Die große Freundschaft? Die Sowjetunion als Vielvölkerstaat, 1953-1991

16.-17.02.2017, Konferenz, DHI Moskau

The Soviet Union represents an audacious – and ultimately failed – experiment in creating a historically unprecedented political order: a socialist state that was also a unique union of national republics. For scholars, the historical novelty of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics presented the challenge of conceptualizing and categorizing the Soviet state. Was the Soviet Union a traditional empire, or – perhaps – an “empire of nations,” a “federation”, a “state of nations”, an “affirmative action empire”, or perhaps even a “communal apartment”?

The question, of course, is not just academic: not only scholars, but former Soviet citizens also remain divided on this topic. While the Russian leadership politically exploits nostalgia for an idealized Soviet past of interethnic “friendship”, the Soviet experience has also proven to be highly divisive in other contexts, both inside and beyond the Russian Federation, and most critically in the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. While the Russian leadership’s call for creating a new type of union under the common banner of Eurasianism has received some support, other leaders of post-Soviet states have likened the Soviet experience to colonialism, and even to Nazi-occupation.

In other words, there are many good reasons to look back upon the shared, but also controversial, experiences of the Soviet Union as a multi-ethnic state 25 years after its disintegration. Our workshop does not primarily intend to address the well-researched (but still controversial) question of how Soviet institutions and politicians regulated, controlled or exploited national differences within a multi-ethnic state. Instead, the focus will be on the variegated collective and individual experiences of living in this multi-ethnic state. It is another goal to transcend teleological narratives of Soviet history as a story of the inevitable decline of a flawed system by uncovering the many different positive and negative meanings attached to the experiences of the Soviet multi-ethnic state.

For the majority of (former) Soviet citizens, ethnicity (resp. “nationality”) was and still remains highly relevant. Ethnicity not only played a role in the making of careers, but also in personal relationships, everyday interactions, in identifying with heroes and victims of the past and present, and in the ways people spoke about their common Soviet experience. All former Soviet citizens share the experience of growing up in a multi-ethnic state that had its own specific institutions, discourses and mechanisms for regulating ethnic and national belonging and conflict. Our conference seeks to better understand this shared experience.

DHI Moskau