Russia, Today: Part 3

Legal scholar and anthropologist Monica Eppinger explores the origins and consequences of nationalism in Russia and Ukraine, while French sociologist Cécile Lefèvre analyzes Russia’s ongoing demographic and economic crisis ...

In the third part of our special collaboration with La Vie des Idées / Books & Ideas, we return with a final set of reflections on contemporary Russia and the West. In our previous edition, Princeton historian Ekaterina Pravilova detailed the ongoing battle over rationality in Russian popular and academic circles, and French philosopher Michel Eltchaninoff delved into the intellectual foundations of Putin’s ideology. Here in “Russia, Today: Part Three,” legal scholar and anthropologist Monica Eppinger explores the origins and consequences of nationalism in Russia and Ukraine, while French sociologist Cécile Lefèvre analyzes Russia’s ongoing demographic and economic crisis.


The Projection Room
Monica Eppinger


Throughout Crimea in the summer of 2007, Russian government outreach had taken on a newly assertive tone of identity politics. From poetry contests to biker rallies, literary retrospectives to naval salutes, a seemingly nonstop pageant of prestige pumped Russian cool. Though seven years shy of invasion and annexation, the message was literally in the air, even dominating the radio dial of my ancient station wagon as soon as I crossed onto the peninsula to return to ethnographic research there.

One of my fieldwork interlocutors stood squarely in the target demographic: mid-60s, born in Russia, he had come to Crimea as a Communist Youth League enthusiast in the 1960s to help build socialism and repopulate a region still recovering from World War II and postwar Stalinist deportations. He taught high school history until the Soviet Union itself passed into history and he unexpectedly found himself in an independent Ukraine. His ties to Russia remained close: his family had all stayed in central Russia and, even 40 years on, he still paid them an extended visit every summer. A historically improbable Ukraine, a power-projecting Russia, a post-Soviet Crimea: in this liminal time, the arid plateau of southern Ukraine had come to feel more like a precipice. Beneath the beating southwestern sun, I had to ask, did he feel Russian or Ukrainian?

“Oh, Ukrainian,” he answered without hesitation. “My family in Russia doesn’t understand at all. They think there’s no difference, that it’s all the same.” The difference for him was somehow a product of Ukraine being independent. Even though he experienced politics as a game played in the capital far away, and democracy as a spectator sport, Ukraine’s independence somehow changed him. “My family does not get it at all, but we are completely different countries.” He paused, the teacher searching for the right heuristic. “This is how it is: they have their movie, and we have ours.”1. Thanks are also due to Lyudmila Kuznetsova, Alexander Reznik, and Elizaveta Zhdankova for sharing their thoughts on contemporary Russia.]

The teacher’s metaphor suggests an experience curiously molded by civic preoccupations without conscious participation in politics. Kyiv2 didn’t even bother trying to produce a coherent narrative, much less “messaging,” yet in contrast to his relatives across the border tuning out the steady beat Moscow directed their way, he lived engrossed in the drama of Ukraine unfolding. His experience offers a pragmatic starting point for reconceiving “Russia” in today’s specific historical moment.

As tempting as it may be to dust off the familiar lens or slip into boisterous Cold War rhetoric, the old framework and the distant gaze of geopolitics are prone to missing much.

In a time of tested territorial boundaries and expansively conceived grounds for national affiliation, pragmatics is not the intellectual road most taken. Facing a specter of Russian power projection, an American public primed by decades of superpower rivalry and caught unawares by a post-Soviet future seems ready to believe that a Cold War has begun afresh. The old Cold War, as Katherine Verdery suggests, was not simply a superpower standoff, but a form of knowledge production and “cognitive organization of the world.”3 It left an intellectual arsenal—from Kremlinology and political science to an intelligence community set up to deal with Kennanesque scenarios—that stands ready to get firing again. Geopolitics, a set of normative claims well disguised as an analytic frame,4 is once again a common idiom.

