Yet even Voltaire, who claimed that the capacity for understanding in “the negro race” was “greatly inferior”3 named Gannibal “the dark star of the Enlightenment.”4 Clearly, Gannibal’s exceptional intelligence exceeded Voltaire’s expectations, and his own contributions to the Enlightenment period no doubt also played a role. In 1725, after Peter’s death, Catherine I entrusted Gannibal to tutor the heir to the throne, Peter II, during which time he composed a two-volume work entitled Geometrie Practique and Fortification. Even with the establishment of these derogatory stereotypes, Gannibal was able to show that Africans were capable human beings not destined by nature for servitude. Gannibal also faced othering in his home life. His first wife, Evdokia Andreevna Gannibal objected to their union because Gannibal was, according


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Russian patronymic and giving his children Russian names. However, it is noteworthy that Gannibal did not choose a Russian surname for himself, but instead named himself after Hannibal Barca, a legendary Carthaginian military commander. It is clear that Gannibal wanted to be recognized as a part of the nobility in Russia when he wrote a petition to Elizabeth in 1742 asking to be granted his own coat of arms. Gannibal seemed to base his argument of being worthy of a place among the Russian nobility in part on his status as an African prince: “I, your humble subject, am an African by birth, born into the high nobility there. I was born in the domain of my father, in the town of Logon; in addition, my father ruled two other towns.”7 Despite referring to his African heritage here with pride, Gannibal still felt the effects of being the “other”. In a petition to I. A. Cherkasov, secretary to the empress Elizabeth, Gannibal wrote: “I would like everyone to be like me: dutiful and faithful to the limit of my ability (except only for my blackness). O, sovereign, do not be angry that I said so—it is truly out of sorrow and bitterness of my heart—either cast me away as a worthless monster and consign me to oblivion or complete the charity begun in me.”8 Here, the “charity” Gannibal speaks of is that of Peter the Great, Elizabeth’s father. It is obvious and understandable that Gannibal wanted to regain the noble life he rightfully worked for and deserved. But Gannibal also takes 7. Ibid., 51. 8. Nepomnyashchy and Trigos, “A. Gannibal,” 7.

on a rather desperate tone, using “charity” in such a way that negates his own hard work. Gannibal acknowledges that he is “dutiful and faithful,” yet casts a dark shadow on his accomplishments by stigmatizing his race, calling himself a “worthless monster.” Gannibal’s fortune did in fact dramatically change during the reign of Elizabeth, who did not treat Gannibal as an outcast, but rather invited him into her royal court, granted him land (which included serfs), and appointed Gannibal chief commandant of the town of Revel. Under Elizabeth, without the overt prejudice that affected him before, Gannibal was able to rise quickly through the ranks of the military, buy property, start a family, and adopt a settled life in Russia. Through his hard work and dedication, Gannibal was able to etch his name in Russian history as a great military engineer, despite the complications of being othered. His intelligence had to account for what he lacked: white skin. Gannibal’s genius is what bridged his African identity to the Russian nobility, making it possible for him to succeed in Russian society. The Negro of Peter the Great Pushkin himself attempted to create a biographical novel about Gannibal—later called The Negro of Peter the Great—which depicts Gannibal being discriminated against because of his African origin. An analysis of this work makes clear that Pushkin assumed society not only categorized people based on race, but that it also attributed value based on physical differences.


9. Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, The Negro of Peter the Great, in The Poems, Prose and Plays of Alexander Pushkin, ed. Avrahm Yarmolinsky (New York: Modern Library, 1936), 746.

10. Ibid., 766.

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“Tsar’s Negro.” His military rank, intelligence, or actual relationship with the tsar do not set him apart from everyone else. It is the fact that he is African, unusual, and different that sparks society’s curiosity and interest in him, as well as the fact that someone like him could achieve those things in the first place. In the perspective of Parisians, Ibrahim is the eye-catching Negro. However, Ibrahim is not flattered by this attention. In fact, he is annoyed. He envies the ordinary man and wishes he could seamlessly blend into society. Where Ibrahim’s unique appearance is more welcomed in Parisian society, it distances him from Russian society. In one respect, he is tolerated among the nobility. His presence is acceptable enough not only to be invited to royal balls and gatherings, but also to be able to dance with a noblewoman.10 However, the idea of marrying Ibrahim to a Russian woman is inconceivable. For Russian society, the Tsar’s Negro is something they accept only when in the presence of the tsar. But without the tsar, Ibrahim has no place within the Russian nobility. Ibrahim feels that he is a sojourner and accepts his fate as an outsider by stigmatizing his African ancestry and looking upon it as a burden. Society’s fascination and amusement with his blackness make Ibrahim feel isolated and alone. For him, his physical appearance is a curse: “He felt that he was for them a kind of rare beast, a peculiar alien creature, accidentally brought into a world, with which he had nothing in

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The novel begins with Ibrahim— the young Gannibal—in Paris. He has a romantic relationship with a woman there, but he determines that it would be best if he called it off because, in his opinion, it would not last because of his difference. He returns to St Petersburg where Peter welcomes him with open arms. Peter arranges a marriage for Ibrahim with a girl named Natalya. Her family, the Rzhevskys, is strongly opposed to the union. The novel was never finished by Pushkin, but what he did write ends with Natasha wishing for death so that she does not have to marry Ibrahim. In the novel, Ibrahim’s dark skin and African features seem to be his defining characteristic in the perceptions of the Parisian and Russian societies. They not only see the black African; they also attach certain values to his skin. Pushkin makes it clear from the beginning that Ibrahim is different from society: Ibrahim has “black skin, a flat nose, thick lips, and rough wooly hair.” The culture of 18th century Paris is first described as needing “amusement,” and it seems as though Ibrahim satisfies that need with his “looks, culture, and native intelligence.”9 Parisian women are fond of him because he is exotic; noblemen invite him to balls and parties. Clearly, the French care less about Ibrahim’s status in society as the godson of Peter the Great and more about his status as the


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common.”11 He feels he is, by nature, incapable of being loved, naturally destined to live a life void of genuine compassion. However, despite his own proclamations that he has “the miserable fate of a Negro, of a pitiable creature, scarce worthy of the name of man,” he still believes that he could be connected “with the proud Russian nobility” and that he would one day “cease to be a sojourner in his new fatherland.”12 For Ibrahim, his black skin is the reason why he is not welcomed into society with open arms, but he also clearly does not see being African as a permanent barrier between himself and Russian nobility. Pushkin goes on to show that Russian society not only categorized people based on skin color but also determined their worth based on it. The Rzhevskys’ behavior towards Ibrahim is clearly racist. The family admits that Ibrahim, in their view, still has the qualities of character that make a Russian man honorable, despite his Western education. In this sense, the Rzhevskys judge Ibrahim not on his physical appearance, but on what they believe makes one a “good man.” Natalya’s father, Gavrilla, whom Pushkin describes as a “genuine Russian nobleman,”13 without hesitation agrees; he says: “Of course, [Ibrahim] is a sober, decent man.”14 However, when Peter arranges for Ibrahim to marry their daughter, Natalya, the Rzhevskys strongly oppose the union. Their opposition does not come from the fact that 11. Ibid., 748. 12. Ibid., 779. 13. Ibid., 766. 14. Ibid., 771.

