Thursday October 26

Panel: 1 Re-Evaluating the Revolution – 10:30 am – 12:00 pm (Chair and Discussant David Dolff, UVic, ddolff@uvic.ca)

Panel 2: Speaking Art to Power – 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
(Chair and Discussant, Mark Baker

Keynote Address – 2:45 pm - 4:15 pm

Panel 3: Disputed Legacies – 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
(Chair and Discussant Alexia Bloch, UBC)

Panel 4: Anniversary, Commemoration, Silence – 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm
(Chair and Discussant , Lisa Sundstrom, UBC

Panel 5 Repurposing the Past – 2:45 – 4:15 pm
(Chair and Discussant Katherine Bowers, UBC)

The 1917 October Revolution Today: Memorials, Museums and Public Memory
Maria Silina (U Québec à Montréal) (by Skype from Moscow)

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This paper will outline the history of revolutionary memorial culture in Soviet Russia, from its origins in 1917-1918, through the 1927 Tenth anniversary and the 1967 Fiftieth anniversary, to the current Post-Soviet readings of its legacy. This topic is challenging - even thrilling - as each decade of Soviet history was marked by a series of repressions of its activists, as well as the ascription of ever-changing historical values to the Revolution that contributed to the forming of Party and State ideology. Especially of interest in making memorial culture of the Bolshevik revolution are the period between1927-1937 and the year 1967. During Stalin’s time, in the years1927 -1937, main heroes and events of the Revolution were radically reframed, and memoirs and commemorative actions of the 1920s were ignored by the new Party leaders. A de-Stalinization process (1956-1961) that was followed by the Fiftieth anniversary has formed a new and decade-long image of the Bolshevik revolution embodied in monuments and architectural projects. Today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, conflicting memories of varied disillusioned Post-Communist social groups and Post-Soviet authorities striving to form a historic legitimacy, have been elaborating new narratives on the Bolshevik revolution and its values. In my presentation, I will explore the current image of the October Revolution and show the origins of these commemorative patterns that were created throughout the history of the USSR in different political and cultural contexts.

I argue that the contemporary image of the Revolution inherits from the historiography of the late Soviet culture. This will allow me to reveal the disjunctions present in covering the Revolution’s legacy, starting with the fact that the two revolutions – in February 1917 and in October 1917 – are treated ambiguously. As a result, I hope to show how the absence of any convention on the revolution(s)’s impact on contemporary Russia’s culture was conditioned. Using diverse sources, I will demonstrate how the image of the Revolution is being reframed by current political forces, and I will analyze shifts in museum practice and design that seek to highlight the Hundredth anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution.

Revolution, Emigration and Post-Communist Russia
Paul Robinson (Ottawa U)

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One of the results of the Russian revolution of 1917 and the subsequent civil war was the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Russians. Until recently, émigré political thought was considered something of a historical dead-end, having little or no influence on life in the Soviet Union. Those wishing to examine the legacy of the revolution therefore tended to focus on the Bolsheviks, their actions, and the institutions which they built.

The collapse of the Soviet Union has changed this dynamic. Russians wishing to construct a new post-communist ‘Russian Idea’ have turned to the thinkers of the emigration for inspiration. This paper, therefore, will examine the legacy of the 1917 revolution by looking at the legacy of those whom the revolution vanquished. It will analyze various strands of émigré political thought, and how they are being adapted and used in modern Russia.

The paper will show that the emigration’s most important intellectual legacy comes not from those on the left (Socialist revolutionaries, Mensheviks, etc), or from Liberals (such as Miliukov). Rather, émigré thought primarily serves to buttress what is sometimes called the ‘conservative turn’ in contemporary Russian society.

With this in mind, the paper will identify a number of strands of thought which influence modern Russia. The first of these was associated with the White Armies, and rejected the revolution in its entirety. The second sought to reconcile Red and White. And the third sought to rise above the Red-White conflict; while rejecting the revolution, it saw it as an opportunity for the creation of a new Russia based on new principles.

The paper will examine each of these strands, and provide examples of their influence on modern Russian thinking. Among those studied will be philosopher Ivan Ilyin, who was closely associated with the White movement, and whom President Vladimir Putin has quoted five times; the Smenovekhovsty, such as Nikolai Ustralyov, who had some marginal influence on thinking inside the Soviet Union in the 1920s, and can be seen as having a contemporary relevance in the form of National Bolshevism and efforts to combine elements of communism and nationalism; and the Eurasianists, some of whose ideas have acquired considerable popularity in post-Soviet Russia. Using these examples, the paper will conclude that legacy of 1917 needs to be understood not only in terms of communism but also in terms of the reaction against it.

