Russifying Estonia? Iurii Lotman and the Politics of Language and Culture in Soviet Estonia (Critical Essay‪)‬

Kritika 2007, Summer, 8, 3

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    • 12,99 zł

Publisher Description

Like pogrom, "Russification" (russifikatsiia) is one of the unfortunate Russian contributions to the lingua franca of the academics and journalists writing on empire and ethnicity all over the world. Owing to the efforts of Hugh Seton-Watson and Benedict Anderson, the peculiar late 19th-century politics of "Russifying" (obrusenie) the Russian empire's ethnic "aliens" (inorodtsy) currently often stands for any form of the "self-consciously Machiavellian" politics of assimilation by means of exercising the whole might of the state. (1) Considering this generic usage, it is hardly surprising to learn that "Russification" is routinely used by journalists, essayists, and some academics to describe Soviet nationality policies and their effects, especially in the field of education. For instance, the Estonian philologist Ulle Parli cites the inequality between the Russian and Estonian languages and literatures in the curriculum of the post-1945 Estonian secondary school as evidence of the Soviet state's consistent attempts to "implant an alien [ideological-cum-ethnic] worldview into the minds of Estonians." (2) Although this "Russification idiom" continues to shape the commonsensical image of the Russian empire and the Soviet Union, over the last 20 years it has been subjected to devastating criticism by Russia specialists in both the West and Eurasia. For instance, Aleksei Miller argues that this idiom is based on "simplistic cliches that portray an [imperial] interaction as a 'play for two actors,' in which the Russifying state opposes those resisting Russification (in the primitive version of national narrative) or the local population gratefully adopts enlightenment (in the primitive version of Russian historiography)." (3) Thus, by classifying actors into two opposing camps, the Russification idiom presumes in advance what it purports to explain. As Robert Geraci, Andreas Kappeler, Theodore Weeks, and other authors demonstrate with respect to the Russian empire, this binary idiom does not allow us to see the striking inconsistencies within imperial policies toward non-Russian subjects, as well as the contradictory receptions of these policies across space and time. (4) With respect to Soviet nationality policies, the binary Russification idiom prevents us from appreciating the full significance of "Soviet ethnophilia," the longstanding commitment of Soviet leaders to promoting ethnoterritorial identities and developing national cultures. This commitment was not merely a sign of weakness or negligence on the part of Soviet leaders, even if it often conflicted with their efforts to forge a common Soviet culture, and with the growing confusion between the universal "socialist content" and the Russian "national form." Consequently, although the policies of "Sovietization" were often perceived by national cultural elites as "Russifying" policies, they were rarely intended as such. Moreover, the Russification idiom was by no means the only, and not always the dominant, framework within which the "natives" of the Soviet national republics saw the Soviet regime and the Russian population. (5)

22 June
Slavica Publishers, Inc.

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