Ibrahim was not of Russian nobility— after all, he is Peter’s godson. On the contrary, their opposition solely comes from the fact that he is African. This is clear by their exclamations that Natalya would marry “a bought Negro!”15 and that she should not be “delivered to the clutches of that Black Devil.”16 It is also important to note that when informed by Peter that he would marry Natalya, Ibrahim has reservations. His first response is, “my appearance,”17 because he knows that the noble family would not be so happy and welcoming of how he looks. Ibrahim’s worries had in fact already been confirmed, because the Rzhevskys’ rejection does stem from their dislike of Ibrahim’s African origins. Gavrilla did not simply say “for Ibrahim” when introducing Natalya’s future-groom, but instead feels the need to include Ibrahim’s defining trait: “for the Negro Ibrahim.”18 But Peter, the tsar himself, replies in disbelief, saying, “Your appearance? What nonsense! You are a capital fellow.”19 Here, Pushkin establishes Peter the Great as a color-blind hero of sorts, depicting the Tsar of Russia as a man who does not see Ibrahim’s dark skin as a factor in judging his character. For the Rzhevskys, however, even though they agree that Ibrahim is a good man, his skin color makes him unworthy to be a part of their family. The novel makes clear that Pushkin believed that his great-grandfather was 15. Ibid., 776. 16. Ibid., 775. 17. Ibid., 778. 18. Ibid., 775. 19. Ibid., 778.


20. J. Tomas Shaw, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, Three Volumes in One (WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1967), 176. 21. Idem. 22. Ibid., 88.

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Pushkin and his African Ancestry Although negative stigmas were still associated with Africans in the 19th century, Pushkin was able, like his great-grandfather, to excel in his work. As a product of the Romantic period, which valued the “exotic” and embraced the individual, Pushkin took what could be considered a risk even in that time and elevated his African identity. Some even attributed Pushkin’s African blood to having had helped him tap into his poet’s intuition, which, at the very least, inspired his poetry. As a result of his African ancestry, Pushkin faced both the positive and negative consequences of being the other. Even in the Romantic period Pushkin’s obvious “othered” features pushed the boundaries of Russian society’s acceptance of the exotic. His African features were sometimes deemed aesthetically unappealing to the white, Russian eye. For example, a woman whom he was courting wrote in her diary: “It’s impossible to be more ugly—it’s a mixture of

the exterior of a monkey and a tiger. He comes from an African race, and in the color of his face there remains an impress and something wild in his look.”20 Another woman whom he wanted to marry remarked: Having given him a singular genius, God did not reward him with an attractive exterior… The negro profile he inherited from his mother’s line did not enhance his face.21 Of course, these insults were a blow to Pushkin’s sensitive ego. Yet there is evidence that Pushkin himself may have thought the same way. In the poem, “To Yur’ev,” Pushkin writes of himself, But I, an eternal idle rake, ugly descendant of Negroes, brought up in wild simplicity, not knowing the sufferings of love, I please young beauty with the shameless frenzy of desires; [thus] sometimes, with an involuntary flame on her cheeks, a young nymph, not understanding herself, looks stealthily at a faun.22 Here, despite Pushkin’s description of himself as “ugly”, women still flock to him and gaze upon him with desire. Thus, even if he was considered to be unattractive because of his African physique, it did not hinder his romantic life because of his renowned talent and fame. Conversely, other observations of Pushkin’s African features were not laced with such derogatory sentiments. His friend Viazemsky wrote that Pushkin’s brother Lev, like Pushkin himself, “was

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discriminated against and othered by society. By highlighting Ibrahim’s positive character attributes, Pushkin reveals the racist attitudes of Russian society at the time. Yet one can also question whether Pushkin himself perceived race, and it is clear that he did. For example, Pushkin often mentioned his “Negro great-grandfather” in his letters and other writings. This then raises the question of whether Pushkin himself shared the assumptions about Ibrahim that he detailed in The Negro of Peter the Great and if he himself was “othered” in society.


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somewhat swarthy, like an Arab, but looked like a white Negro… their mother’s African imprint left a visible impress on them both.”23 But did Pushkin really have African features? Apparently, yes. In West Africa, where Gannibal is from, people tend to have eyes that are more widely spaced. The nose is broader and somewhat flattened, and the nasal aperture is wider. There also tends to be prognathism, which is where the top part of the mouth sticks out a little. These characteristics are present in paintings and sculptures of Pushkin, which would suggest that Pushkin’s mixed race was visible in his facial features. Pushkin’s unique identity was also highlighted and celebrated in some respects, such as the intentional exaggeration of his “Negro” features in portraits. J. Thomas Shaw writes, “when his first Romantic verse tale, ‘The Prisoner of the Caucuses,’ appeared in 1822, his publisher, N.I. Gnedich, obviously thought that it would help sales to have a frontispiece emphasizing Pushkin’s black heritage.”24 Gnedich included the lithograph without Pushkin’s consent, and it would eventually become one of the most famous of portraits of Pushkin. The revised lithograph by Geitman enhances Pushkin’s “negroid” features by adding “a touch of thickness to the lips, a pinch of wildness to the hair, a slightly broadened nose, and a darker complexion.”25 Pushkin was not pleased with the lithograph’s publication, stating

23. Ibid., 15. 24. Ibid., 80. 25. Ibid., 179.

that he did not think it resembled him.26 This attempt to Africanize Pushkin, to make him seem more exotic is an obvious exploitation of his African heritage and confirmation of his “otherness” in order to cast him in the role of a Romantic figure of the time. The exaggeration of Pushkin’s Negro features made him more exotic, and thus his work more interesting. In this case, though the use of Pushkin’s African heritage was used to set him apart from society, it also ironically secured his place in the Romantic culture. Even though it is widely known that Pushkin was proud of his African heritage, it is clear that his own acceptance of it did not come without the acknowledgment of society’s preconceived notions. Pushkin often referred to his “fiery temper” as a sometimes negative product of his “African blood,” and he makes reference in his letters to a similar tendency in his younger brother. (Even Gannibal, as a child, was once described as “lively, smart and hot tempered” by a biographer).27 Additionally, in a letter written to his brother Lev, Pushkin jokingly told him to advise the writer Ryleev, who was writing a poem about the Battle of Poltava, to include their grandfather, Gannibal, in his depiction of Peter I’s entourage to shock people: “His ugly blackamoor phiz would produce a strange effect on the whole picture of the battle of Poltava.”28 Why 26. Ibid., 102 27. Teletova, “Pushkin on His African Heritage,” 55. 28. Shaw, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 203.