The Stalled Soviet Gender Revolution: Normalized Crisis in Russia
Jennifer Utrata (U Puget Sound)

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The gender revolution begun in 1917 is of worldwide historic significance. No analysis of the revolutions shaping Soviet and post-Soviet society would be complete without interrogating the importance of the Soviet regime’s gender achievements. Of course, lacking a grassroots feminist movement, many of the achievements of this gender revolution were shaped by the direction of the changes—mostly changes from above, from the top-down. Nevertheless, this talk will highlight how much these gender achievements reverberate throughout Soviet and post-Soviet society, in spite of counter-movements towards gender traditionalism in recent years. Rather than analyzing the implications of state-imposed “gender equality” in terms of how it compares to the West, I will highlight the accomplishments of the Soviet regime in terms of women’s lives in the region, emphasizing what we can learn from the Soviet and post-Soviet case on its own terms. While reproductive rights policies fluctuated over the years, and movements to encourage men’s involvement in domesticity were lacking, the Soviet experiment solidified women’s commitment to paid employment even as it normalized women’s double burden in the home. Among single mothers and other ordinary Russian citizens today, for instance, there remains a profound commitment to women’s economic independence and substantive contributions to labor markets, in spite of diminishing state supports for policies which aid in achieving work-family balance and recognizing women’s unequal burdens at home.

Panel 2 Speaking Art to Power – 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Revolutionary Architecture in Putin’s Russia: Avant-Garde as a disputed heritage
Julie Deschepper (INALCO - Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales)

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In 2006, the “Moscow Declaration” was signed at the conference “Heritage at Risk - Preservation of the 20th Century Architecture and World Heritage”. This text denounced the flagrant failure of heritage policy toward 20th century buildings, especially toward Avant-Garde ones, and called on Russian authorities to respond as quickly as possible. Heritage conservation issues in post-Soviet Russia are indeed well-known on the international scene.

Representations of Soviet architectural heritage are widely differentiated in Russia. Whereas « Stalinist » architecture is mostly valued, well preserved or even rebuilt, Avant-Garde is particularly under threat, despite the heritage status of most of these buildings. Russia’s heritage policies toward Avant-Garde diverge greatly and are often paradoxical, ranging from abandonment to “museumfication”, including violent destruction. The different sources of this negative treatment must be sought in buildings’ aesthetic, in their first functions, but also in their historical and political representations. These unique buildings were born just after 1917, they embodied revolutionary ideals and have to be considered as Revolution’s result. This is why this paper aims to shed light on the complex relations toward Avant-Garde architecture in Putin’s Russia, which is actually closely linked to a controversial and evolutionary relations toward the October Revolution.

However, for ten years, a new interest in Avant-Garde grew in some circles of the Russian society. Books, conferences, exhibitions and cultural events are so numerous that we can characterize this interest as a “fashionable phenomenon”. A number of spontaneous or organized actions have since occurred to protect this architecture and, progressively, concrete strategies have been developed in order to involve the population and the media. This paper will also analyze this increasing concern, discussing the link between this new fascination and a renewed vision of the Revolution, between these events and a political involvement in Putin’s Russia.

Artistic Satire in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia
Annie Gérin (U Québec à Montréal)

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In the years that followed the October Revolution, artistic satire in posters, film and the theatre became omnipresent. Encouraged by governmental funding and favourable reviews by the likes of Anatoly Lunacharsky, People’s Commissar for Enlightenment from 1917 to 1929, it became a recognised and indispensable weapon in the Soviet propaganda arsenal. This talk will discuss the history and the evolution of the satirical genre in the arts in Soviet Russia, as well as its early theorisation by the Commissar. Looking at examples drawn from the art world and the media, it will then reflect on what has become to satirical practices in Putin’s Russia, particularly in their relationship to politics and power.

