The Patriotism of Despair

The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia

Serguei Alex. Oushakine
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 312
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  • Book Info
    The Patriotism of Despair
    Book Description:

    The sudden dissolution of the Soviet Union altered the routines, norms, celebrations, and shared understandings that had shaped the lives of Russians for generations. It also meant an end to the state-sponsored, nonmonetary support that most residents had lived with all their lives. How did Russians make sense of these historic transformations? Serguei Alex. Oushakine offers a compelling look at postsocialist life in Russia.

    In Barnaul, a major industrial city in southwestern Siberia that has lost 25 percent of its population since 1991, many Russians are finding that what binds them together is loss and despair. The Patriotism of Despair examines the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, graphically described in spray paint by a graffiti artist in Barnaul: "We have no Motherland." Once socialism disappeared as a way of understanding the world, what replaced it in people's minds? Once socialism stopped orienting politics and economics, how did capitalism insinuate itself into routine practices?

    Oushakine offers a compelling look at postsocialist life in noncosmopolitan Russia. He introduces readers to the "neocoms": people who mourn the loss of the Soviet economy and the remonetization of transactions that had not involved the exchange of cash during the Soviet era. Moving from economics into military conflict and personal loss, Oushakine also describes the ways in which veterans of the Chechen war and mothers of soldiers who died there have connected their immediate experiences with the country's historical disruptions. The country, the nation, and traumatized individuals, Oushakine finds, are united by their vocabulary of shared pain.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-5910-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: “We Have No Motherland”
    (pp. 1-14)

    On December 25th 1991, the headline in Komsomolskaia Pravda, a major Soviet daily newspaper, reflected the nation’s shock at the just-announced dissolution of the USSR: “I woke up, and I am stunned—Soviet power is gone” (Ia prosnulsia—zdras'te! Net sovetskoi vlasti!). In a week, the system of state-controlled prices in Russia would be gone too, and very soon inflation would reach 2,000 percent per year. Within next few years, the Communist Party would be banned (but legalized later), and many other traditional institutions associated with state socialism would fade away.

    The collapse of state ideology and the attendant dismantling...

  5. 1 Repatriating Capitalism: Fragmented Society and Global Connections
    (pp. 15-78)

    For anyone coming to Barnaul, the city’s new commercial landscape presents a startling postsocialist palimpsest. Fading signs of the Soviet past are merged in an unlikely combination with new symbols of post-Soviet capitalism (figure 1.1). This palimpsest has a certain consistency: local shops, entertainment centers, and casinos that have been built in the city’s downtown are usually marked as destinations with an ostensibly foreign flavor. Over several years, a series of upscale establishments with exotic names have appeared on Lenin Prospect, the main city street. The “trading house” Kaligula, built near the dilapidated cinema-theater Rodina (Motherland), was joined by a...

  6. 2 The Russian Tragedy: From Ethnic Trauma to Ethnic Vitality
    (pp. 79-129)

    On April 25, 2005, in his annual address to the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation, then president Vladimir Putin made an unexpected rhetorical turn. Revisiting Russia’s recent history, he offered his own definition for the early 1990s. As Putin framed it,

    We should acknowledge that the collapse of the Soviet Union was a major geopolitical disaster of the century. As for the Russian nation, it became a genuine drama. . . . Many thought or seemed to think at the time that our young democracy was not a continuation of Russian statehood, but its ultimate collapse, the prolonged agony...

  7. 3 Exchange of Sacrifices: State, Soldiers, and War
    (pp. 130-201)

    The shared discourse on imaginary or experienced pain framed within the genre of the Russian tragedy brought the wounded together; it established emotional bonds; it provided authority. In the narratives of traumatic identities described so far, the state was largely missing. Notions of “sociality,” “totality” or “wholeness,” which were to endow post-Soviet changes with some sense of order, were usually linked with metaphors of land, space, cultural property, or organismic versions of collectivity. When the state did emerge in these stories, it was envisioned either as an institution colonized by outsiders or as an imaginary guardian that was expected to...

  8. 4 Mothers, Objects, and Relations: Organized by Death
    (pp. 202-258)

    June 1 is a peculiar date in the Russian calendar. Throughout the Soviet period it was officially marked as International Children Protection Day (Mezhdunarodnyi den' zashchity detei). Not having a ritual or a symbol of its own, the day usually amounted to a stream of publications and video materials aimed at raising awareness about the problems of children around the world. The postsocialist history of this day has acquired more localized meanings. In Barnaul, June 1 also became a day to commemorate soldiers killed in military conflicts since the Second World War. This shift from protecting children to commemorating deaths...

  9. Conclusion: “People Cut in Half ”
    (pp. 259-262)

    “We ended up in between. Not old, not young. . . . We did not become patriotic. We did not become cosmopolitan, either. We were filled with hatred for Sovok. But for some reason, every New Year’s Eve we still sing Unbreakable Union” (Minaev 2007, 7; emphasis in the original). Sovok is a pejorative term for the Soviet Union; the song about the “Unbreakable Union of Freeborn Republics”—is the old Soviet anthem. The quotation is from the introductory essay that Sergei Minaev, a successful writer and businessman from Moscow, wrote for an edited collection of texts by his peers—...

  10. References
    (pp. 263-292)
  11. Index
    (pp. 293-300)