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And if this ideological dimension is something which is often elided in conversations about post-Soviet culture in the West, then that is because to acknowledge the role played here by the fall of socialism is to shine perhaps too bright a light on the role of the West in creating and curating a post-Soviet aesthetic.
In a series of essays for open Democracy Russia, Kirill Kobrin makes an important point about the dismantling of the Soviet Union (and by extension about the collapse of socialism across eastern Europe).
Focusing in on shared details while keeping the broader global picture in mind — that is what lies behind the designation of “post-Soviet” culture.
As Anastasiia Fedorova, co-curator of Calvert 22 Foundations forthcoming exhibition Post-Soviet Visions: Image and Identity in the New Eastern Europe puts it here, much of the art on display is imbued with “the feeling that witnessing a historical transition can become a bonding experience.” If we follow this logic, then what makes “post-Soviet” culture vibrant is that it demonstrates how international events interact with local circumstance. Is it synonymous with lost glories, or with national tragedy?
I think this is what undergirds western fascination with the perceived “nihilism” and “gritty poetry” of Rubchinskiy-style Russian streetwear, the brashness of a youth forcibly deprived of “meaning”.
Except, as Kobrin notes, this is a misunderstanding.The Soviet system didn’t collapse when its ideology was exhausted, a casualty of postmodernism — it was taken apart as a result of arguments over old-fashioned (that is, quintessentially “modern”) issues like borders, ethnic divisions and international aggression.The violence that broke out across the post-socialist space in the 90s — from the Yugoslav wars to the Tajik civil war and the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — speaks to this. Wolfgang Petersen’s slice of pure Yankee triumphalism, about terrorists protecting the honour of a rogue regime in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, understood better than many historians that the brave new world of the 90s was one where nationalism and sovereignty were back on the agenda in a major way.All of these places share a 20th-century history of socialist government.Whether this began in 1917 or 1945, and whether it is viewed now as something to celebrate or something to mourn, this has to be our starting point.However, we can accept essays written in other languages, if they are accompanied by translations in one of the accepted languages.You will not receive a confirmation email after submitting your essay.This might seem like basic stuff, but it’s important to bear it in mind, because it reminds us that what we call “post-Soviet” was part of a global cultural economy; if anything, lumping all of eastern Europe together is insufficient — we should be talking about Vietnam, Afghanistan, Korea, Iran, a whole host of African states too.Even individual national cultures contain multitudes too often ignored.Take Russia: cultural tastemakers in the West might know to cite Gosha Rubchinskiy’s postmodern streetwear in fashion, or Andrey Zvyagintsev’s austere miserablism in film.How many know about the multi-ethnic hybrid threads of Uzbek-Korean designer J. Or the breakout work of the twenty-something director Kantemir Balagov, who wowed Cannes last year with Closeness, his dissection of religious tensions in the North Caucasian republic of Kabardino-Balkiria?