Postmodern Savvy: Repackaging Totalitarian Tactics and Corporeal Dissent
Kate Ehle (U Victoria)

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In recent years, international attention has been focused on protest movements in Eastern Europe, placing Western perceptions of contemporary Russian civil society under intense review. While scholarly inquiry has examined sanctioned acts of contention originating in the Soviet era (Cheskin and March 2015), and comparisons have been drawn between contemporary political activist art and the Soviet literary tradition (Tolokonnikova 2012), the transition of overt artistic and political dissidence from the traditional medium of the literary text to the human body is indicative of something new. Yet, there has been little scholarly attention given to the distinctly corporeal nature of these artistic political actions, and how it relates to the tradition of dissidence in Russia. I propose, that, in their shocking immediacy, the body-centric political works of Pussy Riot and Petr Pavlensky have arisen as a response to the postmodern implementation of recycled Soviet tactics, societal familiarity, and consequent societal apathy toward increasingly repressive authoritarian implements. In this paper, I will compare instruments of authoritarianism employed by the Putin regime with their Soviet antecedents, in order to discuss how the Putin regime’s postmodern-savvy implementation of repackaged totalitarian tactics is met by Russian society with popular familiarity. While the political function of these structures largely serves to depoliticize opposition and maintain the status quo, societal response to these familiar structures is varied. Conformity expresses itself on a spectrum from passivity to traditionalist support, while dissidence expresses itself in other ways – from the mouthpiece of the supposedly dutiful citizen, to the work of art, etched into the body of the political activist.


Keynote Address – 2:45 pm - 4:15 pm

Russia Washed By Blood: Transformations of the revolutionary narrative in Russian film since the 1960s
Mark Lipovetsky (U Colorado-Boulder)

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Recently, many commentators noticed obvious resilience and anxiety of Russian authorities associated with the approaching celebration of the centennial of the 1917 revolution in Russia. In Ilya Kalinin’s words, “The common past is used as a screen on which to project the fears of those who are currently in power.” In his opinion, today Russian authorities seek to create “a national historical narrative that denies revolution altogether.” Having no objections to this diagnosis, I want to add that such historical narrative has been created by Soviet and post-Soviet intelligentsia throughout entire Soviet period and especially since the 1960s; but only now it has been adopted as the official “ideology”. In my paper I will outline main phases of this process focusing on the post-Stalin period. Transformations of the revolutionary narrative in Russian literature and film of the 1960s-2010s, on the one hand, forefront associations of revolution with violence and thus transforms it into a symbol of national self-suicide. On the other, constant rewritings of the revolutionary narrative reduce and eventually eliminate completely any emancipatory aspects of the revolution. I will also address the attempts to restore the emancipatory meaning of revolutionary signifiers in today’s left poetry and actionism.

Panel 3 Anniversary, Commemoration, Silence – 10:30 am – 12:00 pm
(Chair and Discussant Lisa Sundstrom, UBC, )

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Etnos theory in 1917 and Today
David Anderson (U Aberdeen)

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From the onset of the Bolshevik Revolution, ethnography came to occupy a priviledged place in government as a science which could read the future of the nationalities in this modernizing multi-national state. Soviet ethnography deliberately tried to distinguish itself from bourgeois ethnography by its catering to collective identities and its crafting of “historical” concepts which reflected the level of development of peoples.  This tenant brought Soviet ethnographers into several difficult and ironic dilemmas.  Their initial instinct was to distance themselves from Imperial-era ethnography by declaring its basic descriptions of lifestyle (byt) and national belonging (narod) as apoliticized and metaphysical. Overseas notions of ethnie and etnos were even declared to be Fascistic and banned from public discourse for most of the early Soviet period.  However upon the death of Stalin, well-meaning liberals revived older  biosocial notions and declared etnos to be the only proper way to describe identity. This revived concept, which was intended to put a progressive face to Soviet socialism was widely criticized for being primoridialist and for accentuating biological or even racist qualities.  It was expected to collapse and disappear with the Soviet state, but instead etnos-talk and its increasingly negative undertones to immigrant nationalities is expanding at an unprecedented speed in both in the Academy and in the discourse of President Putin.  This paper surveys the multiple contradicitions in this broad, biosocial category and demonstrates the evocative continuities between the current neo-liberal authoritarian state and its socialist predecessor.  The paper is based on 5 years of archival research.

