The post-Soviet space and Russia in particular has long been one of the most preferred topics in the field of Area Studies. At its core is the assumption that Soviet and post-Soviet Russia is a unique country that cannot be understood and explained in comparison with other countries. This Module provides you with basic and advanced knowledge in this context and puts focus on different areas such as Tsarist and Soviet legacies, the role of state and individual persons in Russia, the new Russian foreign policy etc.
Russia: Eternal Enigma
|12 Weeks à 15hrs|
|Flexible Starting Date - Details on Request|
|Optional on-site Workshop in September|
|Credits: 8 ECTS|
|Supervision by Dedicated Instructor|
|State of the Art LMS Canvas|
- You will be familiarized with the social and political situation in Soviet as well as post-Soviet Russia and other topics within the broad field of ‘Russia — Eternal Enigma?’
- You will train to perform mental transfers and to analyze various problematic situations.
- You will be provided with practical skills concerning active participation in controversial discussions, presenting and supporting your own arguments and elaborating a well-structured research paper.
- Creating a case study on an event or episode in the recent Russian history and writing a research proposal which is supposed to create an opportunity for you to plan your term paper and to receive some comments before you start writing.
- Preparing the final research paper to any topic within the broad field of ‘Russia—Eternal Enigma?’ including comparisons with other countries. The basis of your term paper should be your research proposal.
Part 01: Levels of Space Governance
- The goal of this unit is to analyze the impact of what may be termed the space factor on Russia’s history and the country’s political, economic, social, and cultural development. Russia’s domestic life and international politics have always been shaped by the immensity and amorphousness of its territory, as well as by the severe climate that dominates most of the country. In this unit we will evaluate the role of the geographical factor in Russia’s history and will present the general plan of the course module.
- What is the role of the geographical factor in Russia’s history?
- What is the topography of Russia and what are the main characteristics of Russian space?
- How has the space factor influenced the development of the Russian state?
- In this unit we will study the economic development of Russia in the past and present. The necessity for internal colonization and the development of vast territories as well as the protection from external threats have, in turn, compelled the strengthening the role of the state, including the governmental control on economic resources. As a result, instead of a market economy, Russia has developed a unique distributive system, khozyaistvo, that will be described and analyzed in this chapter. Particular attention will be paid to the reforms of the Russian economy in the post-Soviet period.
- How has the space factor influenced the economic development of Russia?
- What are the main characteristics of the distributive economy and khozyaistvo?
- How was the Russian economy reformed and how has it developed in the post-Soviet period?
In this unit we will take stock of the socio-economic structure of Russian society. Curiously, despite dramatic changes in the country, this structure has remained in many respects intact for the last several centuries. Society is divided into estates and the elite redistributes the resources among them through the administrative mechanisms which, once corrupted, give birth to the peculiar ‘administrative market.’ This leads to the dependence of all social groups and economic agents on the state.
- How does the administrative market system function?
- What are the main characteristics of the socio-economic structure of Russian society?
- What are the recent demographic trends in Russia?
- This unit is devoted to examination of the system of territorial governance in Russia. The necessity to control vast territory compelled the division of the state into functional units that manage all aspects of people’s life in a certain territory and that are, in their turn, subject to the central government. In the USSR this system was called the ‘administrative-territorial division’ and it continues to exist in today’s Russia.
- How does the Russian state govern the Russian space?
- What are the peculiarities of federalism and administrative-territorial division in Russia?
- How has federalism been transformed in post-Soviet Russia?
Part 02: Modernity at Large
In this unit we will study Russian political culture as it has evolved under the influence of two key factors: first, the need to constantly mobilize resources in order to survive in a harsh climate and to wage wars with enemies; second, the need to modernize in order to diminish the gap between Russia and actively developing Western countries. The imperatives of mobilization and modernization has led to the domination in Russian political culture of such elements as orientation towards the values of survival, patrimonialism, and statist thinking.
- How has the space factor shaped Russian political culture?
- What are the reasons for the domination of the imperatives of mobilization and modernization in Russian political culture?
- How has the Russian political culture changed in the post-Soviet period?