Admittedly, a Cold War grammar may be apt in some respects for parsing a Russia whose institutions of multi-party democracy have been taken over by veterans of the Soviet intelligence services. However, it also obscures obvious differences between the contemporary situation and the Cold War. Socialism as a motivating counter-ideology or program of governance is missing in action. Rolling back private-property ownership is not on offer. Instead, we are witnessing the apparent consolidation of a new style of politics in Russia, one that weds pointed critique of Western democracies and economic liberalism with tolerance of extreme wealth gaps and active support for nationalist forces at home and across Europe.5 Nationalism, not socialism, motivates its most ardent proponents, and with nearly eight thousand people killed in southwest Ukraine in the past 20 months, their ardor burns hot.6

But the geopolitical lens seems to have only two settings: a bird’s-eye view for taking in vast territorial boundaries, or a close zoom for peering into micro-scenarios within Kremlin corridors. It is focused, in other words, on either the limits of the state or the inner workings of its deepest insiders. As tempting as it may be to dust off the familiar lens or slip into boisterous Cold War rhetoric, the old framework and the distant gaze of geopolitics are prone to missing much.

As a quiet alternative from a more intimate vantage, Faith Hillis’s monograph of 19th- and early 20th-century intellectual history, Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation, can more insightfully guide us to new thinking about changed terrain.7 Studying Russia’s southwestern border region (parts of what would now be called “Western Ukraine”), then known as the “right bank,” for which Kiev was the regional administrative center, Hillis finds that it proved key to the fate of the empire.8 How and why are relevant today.

The idea of popular sovereignty spread across Eastern Europe with Napoleon, engendering a new preoccupation with “nations” and “nationalism.” Among right-bank intellectuals, the particularities of the people of that region—known as “Malarosiya,” “Russia Minor” or “Little Russia”9—became the basis for a set of claims premised on the idea of a “nation.” The historical narrative they composed had it that the tsarist empire traced its origins to medieval Kiev, making Kiev the cradle of a “Slavic Eastern Orthodox” civilization continued in Russia. This genealogy thus joined in special relationship two purported national unities, the “Great Russian” and the “Little Russian” people.

A virulent nationalism is currently being injected along Russia’s newly blurred southwestern border with eastern Ukraine.

This history, right-bank intellectuals believed, could shape the future. They thought the “Little Russian” nation, in the authenticity of its folk culture, served as the bearer of a crucial “national spirit” that could reinvigorate the empire and help it combat internal enemies. From this (what Hillis identifies as “the Little Russian idea”), right-bank thought evolved into two strains. One camp, self-identifying as “Little Russian” and supporting the idea of nations and nationalism, became a point of origin and leading proponent of Russian nationalism (alarming St. Petersburg tsarists who recognized the idea of “nations” as inherently destabilizing to an empire based on an estates system of loyalty and service). This is one of Hillis’s most revelatory, carefully documented, and explosive claims: that Kiev subjects, self-identifying with right-bank Ukraine and loyal to the tsar, played a key role in establishing Russian nationalism.

A second strain evolved, and its camp founded “Little Russia” (what would later become Ukraine), distinctive not because of a special relationship to Russia, but because of a nonethnic civic identity built on tolerance between ethnicities and faiths. Hillis’s second well-supported and explosive finding is that this camp—core Ukrainophilic sponsors of “Ukrainian” regional autonomy and, eventually, separatism—was based in Kiev’s multiethnic elite of Poles, Jews, and Ukrainians, and their mutually accommodating civic culture.10 At the turn of the 20th century, each of the two camps in Kiev developed into a bastion of mass politics, increasingly radicalized and mutually antagonistic. They took their fight to the Civil War that followed the Socialist Revolution of 1917, a war raging disproportionately on Ukrainian battlefields. Neither side “won,” at least not that round. Certainly, the Russian empire did not survive the Russian nationalism generated from its southwestern borderlands.

The relevance of this history to understanding contemporary Russia goes beyond the uncanny parallels between a northern state and its troubling southwestern flank. Ideas that motivated Kiev politics at the turn of the 20th century—versions of nationalism and contending visions of the basis for civic engagement—continue to shape action and thought today. Some of the most violent manifestations of “pro-Russian” sentiment along Russia’s border with Ukraine come from deep commitments to these old ideas (and some resistance to it, from deep-seated opposition to their very premises). Contemporary struggles are legible through the paradigm Hillis offers, connecting ideas to action and action to new social formations. What her account deemphasizes, but contemporary experience does not, is a place in the equation for the passions.

Several other unresolved questions from this earlier time also drive action now. In the idea of “the nation,” at least as it played out in this region, Hillis finds the origin of a mass politics manifest in elections, newspaper reading, rallies, strikes, street violence, and pogroms. In other words, she treats mass violence as a point on the spectrum of mass politics. One hundred years later, those questioning the legitimacy of a government in Kyiv or would-be Russophilic splinterlands are asking what, in the end, the relationship between the idea of the nation and the idea of popular sovereignty is. People on both sides of the border have reason to ask about connections between those ideas and mass violence. Are mass politics—including the violence Hillis finds associated with them—a mechanism of popular sovereignty? Or, in their radicalizing self-justifications, its very defeat?