Russian National Parks: Evolution, Devolution and Continuity
Michael Tripp (Vancouver Island U)

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Harkening back to pre-revolutionary roots, the establishment of an extensive network of national parks in the waning decades of the Soviet Union and then in post-Soviet Russia is representative of on-going shifts in relationships between valuations of nature and of societal organization and empowerment. Appearing first in the outlying Republics, the national park movement diffused inwards to the Russian heartland and eastwards into Siberia. This sequential development mirrored the re-legitimization of Nature as an entity unto itself and of the devolution of Soviet sovereignty and the deconstruction of its empire. That this national park system continues to evolve and expand attests both to the strength and perseverance of its founding ideals and to its legitimization within Russia’s present re-centralized regime.

Panel 4 Anniversary, Commemoration, Silence – 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm (Chair and Discussant Lisa Sundstrom, UBC

The Silent Jubilee: Commemorative Practice and the Construction of the Post-Soviet Anniversary in Putin’s Russia
Megan Swift (U Victoria)

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The Putin era has been characterised by a complex and ambivalent attitude towards the Soviet past. While the state has, at times, signaled its break from the past by eschewing the overused tropes and symbols of the Soviet era, it nevertheless regularly calls upon events like Victory Day to call up sophisticated brand of postmodern nostalgia and patriotism. In contrast, the 100th anniversary celebration of the 1917 Revolution, officially declared in December 2016, but marked mainly by the absence of public commemoration, shows us that the creation of a national narrative of the past is always a process of selection. This paper explores the construction of collective and commemorative memory in Russia by turning a comparative lens upon two recent anniversaries: the monumental 60th anniversary of the end of WWII, in 2005, and the so far deeply ambiguous 100th anniversary of the 1917 Revolution. Calling upon recent work in memory studies, I posit that in order to understand the Putin-era compilation of national history, one must recognize not only what has been admitted, but also omitted from the national past.

Violent Echoes of a Century-Old Revolution: The Collapse of the Tsarist Empire as a Symbolic Resource in the Present-Day Russo-Ukrainian Conflict
Serhy Yekelchyk (U Victoria)

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Russia’s response to the recent Euromaidan Revolution in Ukraine included the annexation of the Crimea and sponsorship of the war in the Donbas. However, it was another revolution that came to occupy a prominent place in official pronouncements on both sides of this conflict: the turbulent events of 1917–20. In his speech to the Federal Assembly on the acquisition of the Crimea, President Putin famously blamed the Bolsheviks for creating, “God knows why,” a Ukrainian republic out of the Russian Empire’s southern regions. President Poroshenko of Ukraine countered by repeatedly comparing the Bolshevik and White Russian invasions of Ukraine in 1917–20 and during the current war. Just as Putin’s Russia continued to demonstrate, by the virtual lack of official events marking the Revolution’s centenary, its ambiguous attitude toward the collapse of the Russian Empire, the new Ukrainian authorities used the looming centenary to lionize the doomed defenders of the Ukrainian People’s Republic (UNR), up to the point of introducing new army uniforms reminiscent of that period. This paper will show how the two countries’ conflicting takes on commemorating the imperial collapse and revolutionary state building reflect not just markedly different attitudes to the imperial legacy as a symbolic resource, but also the opposition between present-day political models and the role of civil society in Russia and Ukraine.​

Panel 5 Repurposing the Past – 2:45 – 4:15 pm (Chair and Discussant Katherine Bowers, UBC)

Fear of the Revolution in the Works of Boris Akunin and Grigorii Chkhartishvili
Elena Baraban (U Manitoba)

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Grigorii Chkhartishvili is a scholar of literature, writer, and activist of the Russian liberal movement. He has become a notable public persona in the last fifteen years, following a tremendous success of his first mysteries published under the pen-name Boris Akunin. Since 1998, the year when his first historical mystery about Erast Fandorin came out, Akunin (Chkhartishvili) has published several dozen novels. This paper examines Akunin’s novels about the adventures of Erast Fandorin, a detective and a secret agent in the service of the Russian Empire, and a “serious” novel about the October Revolution Aristonomia (2012) published under the dual pen-name Akunin-Chkhartishvili. Both, Erast Fandorin novels and Aristonomia promote a highly conservative view of Russia’s historical path and provide a negative image of the Revolution and revolutionaries. Such portrayal seems to be at odds with Chkhartishvili’s activism in Russia’s liberal/protest movement, his self-inflicted exile, and his critique of the current Russian power. Moreover, Chkhartishvili’s fiction fits perfectly within rather negative depictions of the Revolution in contemporary Russian mass culture, which include, among other things, several documentaries that are regularly broadcast on Russian state-sponsored TV channels. The fear of revolution in today’s Russia and the fear of the revolutions in Akunin’s historical fiction opens the door for an insightful discussion about the paths of contemporary Russian liberal thought and the role of literature in the Russian society.