29. Richard C. Borden, “Pushkin and Othello,” in Under the Sky of My Africa, 176.

30. Shaw, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 87. 31. Ibid., 176. 32. Ibid., 161.

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wishes, the epistle “To Yur’ev,” in which he had referred to himself as “an ugly descendant of Negroes,” was published in 1824. According to Shaw, Pushkin did not want this poem published because he did not want to publicly reveal such intimate thoughts that contradicted his rather confident persona. Furthermore, the epistle echoes the claim Gannibal himself makes about the his blackness, both through Pushkin’s pen in his novel and Gannibal’s own words in his petition to Elizabeth. Additionally, in a poem addressed to a portrait maker, Pushkin asks: “why is your marvelous pencil sketching my Blackamoor profile?”30 Pushkin understood that his African roots and different ancestry set him apart from the rest of society. In his private thoughts, away from the scrutiny of the public, Pushkin aired his insecurity about his identity. Shortly before his death, in response to a bust that was to be made of him, Pushkin wrote to his wife: “They want to model a bust of me here. But I don’t want to. Then my ugly Negroid face would be handed over to immortality.”31 Furthermore, it seems as though Pushkin saw “Negro” as a universal term for blacks. He identified himself as a descendant of a Negro, and in a letter written to Peter Viazemsky, Pushkin wrote that he detested slavery and wished that the “fate of his brothers the Negroes” would be free from “unendurable slavery.”32 Even in the romantic period, the solitary poet who embraced

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would Gannibal’s “ugly phiz” distort the image? Because he would be the only black person present. Pushkin’s response shows that even over a hundred years later, someone resembling Gannibal would be out of place in the depiction of a great Russian historical event. But how did Pushkin feel about his African heritage in regard to himself ? Pushkin sometimes spoke of his African heritage in a very degrading way and othered himself from society. Though Pushkin did not believe his African heritage made him morally inferior, he did think his African features were not up to par with the beauty standards of the time. For example, at the age of 15, Pushkin characterized himself as “a true ape by the face.”29 Additionally, in keeping with Dostoevsky’s assertion that in his writings Pushkin expresses his “individual suffering and depths of self-consciousness,” it is very possible that Pushkin voiced his insecurities about his identity in his unfinished novel, The Negro of Peter the Great. For example, statements such as, “why should I endeavor to unite the fate of such a tender, beautiful creature to that miserable fate of a Negro, of a pitiable creature, scarce worthy of the name of man?”, seemed too demeaning for a poet who demonstrated such confidence and was held in such high regard. But our Pushkin, the father of Russian literature, a man who is so iconic that the profound greatness of his work seems unmatched and unattainable by any other, was a man who was in conflict with his identity. Against his


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his foreign heritage clearly had some internal conflicts in doing so. Evidently, becoming the great iconic figure he was did not come without its burdens. However, it should be noted that these differences in appearance did not inhibit Pushkin’s reputation as a man of letters. They did, however, on occasion, serve as a target for his enemies. For example, Pushkin had an open dispute with the literary critic Bulgarin, who had insulted Pushkin’s lineage and mockingly asked: “Who would have thought then that a versifier would acknowledge connection with that Negro?” This was obviously a jab at Pushkin’s “To Yur’ev,” and to Pushkin’s references to Gannibal in his other writings. Pushkin, of course, did not take the insult kindly and proudly defended his African heritage in a poem appropriately titled “My Genealogy”: Figlyarin [a play on Bulgarin’s name], snug at home, decided that my black grandsire, Gannibal, was for a bottle of rum acquired and fell into a skipper’s hands. This skipper was the glorious skipper through whom our country was advanced, who to our native vessel’s helm gave mightily a sovereign’s course. This skipper was accessible to my grandsire, the blackamoor bought at a bargain, grew up staunch and loyal, the emperor’s bosom friend, not slave.33 Pushkin begins here by addressing Bulgarin’s claim that Gannibal was bought for a bottle of rum by a skipper. He then corrects him by pointing out that that “skipper” was actually Peter

the Great, the man who was responsible for Russia’s advancement. He asserts that Gannibal was loved by Peter and close to him, and that he if had in fact been bought for a bottle of rum, then he was bought at a bargain because he was to become one of Peter’s greatest men. And lastly, he makes it clear that Gannibal was never a slave and in fact was a part of Peter’s royal court as his right-hand man. Bulgarin’s attack on Pushkin’s ancestry did not deny Pushkin his “Russianness” and obviously did not leave a lasting impression on society, because Pushkin’s work was still praised. In fact, Nicholas I himself wrote of Bulgarin’s insults that “abuse so low, so vile as that with which he has been regaled is a dishonor to the one who utters it rather than the one at whom it is directed.”34 Even though Pushkin had physical characteristics that differentiated him from the majority of society, they were not so blatantly obvious and did not warrant mistreatment of him by society. His defense of Gannibal in “My Genealogy” expresses his pride in both sides of his family—the Russian and African. At the end of the first chapter of Eugene Onegin (1825), Pushkin writes: Under the skies of my Africa To sigh for gloomy Russia Where I have suffered, Where I have loved Where I have buried my heart.35 Here, Pushkin expresses his desire to go to Africa, yet knows that if he were to

33. Vladimir Nabokov, Verses and Versions: Three Centuries of Russian Poetry (Orlando: Harcourt, 2008), 143.

34. Shaw, The Letters of Alexander Pushkin, 92. 35. Ibid., 83.


Black Russians? Clearly, Gannibal was not a “black Russian” in the sense that he would be considered ethnically Russian. He was an African who adopted Russian culture and was integrated into parts of Russian society. He lived a settled life in Russia, gave his children Russian names, and owned Russian property. He would also be granted the Mikhailovskoe estate, which would later become Pushkin’s home. Yet it is evident that Gannibal’s physical differences and his status as a foreigner barred him from being considered Russian. Pushkin, on the other hand, is without a doubt Russian. But was he a black Russian? Yes, in Pushkin’s own words, he was “a descendant of Negroes,” a “brother” to black slaves in America. 36. Nepomnyashchy and Trigos, “A. Gannibal,” 11.

oceana gilliam

Pushkin embraced, elevated and was proud of both his African and Russian identities. Clearly, both Gannibal and Pushkin were able to rise above the restricting boundaries associated with their African heritage; as such, they serve as transcendent figures who show that one’s ethnic identity does not naturally pose barriers to success.

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go he would still long for Russia. This stanza shows the struggle Pushkin faced when accepting his African ancestry. Yet, as in “My Genealogy,” Pushkin takes these two seemingly opposing identities and embraces them both. Yet even his death in a duel defending his wife’s honor was seen by some to result from his African heritage. His friend Viazemsky wrote: “His fiery and passionate soul and his African blood could not withstand the irritation produced by the doubts and suspicions of society.”36 For Viazemsky, it was the poet’s African heritage with its fiery temper that ultimately led to his death, a death also consistent with the Romantic temperament.


Translation


A LITTLE JOKE BY ANTON CHEKHOV

and shaking, upon the sled, wrap my arm around her, and together we cast off into the void. The sled flies like a bullet. A cutting wind beats our faces, roars, whistles in our ears, rends, painfully pricks with anger, wants to rip our heads from our shoulders. It’s impossible to breathe in such a wind. It seems that the devil himself wraps us around with his claws and, roaring, drags us to hell. The objects around us blur together into one long, rapidly passing streak… here, here another moment, and it seems we’ll perish! “I love you, Nadia,” I say quietly. The sled begins to run quieter and quieter, the roar of the wind and the whoosh of the runners are already not so scary, breath unfreezes, and finally we are at the bottom. Nadenka is neither alive nor dead. She is pale and barely breathing… I help her up. “Not for anything would I go another time,” she says, looking at me with wide eyes full of horror. “Not for anything in the world! I nearly died!” It’s not long before she has regained herself, and already she questioningly peers into my eyes: had I said those

