To many, Russia, and the wider Eurasia, is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. But it doesn’t have to be. The SRB Podcast dispels the stereotypes and myths about the region with lively and informative interviews on Eurasia’s complex past, present, and future. New episodes drop weekly with an eclectic mix of topics from punk rock to Putin, and everything in-between. Subscribe on your favorite podcasts app, grab your headphones, hit play, and tune in. Eurasia will never appear the same.
Gogol’s Town of N
I’ve long wondered why so many great works of 19th century Russian literature are set in some anonymous, drab, and non-descript provincial town of “N”. We never know where “N” is or what makes it special. They also tend to be inhabited by a variety of lesser nobles, eccentrics, charlatans, obsequious bureaucrats, and bored, angst ridden youth engaged in petty intrigues and performances. Thanks to Anne Lounsbery’s Life is Elsewhere, I now know that the literary trope of the provinces as homogeneous, static, and anonymous speaks to the location of cultural and political power in Russia. Power is in the center-Petersburg and Moscow—whereas the province is some godforsaken backwater. How space is organized in the literary imagination of writers like Gogol, Chekov, and Dostoevsky served as a meditation on Russia provinciality to Europe. So, what did the provinces mean? How were they represented? And what does that say about Russian cultural identity? Here’s Anne Lounsbery with some answers.
Anne Lounsbery is a Professor of Russian and Slavic Studies at New York University. She has published numerous articles on Russian and comparative literature and is the author of Thin Culture, High Art: Gogol, Hawthorne, and Authorship in Nineteenth-Century Russia and America. Her most recent book is Life Is Elsewhere: Symbolic Geography in the Russian Provinces, 1800–1917 published by Cornell University Press.
Trash in (post-)Communist Eastern Europe
This week’s podcast is the fourth of five events for Nature’s Revenge: Ecology, Animals, and Waste in Eurasia, the Spring 2021 Speakers’ Series at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
Industrial commodity production has exponentially increased the number of things to be bought, sold, and consumed. But waste is left in the wake of every created and consumed thing. The problem of trash—what to do with it, where to put it, and how to process and even reuse it is one of the fundamental problems of modern society. Here’s Elana Resnick and Viktor Pal on trash and the multiple challenges in dealing with it in Eastern Europe.
Elana Resnick is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently working on a book manuscript about waste and race in Europe based on over three years of fieldwork on Bulgarian city streets, in landfills, Romani neighborhoods, executive offices, and at the Ministry of the Environment. You can get a taste of her research in a forthcoming piece in the American Anthropologist entitled “The Limits of Resilience: Managing Waste in the Racialized Anthropocene.”
Viktor Pál is a Researcher at the Department of Cultures at the University of Helsinki, Finland. He also serves as Coordinator at the Helsinki Environmental Humanities Hub. His first book Technology and the Environment in State-Socialist Hungary: An Economic History was published in 2017 by Palgrave MacMillan.
Peter Seeger, “Garbage.”
Navalny and Next
This week’s podcast is a recording of the event “Navalny and Next: Possibilities, Prognosis and Perceptions in Russia,” I hosted a few weeks ago. This event was sponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, Russia Matters, and the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh.
After a botched attempt to murder Alexei Navalny in August 2020, the Kremlin has decided to sentence him to over two years in prison upon the oppositionist’s return to Russia in January. Navalny responded with a bombshell video about the corruption around “Putin’s Palace.” Unsanctioned, mass protests in the two capitals and tens of provincial cities followed. The protesters were met with mass, indiscriminate arrests, and police violence. The political ante in this back-and-forth has certainly risen but to what end?
Russia has experienced the ebbs and flows of protest on the federal and local level for years. And while each eruption quickly elicits a sense that Russia is at a turning point, more cautious and sober assessments follow in the weeks and months after. So, is what we’re now seeing something new or more of the same? What do the protests suggest about Russian society, politics, and the state of Putin’s power? Especially, as Russia will hold parliamentary elections in September.
Ilya Budraitskis is political and cultural writer. He currently teaches in the Moscow School for Social and Economic Sciences and the School of Design at the High School of Economics. Budraitskis is currently a member of the editorial board of Moscow Art Magazine and host of the Russian language podcast Political Diary. His book Dissidents among Dissidents was awarded the Andrey Belyi prize in 2017. His most recent book We All Live in the World Huntington Invented treats modern Russian conservatism.
Svetlana Erpyleva is a sociologist, a researcher with Public Sociology Laboratory, Center for Independent Social Research in Russia, and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Helsinki. Her research is focused on protest movements and collective action, political involvement, political socialization, youth and children’s political participation and cognition in Russia and abroad. She’s written for a number of academic journals and Russian and international media.