The Eighth Vysotka: Building on the Stalinist Past in Post-Soviet Moscow
Katherine Zubovich(Ryerson U)

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In 2001, at the start of Vladimir Putin’s first term as Russian President, construction began on a 57-story skyscraper in Moscow. When completed in 2006, the gargantuan scale of this new building made it, briefly, the tallest skyscraper in Europe. Moscow’s “Triumph Palace,” as this building is called, contains one thousand luxury apartments in nine separate wings. The top floors of the building contain a “boutique hotel” and there is room enough for 1,500 luxury cars in the parkade below. Of course, the Triumph Palace caters to the post-socialist tastes of Russia’s post-Soviet elites. Yet, the Palace’s silhouette makes this building the unmistakable progeny of Moscow’s Stalin-era skyscrapers. The neoclassical “wedding-cake”-like shape of the Triumph Palace mimics the city’s existing Stalinist skyscrapers—the seven vysotnye zdaniia (“tall buildings,” also known as vysotki) that rise tall above the skyline at various points throughout the city. By placing their new skyscraper in conversation with the city’s Stalin-era heritage, the architects of the Triumph Palace have reclaimed Stalinism as a brand for post-Soviet Russia.

This paper examines the post-Soviet afterlife of the Stalinist skyscraper. It considers how socialist aesthetics have been recycled and repurposed in Russia’s post-socialist market economy, focusing in particular on the convergence of architectural heritage and consumerism in the Triumph Palace project. While scholars have interpreted the reuse of Soviet aesthetics in Russia today as examples of “kitsch” and post-Soviet “nostalgia,” this paper considers the distinct role that Stalinist aesthetics have played in the creation of a new elite culture in Putin’s Russia. Finally, this paper sets out to examine not just the effects of the past on the present, but also the impact that contemporary culture has had on the past. The Triumph Palace has ensured that the legacy of the Stalin era is alive and well on Moscow’s cityscape, but this building has also imbued the city’s Stalinist architectural landscape with new, post-Soviet meaning.

Lenin Kitsch/Putin Kitsch: What Difference Does a Hundred Years Make?
Alison Rowley(Concordia U)

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Vladimir Lenin would have hated seeing his face on a carpet or on the thousands of pins that adorned the chests of Little Octobrists in the Soviet Union. But he never really got the chance to protest the commodification of his image, since a series of strokes in the early 1920s removed him from active political life and from control over his own likeness. With his death in 1924, the Soviet government was able to create a vast array of consumer products – kitsch if you will – that relied on Lenin’s image to legitimize its grip on power and to offer reassurance and stability in a time of uncertainty. With Stalin’s rise to power, Lenin’s cult moved into the background of Soviet political life. However, it never fully disappeared and, like a familiar pair of old boots, it could be dusted off as needed whenever there was a change in the ideological line. To the very dying days of the USSR, Lenin’s likeness was still being imprinted onto material goods. It is with these items that I begin my paper, since Lenin kitsch set the baseline for the material expression of later leadership cults.

One hundred years later, the face of a new Russian leader has been splashed across all kinds of kitsch. Putin’s image has served a variety of purposes from initially offering modesty and stability after the turbulent last few years of the Yeltsin-era to representing Russian strength and martial capabilities in his second term as President. It is the evolution of his image – and its use in material culture – that I focus on in the middle section of my paper. I demonstrate how many of the products served the same purposes as similar items generated vis-à-vis Lenin, but I also go on to note how significant differences, particularly concerning the sexualisation of Putin’s body, have emerged.

Finally, since Putin has also become a potent symbol abroad, I end my paper by discussing how his image has been used as a foil to comment on political events well beyond the Russian border. Notably, his “bromance” with U.S. Presidential candidate Donald Trump has generated an astonishing array of kitsch – none of it actually created in Russia – that offers a new perspective on the power of leadership cults and the relative powerlessness of the leaders involved to control their own likenesses.