These questions continue to galvanize some forms of Russian nationalism today, and—despite well-warranted skepticism towards some of its proponents—they deserve thoughtful consideration. If not mass politics, what other modes of engagement might popular sovereignty and national ideas yield? Can tolerance breed its own “nation”? Can cosmopolitanism—taking mutual respect as a basis for civic identity—compete with the simplifying narratives of nationalism? And, uncomfortably, are tolerance and cosmopolitanism inextricable virtues of a liberalism that might be ripping off post-socialist publics in other ways?

The idea of a Russian nation and the enthusiasms it generates have proved a great unifier within a contemporary Russia riven by rural-urban divides, sharp disparities in living conditions, and enormous gaps between a fabulously wealthy petro-few and a subsistence-poverty many. A virulent nationalism is currently being injected along Russia’s newly blurred southwestern border with eastern Ukraine as a backfire against putative liberal or fascist threats from the West. At this moment, a sophisticated understanding of nationalism—where it came from, the internal tensions it promulgates, and where it can lead—is indispensable. As with my Crimean friend’s family back in Russia, the idea of a civic identity that is not based on genealogical relationships in polity, blood, or faith baffles some in Russia today.

The easy takeaway from Hillis’s book is that nationalism is a framing proposition, particularly salient nowadays. The origin story of Russian nationalism (and the 19th-century narrative of Kiev as the cradle of two peoples that persists even today) may explain some of the close attention Russia pays to Ukraine. However, another, and perhaps greater, import of the historical story for understanding the contemporary lies in its revelation of process: how projections, ideas cast from afar, can give rise to social formations and action.

This is a radical change from the current mode of thinking about Russia. The analytic of geopolitics orients us to look at Russia as a source of plans and power projection cast upon others. It traces artillery, fighters, and broadcasts pouring from Russia across the border into Ukraine; it paints Russia’s southwest border and those living or hovering in its vicinity as the object of Moscow’s designs. Hillis’s work causes us to ask: What about their projections—of admiration, affiliation, resentment, or, as with my Crimean friend, indifference—onto the screen they call Russia?

My cue from Crimea is to see state and citizen as mutually constituting. Rather than treating either as a static unit of analysis, it challenges us to think about the state as a matter of pragmatics rather than ontology, and to look at the nuances of lived experience through which states and identities are formed. Instead of looking into Kremlin corners, history suggests we pay attention to the precariously placed fighters and thinkers on both sides of Russia’s southwestern border, not because they are puppets of Moscow (or “zombies,” as some Internet memes of the last year had it), but because in thinking about “love,” “threats” and “defense,” they are generating powerful ideas about what “Russia” is and what it should be.

The story of how nationalism came to Russia encourages us, among other things, to see Russia as a screen upon which others’ ideas about it are projected; but this is a peculiarly interactive technology of projection, in which the images projected change the screen itself. What might be more farsighted, instead of looking only at the screen, would be to peek into the projection room.

To understand “Russia,” then, I suggest looking to people at its edges and the ambitions, hopes, or fears they are projecting onto the center. Their ideas and passions will not form Russia in the same way as those of a century ago, but in their dynamism, volatility, and perhaps disappointments, even “pro-Russian” fighters and thinkers may unwittingly provide a set of challenges with which intelligence bureaucrats at the center have next to contend.


Jump to remarks:

Monica Eppinger, Cécile Lefèvre

Infants and Inequality:
Russia’s Demographic Crisis
Cécile Lefèvre


Russia’s first post-Soviet decade was marked by an economic, social, and demographic crisis. Amid the tatters of the Soviet system, Vladimir Putin’s election to the presidency in 2000 relegitimized the idea of a strong, interventionist state power, and affirmed that the state had a role to play in sustaining the Russian population and families’ reproductive decisions. So it’s no surprise that the fight against population decline has become a pet theme in Russian governmental policy; as Jean Bodin aphorized, “The only true riches are men.”