73 a little joke

It is a bright, winter noon… A strong frost crackles, Nadenka holds me by the arm, and a silver hoarfrost rimes the curls on her temples and the fuzz above her upper lip. We stand on a high hill. The sloping surface, on which the sun sees himself as in a mirror, stretches from our feet to the base. There is a little sled next to us, brightly upholstered with red felt. “Let’s go down, Nadezhda Petrovna!” I beg. “Just once! I promise you, we’ll stay safe and sound.” But Nadenka is scared! The entire distance from her small galoshes to the bottom of the icy hill seems a terrifying, immeasurably deep abyss! Her breath freezes and catches in her throat when she looks down and when I merely suggest to sit upon the sled. What would happen if she risked a flight into the abyss? She would die, she would lose her mind! “I beg you,” I say. “There’s no need to be scared! You know that it’s just timidity, cowardice!” Eventually Nadenka yields, and I see on her face that she yields with fear for her life. I sit her down, pale

hugh zimmerbaum

TRANSLATED BY HUGH ZIMMERBAUM


translation

74 the birch fall 2016

four words, or had they made themselves heard to her merely in the sound of the vortex? I stand next to her and smoke, attentively examining my glove. She takes me by the arm and we walk for a while around the hill. The puzzle, it seems, gives her no peace. Were those words said or not? Yes or no? Yes or no? It is a question of vanity, honor, life, happiness, a most important question, the most important in the world. Nadenka peers into my face impatiently and sadly with her penetrating gaze, responds out of place, and waits for me to speak. Oh, what a play of emotions on this sweet face, what a play! I see her struggling with herself. There is something she has to say, to ask about something, but she doesn’t find the words. Something awkward and fearful interferes with her joy... “Know what?” she says, not looking at me. “What?” I ask. “Let’s go again…for a ride.” We climb up the staircase. Again I sit down a pale, shaking Nadenka upon the sled; again we fly into the terrifying abyss; again the wind roars and the runners whoosh; and again, during the strongest and loudest moment, I say quietly, “I love you, Nadenka!” When the sled stops, Nadenka gets up and looks up at the hill down which we have just plummeted. Then, she studies my face for a long time, listens to my level and unconcerned voice, and all, all, even her muff and hood, all of her figure expresses her utmost confusion. On her face is written: “What’s going on? Who said those words? Him, or had they only made themselves heard to me?”

The uncertainty disturbs her, and betrays her patience. The poor girl doesn’t answer my questions and frowns, ready to cry. “Shouldn’t we be going home?” I ask. “But I…I like the ride,” she says, turning red. “Can’t we go another time?” She “likes” the ride, but meanwhile, sitting on the sled, just as during the other times, she goes pale, can barely breathe out of fear, and shakes. While we are going down the third time, I see her looking at my face and staring at my lips. But I cover up my lips with a handkerchief, cough, and, when we reach the middle of the hill, I have time to murmur: “I love you, Nadia.” And the puzzle remains a puzzle! Nadenka is silent, and thinks about something… I lead her home from the ice rink. She tries to walk quieter, slows her steps, and everything waits for me to say those words. And I see how she suffers in her soul, how she strives despite herself not to say: It cannot be, that the wind said those words! And I don’t want the wind to have said them! On another day, I receive a note in the morning: “If you are going to the ice rink today, pick me up. N.” From then on, we begin to go to the ice rink every day, and, flying down on the sled, I utter those words once, quietly, every time: “I love you, Nadia.” Soon Nadenka is addicted to this phrase, as to wine or morphine. She cannot live without it. It’s true that it’s still scary to fly down the hill, but already now the fear and danger give way to the special charm of words of love, words


hugh zimmerbaum

Somehow, after a day or two, in the evening, I sit by the entryway at the edge of a garden, a garden with a tall fence and nails, in the yard where Nadenka lives… It is still sufficiently cold as there is snow under the manure and the trees are dead, but it already smells of spring, and the rooks screech loudly as they lay down for the night. I approach the fence and watch through a gap for a long time. I see Nadenka go out onto the porch and fix her sad, longing gaze on the sky… The spring wind blows into her pale, cheerless face… It reminds her of that wind, which had roared to us on the hill, when she had heard those four words, and her face remains sad, sad, and a tear slides down her cheek… And the poor girl extends both arms, as if begging the wind to bring those words to her once more. And I, having waited for the wind, say quietly: “I love you, Nadia!” My God, what is happening to Nadenka! She squeals, smiles with her whole face, and offers her hands to meet the wind. She is joyful, happy, and so very pretty! And I go to pack… This was already a long time ago. Now Nadenka is married—either given away, or of her own choice—it doesn’t matter, to the secretary of a noble guardianship, and she has three children. Still, she hasn’t forgotten how we had at one time gone sledding together, and how the wind brought the words “I love you, Nadenka” down to her; it is the most happy, most touching and beautiful memory of her life… As for me, now that I have become old, I have already forgotten why I said those words and why I joked…

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which still remained a puzzle and teased her soul. She suspects the two of us alike: me and the wind… Which of the two confesses his love to her, she doesn’t know, but, apparently, she doesn’t care; she doesn’t drink from a particular vessel—she doesn’t care, so long as she’s drunk. Somehow, at noon, I have gone onto the ice rink alone; I mix into the crowd. I see Nadenka approach the hill, and how her eyes search for me… Then, timidly, she starts up the stairs… It’s scary to ride alone, oh, how scary! She is pale as snow and shaking; she is truly going to her execution. But she goes, and she goes decidedly without looking back. Apparently, she had finally decided to test it: will those wondrous, sweet words be heard without me? I see how she, pale, with a mouth agape in horror, sits on the sled, shuts her eyes, says goodbye to the ground forever, and pushes off… “Wshhhhhh” whoosh the runners. Whether or not Nadenka hears the words, I do not know… I only see her get up from the sled exhausted and weak. Her face shows that she herself doesn’t know whether she heard anything or not. The fear, while she hurtled down, had confounded her ability to hear, to distinguish the sounds, to understand… But here comes the spring month of March… The sun becomes gentler. Our icy hill grows darker, loses its glint, and eventually melts. We stop our rides. There is nowhere for poor Nadenka to hear those words anymore, and no one to utter them, so long as the wind doesn’t blow. I prepare to return to Petersburg— for a long time, probably for forever.


ON THE FIELDS OF KULIKOVO

BY ALEXANDER BLOK Река раскинулась. Течет, грустит лениво И моет берега. Над скудной глиной желтого обрыва В степи грустят стога.

translation

76

О, Русь моя! Жена моя! До боли Нам ясен долгий путь! Наш путь—стрелой татарской древней воли Пронзил нам грудь. Наш путь—степной, наш путь—в тоске безбрежной— В твоей тоске, о, Русь! И даже мглы—ночной и зарубежной— Я не боюсь.

the birch fall 2016

Пусть ночь. Домчимся. Озарим кострами Степную даль. В степном дыму блеснет святое знамя И ханской сабли сталь… И вечный бой! Покой нам только снится Сквозь кровь и пыль… Летит, летит степная кобылица И мнет ковыль… И нет конца! Мелькают версты, кручи… Останови! Идут, идут испуганные тучи, Закат в крови! Закат в крови! Из сердца кровь струится! Плачь, сердце, плачь… Покоя нет! Степная кобылица Несется вскачь!


TRANSLATED BY LEO O’BRIEN

The river spreads out. It flows, mourning lazily, Washing the shore. Upon the decrepit rock of a yellow cliff In the Steppe, the haystacks mourn.

