Ways of Seeing: Russian Colonialisms

Ways of Seeing: Russian Colonialisms

Editor’s note: This series was published on ArtsEverywhere in 2017 at a time when the spectre of Russian expansionism was still very present in our minds after their annexation of Crimea and incursions into Donbas. Now, in 2022, with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and its attempts to undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty through war, make this series highly relevant to the conversations we need to have today.

Introduction by Nikolay Oleynikov, series editor

How can we analyse Russia’s renewed colonialism and global expansionism that affects the geopolitical tectonic shifts of today?

Is Putin the successor of the USSR or of Tsarist Russia? How can we read the imperial language being imposed with the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the ongoing warfare on Ukrainian territories, and the attacks in Syria in 2016?

We asked some of the most active artists, thinkers, and culture practitioners working experimentally in several former Soviet republics to explain contemporary Russian colonialist policies through their own lenses, perspectives, and constituencies. This investigation into the connections between past and present forms of imperialism and colonialism in post-Soviet territories is undertaken by several prominent contemporary public intellectuals who are processing their ways of seeing global and local geopolitical changes from where they are and what they stand for.

Historian, artist, publicist, and political activist Ilya Budraitskis (Moscow) comments on the contemporary resurgence of national identity in Putin’s Russia, and how the concept of “national values” is used to keep the status quo and reinforce the establishment of the state.

Artist Nikita Kadan (Kyiv) will offer his observation of the newest cultural phenomena of de-communization that is taking place all over Ukraine and manifests itself with a massive demolition of Soviet symbols, including Lenin’s statues or monuments to Ukrainian revolutionaries.

In their essay, theorist, cultural activist, and curatorial duo, STAB—Oksana Shatalova and Georgy Mamedov (Bishkek)—speculate on the roots of queer culture and language in the late Soviet Middle-East republics. They will scrutinize the premises of queer dialectics based on the writing of Ewald Ilyenkov, a very influential Soviet philosopher and experimental pedagogue who has been rediscovered recently.

Through the analysis of artist and critic Kestutis Shapoka (Vilnius) we will learn how the originally progressive notion of “national-based modernism” that appeared in late Soviet cultural politics is used in contemporary Lithuania to support the neo-nationalist policies of the state.

The team of emergent sociologists, PS Lab (St. Petersburg, Moscow), will shed light on how the Russian invasion of Ukraine is affecting micro-politics and the way citizens perceive their reality, through the results of a field research they conducted right after the 2014 upheaval on the post-Maidan state.

Besides these five attempts to trace the contours of new Russian colonialism, there are many other interpretations and perspectives—and definitely many other voices. There’s much more to observe, and other places and cases to examine in relation to these topics. This series aims just to begin a conversation, drawing on local perspectives to deepen the reflections in response to other reports and lines of inquiries, especially on colonialism and decolonization, unfolding throughout ArtsEverywhere.

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