- This unit is devoted to two key topics. First, it focuses on the security culture that dominates in Russia. The need to colonize, control, and protect the huge territory of Russia increased the role of coercion and violence in political and social life. The fight against threats (but also their production) became the main imperative of the government’s politics that has led to the formation of ‘the combatant order of the state,’ in the words of Russian historian Vassily Klyuchevsky. Second, this unit takes stock of Russia’s foreign policy in the post-Soviet period and observes how Russia’s position in the global arena has changed over the last two decades.
- How has the garrison state evolved in Russia?
- What are the main characteristics of Russian foreign policy thinking?
- How did Russian foreign policy evolve in the post-Soviet period?
- In this unit we will analyze the rise of Russia in the context of world history. The active territorial expansion of Russia began roughly at the same time as the colonial history of the Western European countries, but Russia also had to overcome its social and technological backwardness. Despite its position on the periphery of the world system, Russia managed to retain its independence and to become one of the world’s most powerful nations.
- What are the main characteristics of modernity and how have they manifested themselves in Russia’s history?
- What are the legacies of the Russian Empire?
- What is ‘the Russian moment in world history?’
- This unit is devoted to the study of the history and internal structure of the USSR, which is analyzed as the realization of ‘the Enlightenment project,’ an attempt to establish a system that would be rational and fully controlled by the central government. The USSR was created as secular, urban, industrial state, but at enormous cost: the death of millions of people, huge economic losses, and the installment of mechanisms of governance that proved to be ineffective and destructive in the long run.
- How has the USSR embodied the key principles of ‘the Enlightenment project?’
- What were the main characteristics of the totalitarian system in the USSR?
- What are the legacies of the Cold War in today’s Russia?
In this unit we will examine the key events of the period of collapse of the USSR and post-Soviet history of Russia. The structural crisis of the Soviet system led to the disintegration of the country in 1991; subsequent democratic transformation of Russia failed to materialize. The Thermidor started at the end of the 1990s when Vladimir Putin, a former security services officer, came to power, and by the mid-2010s the political system had evolved into a repressive authoritarian regime that in many ways resembles the USSR at the beginning of the 1980s.
- What were the main events of the period of collapse of the USSR?
- Why has Russia failed to become a democracy?
- What are the main characteristics of Vladimir Putin’s political regime?
Part 03: The Anthropology of Space
- In this unit we will present and analyze the concept of binarity in Russian history and culture. Studying Soviet architecture from this perspective, the architect Vladimir Paperny has distinguished between the periods of Culture One and Culture Two in Russia’s history. Culture One is a horizontal culture of chaos, movement, and change; Culture Two is a vertical culture of statism, hierarchy, and immobility. The cycles of Culture One and Culture Two have regularly succeeded one another over the last centuries, and this pattern has replicated itself again in the past thirty years. Is there a way out of this dichotomy?
- How has the space factor determined the cycles of spread and settlement in Russian history?
- What are Culture One and Culture Two and what are their main characteristics?
- How have Culture One and Culture Two manifested themselves in Russian history?
- In the absence of real mechanisms of control over its vast territory, the Russian state uses a symbolic policy to assert its sovereignty. The significance of symbols and discourses of power, demonstrative wealth, and the military might of the state have always been high on the national list of priorities, while at the same time the state has tended to limit freedom of speech and alternative manifestations of identity. ‘Potemkin villages’ like the VDNKh and the Sochi Olympics were attempts at a symbolic construction of Russia’s unity and prosperity that were used to legitimize the ruling regime, yet were unable to contribute to the development of the country in the long run.
- What is the role of semiotics in governing the Russian state?
- What discourses were used by the Soviet regime in order to control the territory and population?
- What are the main characteristics of symbolic policy in post-Soviet Russia?
- In the last unit of this module the image of Russia will be examined through the psychoanalytic lens. In this perspective, Russia is an irrational space that intricately mirrors Western political institutions, economic realities, social processes, and cultural codes. As the Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev put it, “Russia cannot be understood with the mind alone” – and therefore one should try to interpret the Russian enigma using terms of the subconscious.
- What are the reasons for the irrationality of Russia?
- Why has Boris Groys called Russia “the subconsciousness of the West”?
- What images of Russia are popular in the West?