Let night come! We’ll hasten onward To set ablaze the Steppe’s horizon. Through the smoke will flash the holy flag And the steel sabre of the Khan. And endless battle! Through blood and dust, Of peace we do but dream… The Steppe’s mare flies on and on Trampling the green… And without end! The cliffs and miles fly O let it end! The frightened thunderclouds go on and on Sunset in blood! Sunset in blood, the blood flows from my heart Weep, heart, weep… Peace is gone, as the mare of the Steppe Carries on its gallop!

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Our path through the Steppe, in despair unbound O, Rus, in your despair! And even in the foreign fog of night— I have no fear.

leo o’brien

O my Rus! My wife! How painfully clear is our long path! Our path, that pierced our chests with an arrow Of ancient Tatar wrath.


Creative Writing


DIARY OF A POLISH AIRMAN

cecilianna wahler-edwards

CECILIANNA WAHLER-EDWARDS

would find my exploits interesting. You certainly appeared to take an interest in aircraft of any manner the day we shook each other’s hands four years ago. Is that a rash judgment on my part—to assume you would not balk from hearing a lengthy account of the present situation from the perspective of a Polish man? Would it distress you? Startle you? It might startle you to know that Karol Chłopik was killed today when his aircraft was ambushed by a Stuka and set on fire. I don’t write this with the intention of repulsing you, or causing you to lose sleep I know for a fact you will not lose. I am doing no more than informing. This is my book to fill, and if I choose, I can fill it with the ramblings of someone who can convince himself that in a world not so different from our own, you would sit and read these paragraphs I have constructed. It might startle you to know that

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1 September 1939 My dear Reichsmarshall, I don’t know you beyond the handshake and the greeting I gave to you with only a little more sincerity than the rest of the pilots in the line. You certainly don’t know me. By now you’ve forgotten all about the aviation show you watched. You’ve forgotten my name because you have a thousand pilots of your own to congratulate day after day. It is because of this that I believe there can be no true antipathy between us, only a sort of abstract dislike that is all too easy to distort into something a little deadlier. Someone told me you used to be a fighter pilot yourself, or is this simply propaganda? It would certainly make it all the more unlikely that if you and I were to pass each other in the sky, we would begin to exchange bullets. I might even go so far as to say that, given the chance to learn about them in more detail, you


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I waited three hours on the ground for three minutes of unsurpassed frustration. Three hours we spent sitting on the grass, waiting for you to send your bombers on their way to Lodz, which we have been charged with defending. Three hours expecting to hear the tower lookout give the signal at any second. Surely you could have been a sporting man and given us a moment’s notice to sprint to our planes, start up the engines, and build enough height to have a potential attack that was not laughable. You see, the waiting is more tortuous than the fight, because the bombers and their escorts are gone before we can see them. Perhaps it is not more tortuous. For this answer, we would have to seek the opinion of Karol Chłopik who was shot down by a Stuka this morning a little after half past ten. All the German aircraft went by, past the airfield and on to drop their bombs over Lodz. Then back home to you for a refuel and a rearming. Then onward to reappear again as tiny crosses out of our reach. And as for your name on the top of this page, here I explain myself. I have never seen the face of a German airman in his machine. Your cockpits are closed, your planes are too fast for us to see more than a pale blur if we are lucky enough to build height and dive toward you from the front. In my mind, every German I fight is you. You are in every plane firing back at me. The only face I can conjure up at the thought of the planes with the black and white crosses is yours, and I start to think that your will is to bring harm

to me after all. I think this is a strange thought. 4 September 1939 What I have here is the first and only diary entry written by my squadron mate Mieczyslaw Konarski, who is now lying on the table in the adjacent room, dead since half past three. Our squadron captain, Broda, has just been out to his quarters. He brought back a wooden trunk. Gave a hatbox full of photos and letters to the adjutant to send to his family. The adjutant said he would try his best, sir, but the chances were very slim that a box could be delivered with the roads in the state they are in. Broda grunted, and threw a hardbound novel at Uri Mierzwa, a flask of “Victory Vodka” at Gorksi —who knows if he’ll save it for its intended purpose or not —a grey and black checkered sweater at Zaluski, and this diary nearly missed my combat-deafened, long-beleaguered head. A moment later a shower of pens fell into my lap. The rest of the squadron was staring at Broda. Broda is not a sensitive man, but this was new, throwing Mieczyslaw’s things this way and that. Meiczyslaw had only been dead five hours, and was now being attended to by some airmen, while the medical officer took a nap standing up. Broda surfaced when the trunk was cleared out. He was still wearing his flight goggles around his neck. He growled, “You heard the adjutant.” Had no idea what was happening in Broda’s head that ended with: the diary goes to Sztern. I had known Mieczyslaw three weeks. God knew we got along fair


I feel I owe an introduction. My name is Tadeusz K. Sztern. I was born in Lodz and grew up in Lodz, which is the city my squadron is now trying to defend. I have never kept any manner of diary of my own before this one was thrust at me. Now I am Lieutenant Sztern, 163 squadron, Lodz Air Regiment. Mieczyslaw made his first entry the day the war started. Maybe he meant this to be a chronicle of his life in the war. Since this book is mine now, I will tell you a little more about how things started for me, but to do this, it will be easier to begin with the last day (of August).

cecilianna wahler-edwards

5 September 1939 Today I went and asked Broda if he was sure about giving this book to me. One thing I am certain of: I cannot write the same way Mieczyslaw can! Broda was eating breakfast, I have never seen a man eat so much breakfast so quickly. I was astonished he could find breath to speak. I had the book in front of me on the table. Broda said, “Shut up about the book.” “Are you sure about this?” “No, I’m not sure about this. Do what you want with it, I don’t care.” He absorbed the rest of the contents of his plate, there was no chewing involved. He left me sitting with the book where my plate should have been, and went to gather his flight kit. A fine powder of leaves had been tracked into the mess, which nobody had time to sweep away. I thought about who the book

would be passed on to if I were to be in Mieczysaw’s place, and now know it would be completely random. I was reminded of something last night. I’ve read over what Meiczyslaw read a few times, but the thought had made itself known from the moment I read the “Dear Reichsmarshall” on the top of the page. I was in the same parade Mieczyslaw was! We both met the commander of the Luftwaffe. This is an odd thing for a man in my place to remember. Do you think I wished all night I had just shot the big idiot then and there and changed the course of history? He said, “And your name?” And I said, “Tadeusz Sztern, sir.” (I speak fluent German.) He was half conspiratorial, half making sure everyone in the line heard him say, “It’s not every day I see flying like yours, even in a profession such as mine.”

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enough, fair enough for Meiczyslaw to have known I would have appreciated the “Victory Vodka” a hell of a lot more. I tried for a short while to reassess things I never thought I’d find myself reassessing, things that had changed so that a man’s possessions could go flying about a room. Didn’t he deserve better than that? Most of the squadron went to bed within half an hour of the give-away. I remained where I was, which was stuck in one of the chairs, toying with the idea of simply sleeping there. The book sat balanced on my knees until I finally relented and read the first page.