Greg Yudin is a Professor of Political Philosophy at the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences. His research focuses on the political theory of democracy with the special emphasis on public opinion polls as a technology of representation and governance in contemporary politics. His book Public Opinion: The Power of Numbers was published in Russian by European University Press in 2020. He is a regular contributor to several Russian media outlets.
Buck 65, “Protest,” Talkin’ Honky Blues, 2003.
Spanish Civil War Refugee Children in the USSR
In the late 1930s, the Soviet Union took in about nearly 3,000 child refugees of the Spanish Civil War. These kids, aged roughly from 5 to 12 years old, were placed in boarding schools in Leningrad, Moscow and elsewhere in the USSR. Their stay in this strange new land was supposed to be temporary. But fascist victory in the Spanish Civil War and the outbreak of WWII made them exiles for the foreseeable future. Now responsible to their rearing and education, Soviet officials and their Spanish minders transformed these children into hybrid Hispano-Soviets. They were steeped in patriotism for their two homelands and taught to emulate Spanish and Soviet heroes, scientists, soldiers, and artists. How did these Spanish children fare in the Soviet Union and live through the multiple traumas of their childhood? What did it mean to Hispano-Soviet? What was their fate and memory of growing up as a refugee? Here’s Karl Qualls with this little known story.
Karl Qualls is the John B. Parsons Chair in Liberal Arts and Sciences and Professor of History at Dickinson College. He’s the author of From Ruins to Reconstruction: Urban Identity in Soviet Sevastopol after World War II. His new book is Stalin’s Niños: Educating Spanish Civil War Refugee Children in the Soviet Union, 1937-51 published by the University of Toronto Press.
Phil Ochs, “Spanish Lament,” The Broadside Tapes 1, 1989.
Zoos and Animals in Eastern Europe and Russia
This week’s podcast is the third of five events for Nature’s Revenge: Ecology, Animals, and Waste in Eurasia, the Spring 2021 Speakers’ Series at the Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies at the University of Pittsburgh. For the entire schedule for the series.
Animals are some of the most impacted living things in the Anthropocene. The presence of humans has fundamentally altered their lives and environment. Humans have used animals for labor, food, sport, commodities, companionship and as objects of scientific knowledge. What does human’s complex relationship with animals say about human society? And is there a particular inflection of these issues in Eastern Europe and Russia under state socialism? I turned to Tracy McDonald and Marianna Szczygielska for some insight on the transformation of animals into objects to be caged, shown, hunted, traded, and studied in Eurasia and the wider world.
Tracy McDonald is an historian of Russian and Soviet history at McMaster University. She co-edited a volume of documents on collectivization and is the author of Face to the Village: The Riazan Countryside Under Soviet Rule, 1921-1930 and is co-editor with Daniel Vandersommers of Zoo Studies: A New Humanities (McGill-Queens University Press, 2019). McDonald was one of the three founding members of the independent documentary-film company Chemodan Films.
Marianna Szczygielska is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin. Her most recent articles on zoos and colonial encounters are “Elephant empire: zoos and colonial encounters in Eastern Europe” published in Cultural Studies and “Pandas and the Reproduction of Race and Sexuality in the Zoo” in Zoo Studies. A New Humanities. She’s also co-edited a special issue of Catalyst: Feminism, Theory, and Technoscience titled “Plantarium: Human-Vegetal Ecologies” in 2019.
Dramarama, “Visiting the Zoo,” Cinema Verite, 1985.
Welcome to Chechnya
In 2017, the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published an explosive investigation. The authorities in Chechnya were rounding up LGBT people, torturing, and even allegedly executing them for being queer. It was a reign of terror sanctioned by the Chechen authorities, involving the Chechen security services, police, and even regular citizens. Moscow turned a blind eye and has rejected evidence showing that this state violence occurred. We know what we know about the fate of LGBT people in Chechnya thanks to the testimonies of victims smuggled out of the north Caucasian republic by activists in Russia. It’s safe to say that the activists saved hundreds of lives, and not without personal costs to them and their families. The film, Welcome to Chechnya, documents these efforts and highlights not only the victims’ traumas, survival and struggles for justice and the heroic work of those activists dedicated their cause. For more on the making of Welcome to Chechnya and the stories in it, I talked to its director, David France.
David France is an Oscar-nominated filmmaker, a New York Times bestselling author, and award-winning investigative journalist. He’s directed three films on LGBT rights, resistance, and life including How to Survive a Plague, The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson, and most recently Welcome to Chechnya. You can view Welcome to Chechnya on HBO.
Klaus Nomi, “Simple Man,” Simple Man, 1982.