Remaking History

Table of Contents

In our special feature on “Contemporary Russian Thought” spanning two issues of Genron, the first issue focused on philosophy; the present issue focuses on society and culture. Five specialists on Russian literature and culture gathered for a roundtable to discuss various issues regarding contemporary Russia.
To begin, Kyohei Norimatsu raises the importance of the “trauma of defeat” in modern and contemporary Russian history. In contrast to the 1990s, when Russia accepted its defeat to the West and sought to assimilate with it, in the 2000s it denied this defeat and sought victory over the West once again. Takashi Matsushita argues that there was a shift in literature from postmodernism to a “new realism” that corresponded with this change. Furthermore, this change can also be compared to the shift from “Culture One” (the avant-garde during the Russian Revolution) to “Culture Two” (Stalin-era socialist realism) described by Vladimir Paperny.
Junna Hiramatsu focuses on memories of the Second World War as a phenomenon that is related to this shift. Though victory in the war has been increasingly trumpeted in Putin-era Russia, this was in response to criticism against the Soviet Union by Eastern Europe and the Baltic states (as well as by Western Europe and the United States, as a result of the former’s lobbying efforts). As nationalism rose on a popular level, liberal counter-establishment movements have struggled. As an example, Yoko Ueda points to the plight of counter-establishment art from the perspective of gender. In examining the anti-government demonstrations of 2011-12, Naoto Yagi attempts to find hopeful possibilities amidst its similar struggles.
The radical shifts from “Culture One” to “Culture Two” and from acceptance to denial of defeat have been repeated throughout the modern history of Russia. Hiramatsu argues that this is due to Russia’s “semi-peripheral” place in the modern world system. Russia is at once a colonial power (victor) as well as a colonial supplier (vanquished) of resources, and had little choice but to exploit its own country. The anti-American policies of the Putin government and the struggles of pro-Euro-American liberals in Russia must be understood from this historical perspective. The liberals’ path to breakthrough might be found in effectively shifting and using memories of defeat.