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82 the birch fall 2016

I remember a good deal: a gigantic duck had escaped from the farm adjacent to our airfield, and little Jasio Plater and I were chasing it around the planes. He said, “If we catch it, does it mean we get to cook it?” I said, “As long as nobody tells the farmer.” Uri had come walking up, trying to find out what the noise was. “You won’t tell the farmer, will you, Uri?” (Uri was watching a tiny X inch its way across the sky: a German observation plane, probably the fourth that week. They flew too high for our open-cockpit P11’s to intercept, but Uri wouldn’t take his eyes off them whenever one was to be seen. I always had an urgent favor or frightful piece of gossip when this happened, but got limited responses: observation planes occupied Uri’s attention like women never could.) What I am trying to say in these paragraphs is that we believed everything we had told ourselves, with nothing but our own daydreams to back up the claims we made to one another: the war would be short, the war would not be difficult, and the war would end one way and one way only. Does this make us fools? It is not up to me to pass such a judgment, I being the guiltiest, cockiest bastard ever to bless the airfield with his presence. The peace was not good enough for me. If there was going to be a war (and we knew there was going to be a war), then by God it needed to happen when I wanted it to happen. The duck was on top of my airscrew, and looking at it was such that I was also looking into the sun: not a pleasant activity with a night such

as mine behind me. I crawled into the cockpit, started the engine, and the duck fell to the ground in a stupor. I cut the engine and yelled at Jasio to grab the duck, which he did at the moment the duck regained its wits and started flapping for all it was worth, hitting Jasio about the face. I can’t tell you why I’ve chosen to record this day because what does it do? It does absolutely no good for me. It doesn’t make me feel guilty about anything, because that is not who I am. Nor am I positive that at any point in my life (however long or short!) I will wish to return to these pages and know what I was doing our last day of quiet before it all started. While Jasio was still wrestling with the duck, my mechanic appeared with a farmer. I said, “Uri’s told the farmer, boys,” which of course was a lie because Uri had been standing next to us the entire time, probably in a state of moral quandary. I greeted the farmer. The farmer started a tirade about how pilots were madmen that had stolen his best livestock, and added that we shouldn’t be allowed out in public. I gracefully handled the situation: “Sir, I’m afraid you’ve been mistaken. Corporal Jasio has caught your runaway duck, showing a great disregard for his personal safety. Without him, your duck would be halfway to Russia by now.” The farmer snorted and grabbed the duck by the legs. It had stopped struggling. Duck and farmer left the airfield, the three of us pilots watching, leaning on the fence. I said, “Some peo-


cecilianna wahler-edwards

Everyone is in a snappish mood. We are sitting out at the edge of the field where our planes are. Thankfully we are in the shade because the field borders a forest. The planes are all in the shade too—better to avoid detection—and I can tell you what a difference it makes not to have a hot cockpit. I took the book down with me, Zaluski asked to have a look because he knew Mieczyslaw, so I tossed the book to him. I told him, “I was in Warsaw the same day he was. We could have been standing next to each other during the parade. I was only seventeen. I was flying a little civilian aircraft, doing stunts. The Air Force had just agreed to take me into the academy at Deblin next year. I’d forgotten I’d been congratulated by the commander of the Luftwaffe until I read this.” I asked him what he thought I should write, and he belched into his partially cupped hands; this made a fantastic resonating sound. Asked Uri, Uri said, “I don’t know.” For Uri, this is snappish. If we are called up to our planes while I am writing, well, we’ll see how I manage.

When the first German planes flew over our airfield on the way to bomb my beloved Lodz, yours truly was in the bathroom, shaving. I had woken up quite early, this was normal for me. I was probably humming something, if I remember right, because I had the bathroom to myself at half past five in the morning. I also remember: I was thinking about the box on my bunk that I had just gotten mailed yesterday evening from my mother. Before I had even opened it, Zaluski was preparing several complicated bartering schemes, he knew my mother had sent something good. I gave him the roasted almonds, but kept all the apples. The land we own has the best apple orchard in Lodz, I am not bragging this is a well-known fact. Father employs one of his old friends from the Great War as our gardener, and we cook everything having to do with apples. Whenever I am homesick, (and I have all the reason in the world to be homesick!) Mother sends me boxes of apples. Because of all this, I was deep in thought over the apples in my room, and not about the noises of engines getting louder over our airfield. This is what it felt like: my hand went careening across my face, slicing a big diagonal cut from my jaw to the top of my cheek. The mirror in front of me jumped. My hand was wet. I watched myself, looking at my reaction to our airfield being bombed. Why did I look so normal? The line on my cheek was running all over, so I took a towel from my kit to stop the bleeding and went outside. Mechanics were scrambling aro-

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ple just can’t understand what’s in front of their face.” Jasio was inspecting scratches on his hands, and there was mud on his cheek. An hour later we had relocated to the other end of the field, and I was throwing flower heads at a cow, as bored as you can imagine. I am sorry.


und, and everywhere the other pilots were coming out of their huts, pulling on flight gear. There was a haze from the anti-aircraft guns at the perimeter of the airfield. I got in my plane and the squadron gave chase. The German pilots let us catch up to them over the city, only to vanish again before I could hold one in my gun sight. And I did this five times before the day ended.

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84 the birch fall 2016

To conclude my introduction, I will be a little more generous with my details. I was named for the nineteenth-century military hero Tadeusz Kosciuszko. (In Lodz there is a statue in his honor.) I am the best card player you are likely to meet. My specialty is sixty-six. There is nothing I like so much as an indulgent helping of apple strudel with sweet cream. I have been flying airplanes for six years. My first plane ride was in a German-built Albatros, flown by my Godfather Horst. Godfather was an aviator in the Great War, and had owned this Albatros since I can remember, a small biplane with a seat for the pilot and the observer, the way things were done in those days, I was told. Godfather took me flying in the observer’s seat since I was small. He gave me my favorite present (to this day!) a pair of binoculars from 1915 and a set of aviator’s goggles and asked “what can you see on the ground?” I stood up in the seat, all of my seven-year-old self so as to better see the enemy’s position. Godfather laughed and said, “Bruno

(my father) would have my head if he could have seen that,” but he didn’t tell me to sit down. I watched cars slide by hopeless and smaller than toys on their country roads. Barns were painted cardboard. Houses were laughable. Men and horses, they were specks when they existed at all! He with the power to see the world shrink, surely he had everything in his hands! He had an airplane’s controls, and that is more than enough. People who see the world in this way never forget it. I looked at Lodz in my binoculars, kneeling on the cushion that had been put on the seat, leaning this way and that to see people’s miniature lives and squinting one eye and pinching out my fingers to see that the tallest buildings in the city could fit between them. Godfather said, “How do you feel?” “How do I feel!?” “Not sick? Not scared?” “What?” He told me, “You would have made a very brave observer.” Observer? I wanted to be the pilot! To think back, I am certain I frightened him more than I ever realized when I stood up in the rear seat that day. Seven and a half years after that, Father was willing to let me try flying, but Godfather had suddenly turned reluctant. It took all my tricks for me to find myself sitting in the back, not the front. After that, suddenly there was no stopping me. I learned how to fly small civilian aircraft for shows and private rides, then in 1937 when I joined the academy, whatever the Air Defence Force instructed me to fly. My father


Seven flights for me today. Uri stopped after his fourth because his guns were malfunctioning. But he got going again when his spare

cecilianna wahler-edwards

I grew up in a Polish fairy-tale castle. When I was four years old, my family moved from the country to a hundred-year old mansion that my father restored and repurposed into an inn with the help of his friends, including Godfather. I love this inn beyond words. It was named Linden House, after the row of trees lining the pathway to the front gate. I would give up more and more simply to walk through that door one more time and see the tapestry in the master bedroom, the stone eagles on the mantle, the cavalry swords in their cases on the wall. As a child, I was Lord of the Manor himself, and barons and hussars, revolutionaries and invaders, scythe-wielding peasants and uhlans were all my playmates—my friends from school, my brother and his compatriots. I died on the third floor hall on a Persian carpet for my Motherland. My brother repulsed a cavalry charge from the attic steppes of wild Russia. My cousin poisoned the king of the Turks in the glossy ballroom of Vienna. I marched through my magnate’s master bedroom to speak peace terms with my peasants from their farm in the cellar. No boy in all of Poland could have asked for a better place to grow up.

arrived, in time for two more. Jasio stopped at three flights, because his ankle was so big it wouldn’t go back in his flight boot, and he spent the day lying on the table in the officer’s mess while the medical officer pulled metal out of him. When I got the full story, I could have struck someone—the metal came from a Polish anti-aircraft battery that had grown too jumpy. Nobody had heard from Zaluski after his third flight. Gorski only flew once, and he isn’t likely to fly another, ever. Kubiak’s gone as well. His plane hit a wooden shed not far from the airfield, and the smoke lingered into the evening. Sawicz flew eight, decided to call it a night and tell God about the day’s events. Perhaps he will find some answers. Then again, make no mistake of us, Father, for the world has sinned this time.

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always maintained that all airmen were maniacs, and I had at last found a place to fit in. As I child I certainly did no such thing, fitting in was not in my nature.


Омары Попробовать омаров он хотел, Поэтому в магазине он их купил. Они были большие и красные, А кассир думал, что они были страшные. Омар такой ужасно дорогой, Но он заплатил и взял их домой. Там омары его кошку испугали, Но потом они весело играли. В раковине он их положил. Съесть этих омаров он не хотел. Потом к озеру они пошли, Чтобы омары в мире жить могли.

LOBSTERS (OMAPЫ)

BRIANNA PHILPOT

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Lobsters (Literal) He wanted to try lobster, So he bought them at the store. They were large and red, And the cashier thought they were terrible. Lobster is so terribly expensive, But he paid for them and took them home. There he introduced them to his cat, And she even wanted to play with them. He laid them in the sink. He didn’t want to eat these lobsters. Then they went to the lake, So that the lobsters could live in peace. Lobsters (Poetic) Lobster was something he wanted to try, So at the store he found some to buy. Like the Soviet flag, they were red and gigantic, And when the cashier saw them, he became frantic. They cost him a fortune, but he didn’t mind. He gave him the money and ran off with his find. At home he decided to show them to kitty, She befriended the lobsters, and the boy showed them pity. He moved them to a bowl full of water. He knew in his heart he was not capable of slaughter. Instead he decided to grant them release, So in the lake he freed them and gave them their peace.


Photography Photojournalism Illustration


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Bianka Ukleja, Past and Present, Here and Now, Our Krakรณw

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Bianka Ukleja, The Little Wooden Parish of Kleczanรณw, Interior

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above: Tako Jobava, New Athos Monaster y (Abkhazia) below: Bianka Ukleya, New Vilnius, Across the River

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REWRITING HISTORY AND LAW IN 21ST CENTURY HUNGARY

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with photographs by Kate Langdon and Jordan Luber; text from Nazis, Migrants, and Gays, Oh My!: Rewriting History and Law in 21st Century Hungary (Kate Langdon)

fooling their electorate into trusting an illiberal state. More blatantly than the German occupation memorial, the Hungarian state has tried to ennoble itself in the minds of its citizens by combatting immigration and simultaneously challenging the supranational European Union. A referendum on the EU’s migrant quotas, which Orbán framed as a way to protect the “Hungarian national interest,”1 saw citizens overwhelmingly rejecting the quotas. The fact that this referendum is not legally binding further reveals its true purpose: to poison dialogue amongst the Hungarian population on the validity of abiding by EU expectations, while simultaneously encouraging Hungarians to believe that their national government is more qualified to ensure their wellbeing. 1. Gergely Szakacs, “Hungary’s migrant referendum shows Europe’s post-Brexit challenge,” Reuters, July 1, 2016.

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Miseducating the Public In April 2014, Budapest residents slept as their national government began to construct a physical forgery of history. After weeks of work, about 100 police officers closed off central Budapest’s Szabadság Tér (Freedom Square) in order to complete a controversial monument overnight. Thousands of protestors have decried it as a ploy by Hungarian revisionists trying to drown Nazi Germany in all the blame for the Hungarian state’s complicity in the Holocaust, especially the mass deportations of over 430,000 Jewish citizens (many of whom were sent to their deaths in Auschwitz-Birkenau) in the summer of 1944 alone. But the monument is even more than just a manifestation of the state’s self-aggrandizement: it is part of the mechanism by which Hungarian officials, the majority of whom belong to the right-wing Fidesz political party, are


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Dehumanizing the Gay The social identity so desired by Orbán’s administration reaches beyond ethnicity or nationality. Fidesz government leaders also pressure Hungarian citizens to practice conservative family values such as strict heterosexuality. These right-wing officials amended the preamble of the Hungarian Constitution in 2011 to read, “We hold that the family and the nation constitute the principal framework of our coexistence,” with the “family” being associated with the marriage of a man and a woman;2 this is the only type of union recognized by the state. On July 2, 2016, I celebrated the 21st Annual Budapest Pride Festival by marching in the city’s Pride parade with about 20,000 other supporters.3 Thousands of stone-faced officers lined the parade route with their arms crossed. Some wore riot gear. As in years past, they had cordoned off the entire route and connecting side streets, citing their “benevolent” duty as law enforcement officials to protect marchers from any violent counter-activists. Unfortunately, the Hungarian government was not alone in its caustic attitude toward gay rights. As I contacted various embassies in Budapest to 2. Kingdom of Hungary, Preamble, The Fundamental Law of Hungary, amended on April 25, 2011. 3. Adam Janos, “Glad to be gay: Police presence ensures Pride parade is trouble-free,” Budapest Times, July 9, 2016; “Budapest Pride: Thousands March Across Hungarian Capital to Promote LGBTQ Rights,” Hungary Today, July 4, 2016.

above and opposite: Jordan Luber (Budapest Pride Parade 2016)

ask for their signature of support for the Pride Festival’s annual joint diplomatic statement, I was met with evasive responses. Despite the fact that their nations were progressive toward LGBTQ equality, these diplomatic missions feared that lending their support would earn them conservative backlash from Budapest’s government.


Demonizing the Refugee Prime Minister Orbán argues that every non-citizen is a potential threat to national security, so the state can take whatever measures necessary in protecting its borders. Orbán asserted in 2015 that “all the terrorists are basically migrants,” thereby coloring all migrants as dangerous.4 Rejecting what Orbán refers to as the EU’s “failed” immigration policies, Hungarian leadership instead reacted to the “European migrant crisis” in September 2015 by building a 13-foot wall, complete with lay4. “It is not us who equate migration with terrorism, but terrorists themselves,” Website of the Hungarian Government: Ministry of Human Capacities, May 10, 2016.

ers of razor wire, along the 109 mile border it shares with Serbia. The Hungarian state’s stigmatization of migrants and refugees manifests itself in widespread perceptions of economic and security threats. According to a Pew Research Center poll conducted in the spring of 2016, 82 percent of Hungarian respondents saw migrants as being a “burden on [their] country because they take [their] jobs and social benefits.” When I interviewed university students in Budapest in June 2016, many mentioned something along the lines of, “I don’t like the idea of a wall, but we haven’t had a repeat of the Brussels or Paris attacks here, so I’m for it.” When I visited the Horgoš-Röszke refu-


gee camp on the Serbian side of the border with Hungary with an international group of embassy representatives in June 2016, a UNHCR employee explained that local authorities had only just “permitted” the site to have portable toilets a few days prior; she also added that the Hungarian and Serbian governments had recently “granted” the site access to running water, in the form of a rickety water spigot. The Hungarian government refers to these to sites as “migrant camps,” rather than what they are in reality: unsanitary tent camps full of pregnant mothers, their

children, and single males who likely would otherwise have been forced to join ISIS or killed. They burn their trash in order to boil water, and, as winter approaches, to keep from freezing. They wait in long lines to receive food and water by UNHCR volunteers. They could wait for months in these camps because Hungarian transit zones only process an average of 15 people a day.5 5. Amnesty International, Hungary: Crackdown on the rights of refugees and migrants continues unabated amidst European Commission inaction, July 6, 2016.

below and opposite: Kate Langdon (refugee camp in the village of Horgoš)


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Growing Up Russian-American I grew up in New York, the first American in my family. I inherited “Russianness” through atmosphere: the movies Cheburashka and Doktor Aibalit, kasha in the mornings and borsch in the evenings, a barefoot summer at the family dacha, grandmothers and grandfathers with unchanged homegrown ways. In my friends’ eyes I was Russian. I spoke with my babysitter in Russian, at my house we ate some sort of unfamiliar cuisine, and even my name sounded strange. It was in this nebulous world that I grew up.

Я родилась и выросла в НьюЙорке, я первая американка в семье. Для меня «русское» существовало в атмосфере мультикаx «Чебурашка» и «Доктор Айболит». Каша по утрам и борщ по вечерам. Босое лето на даче. Бабушки и дедушки неизменных родных манер. В глазах моих друзей я была русская—я говорила с нянькой по-русски, дома у меня была какая-то неизвестная для американцев пища, и даже мое имя было какое-то странное. Вот я в таком непонятном мире выросла.


leeza gavronsky and nastia abramova

REFLECTIONS

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NASTIA ABRAMOVA, illustrator

В аэропорту я встретила группу. Американцы стояли в кружке, и время от времени создавали типичный для американцев несколько искусственный смех. Я попрощалась с родителями, поцеловала маму один последний раз и подошла к группе, пытаясь пренебрегать чувством опасения в горле. Было неясно, кто кого заранее знал. Чтобы чтобы не чувствовать себя неловко в этом круге, я подошла к девочке, которая стояла одна. С ней я беседовала до того времени, пока мы не сели в самолет. Среди иностранцев мне всегда стыдно ассоциироваться с американцами.

First Impressions Первые впечатления I met the group at the airport. The Americans were standing in a circle, and from time to time let out some typically-American, half-forced laughter. I said goodbye to my parents, kissed my mother one last time, and trying to ignore the tightness in my throat, joined the group. It was not clear to me who knew whom. Avoiding the awkward circle, I approached a girl standing alone, and made conversation until we took our seats in the plane. Among foreigners, I’m always embarrassed to be associated with Americans.

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LEEZA GAVRONSKY,


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Living in Saint Petersburg is a dream come true. Everyone speaks Russian, jokes in Russian, argues in Russian, and lives in Russian. Here, everyone eats borscht, and pirozhhki, and blini with condensed milk. In restaurants one can order kotleti, ukha, and medovik! I’ve never lived better. At home vases full of flowers stand on the windowsill, crystal glasses rest in a glass paneled cabinet, a bowl of fruits sits on the dining table, and drafts of air are forbidden. Everyone offers houseguests tea and slippers. Everyone eats honey straight out of the jar. Everyone knows Cheburashka and follows superstition, refraining from whistling at home. These are my people.

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Ecstasy, cultural home Эйфория, культурная идентичность

Жить в Петербурге—это мечта. Все говорят по-русски, шутят по-русски, ругаются по русски и живут по-русски. Здесь все едят борщ, и пирожки, и блины со сгущенкой. В ресторане можно заказать котлеты, уху и медовик! Никогда лучше не жилось. Дома цветы стоят на подоконнике, хрустальные рюмки в буфете, фрукты в вазе на столе, и сквозняки запрещены. Все предлагают чай и тапочки. Все едят мёд из банки. Все знают «Чебурашку» и боятся дома свистеть. Эти люди мои.


The Compliment Комплимент

—You have nice ears! —I have nice wha— —Ears! You have nice ears. —Oh. Thanks… He’s sitting behind me. I can feel him looking at me while I wait for the bartender to make my drink. The discomfort! I turn around, smile: —What a unique compliment. —It was the first thing I noticed about you. What’s your name? —Leeza. —Ilya. The drinks are ready. —It’s true, though, you have pretty ears. Only one other person in the world has said the same to me. “My mother agrees!” and I go.

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—У вас красивые уши! —Что? Что вы ска— —Красивые уши, у вас! —Ага. Спасибо… Сидит он сзади меня. Я чувствую, как он на меня смотрит пока я жду бармена. Некомфортно. Я оборачиваюсь, улыбаюсь: —Уникальный комплимент. —Первое, что я заметил. Как вас зовут? —Лиза. —Илья. Напитки готовы. —Но у вас, правдо, красивые уши. Только один человек в мире мне тоже так говорит. «Моя мама согласна с этим!» и я ухожу.


Untitled Без названия Солнечный день, начало весны. Все выходят из дома встречать тепло—а как иначе? Семьи, родители с детьми, влюбленные парочки и собачки—все радуются, с солнышком здороваются. Только бабушки гуляют одни.

Бабушки идут медленно, аккуратно по тем тротуарам где не гуляют другие люди. Складывая руки за спинку они изучают город, в котором они выросли, но он кажется им все больше и больше неузнаваемым.

О чем бабушки думают в течение прогулки? О стойкой боли тела? Может—о своей судьбе? Или бабушки радуются солнцу, так как мы все? It’s a sunny day, the beginning of spring. Everyone has come out for a stroll to welcome the warm weather. Families, parents with children, courting couples and little dogs—everyone is enjoying themselves, greeting the sunlight. Only grandmothers walk alone. Grandmothers walk slowly, attentively, on the quiet side of the street. Folding their hands behind their backs, they study the city they grew up in, which seems to them only more and more unrecognizable. What do grandmothers think about whilst they stroll? Are they thinking about persistent bodily aches? Or maybe—about their fates? Or maybe they’re enjoying the sunshine, just like the rest of us.


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Bianka Ukleja, Once Upon a Time I (Vilnius)


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above: Tako Jobava (Abkhazia)


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above: Bianka Ukleja, On the River (Vilnius) below: Bianka Ukleya, Hot Air Ballons over Vilnius


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The Birch Fall 2016  

An undergraduate journal for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian studies. This issue is the Birch's first Fall publication since 2008!

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