In recent years, the improvement of primary demographic indicators (fertility, life expectancy, population growth), although partly cyclical in nature, has been attributed to Russia’s renewed national vitality. But such an explanation partially obscures another problem undermining Russian society: a pronounced increase in inequality over the past 20 years, particularly when it comes to income, housing, and healthcare access, which are unequally distributed by region. These inequalities have been further exacerbated by the economic crisis that began in 2014. Taken together, these social and economic shifts offer some explanation for Russia’s choice to go on the offensive in its foreign policy.


Demographics: From Crisis to Stability?

From the end of the USSR up to 2012, Russia’s population shrank significantly, by about 5 million inhabitants.


Graph 1: Evolution of Russia’s total population, 1980 to 2015

This population decline began in the 1990s and was attributed to the steep drop in birth rate, as well as lowered life expectancy, a rare phenomenon in developed countries not affected by war or epidemic. The decrease was still more marked among men: their life expectancy, already much lower than in other European and Western countries, fell well below the symbolic threshold of 60 years during some periods (1993–96 and 1999–2006).

On top of these cyclical drops, Russians saw a lengthy stagnation in their life expectancy starting in the 1960s, which has often been explained by a lack of medical progress. Persistently oriented toward treating infectious diseases, Russian medicine neglected the prevention of cardiovascular disease and other chronic illnesses, including alcoholism. Since 1991, as a result of medical sector reforms and the creation of a healthcare system whose efficiency and quality varies by region, preventive care still lags behind. Thanks to improved living conditions, life expectancy rebounded after 2005, but in 2012 it settled to the same level as in 1965 for men (64.5 years). The low life expectancy for Russian men has moreover created an unbalanced age pyramid: elderly women, widowed and isolated, make up a large part of an impoverished population with a high need for social aid.

What we call the “Russian cross”—when the birth rate dropped below the death rate in 1992—was a concern throughout the ’90s. But at that time, when Boris Yeltsin held the presidency and liberalism had its heyday, there was an implicit consensus that the state would no longer intervene in private decisions or in how families were shaped. At that time the government was more preoccupied with economic crisis, deindustrialization, and rising poverty, concerns that took precedence over medium-term demographic fluctuations.

In the 2000s in particular, however, demographics became fodder for dire outbursts in the media—Nezavissamia Gazeta, for example, ran the headline, “When will Russia disappear? An investigation of the demographic disaster”—and emerged as an important political issue. It was in this climate in 2005 and 2006 that Putin adopted new demographic-policy ideas, outlined in the “Concept of Russian Demographic Policy Through 2025,” and began implementing explicitly natalist family policies.

The push began with a media campaign. The government created new national holidays: September 12, 2007, for example, was made a day for families to come together. The state also offered compensation to women who delivered babies on June 12, “Give Birth to a Patriot Day,” or July 8, “Family, Love, and Fidelity Day.” Restrictions on abortion access increased, and the Orthodox Church announced a series of positions favoring the traditional family—the same church that would take a major role in dictating family and moral norms nearly a decade later.

Among a variety of new measures, one in particular stands out: the “maternal capital” award instituted in 2007 for mothers of more than one child. The award allots mothers a generous sum (on the order of about €8,000) upon the birth of their second child. However, rather than triggering a direct cash payment, the child’s birth creates “special drawing rights” for the funds to be used under three preapproved conditions: to finance the children’s education, to supplement the mother’s retirement savings, or to improve the family’s housing conditions. The third option has been the most common: more than 90 percent of recipients opted to augment their housing budget. If the program’s intention was to produce a higher birth rate, it has also affected the housing market by leading to higher prices and more brokers, as well as more corruption and hidden transfers. Regional authorities, meanwhile, were urged to complement the federal award with “regional maternal capital” intended especially to encourage a third child, and with stricter conditions than the federal program.

Graph 2: Average children per woman in Russia (cyclical fertility index)

Effectively, fertility in Russia has increased, but not to the point of generational renewal. After a severe drop starting in 1987 that hit a low point in 1999 (1.16 children per woman on average), the cyclical fertility index increased throughout the 2000s, particularly after 2007 when the maternal capital program was introduced. Fertility rates reached an average of 1.75 children per woman in 2014, with a marked difference between rural (2.3 children) and urban populations (1.5).

Some experts remain skeptical about the medium-term effects of maternal capital. They explain the cyclical fertility rebound as an effect of the population’s generational structure instead: the number of women between 18 and 29—that is, women born in the 1980s—reached its peak from 2007 to 2008 and is now on the decline. While there were 14 million women in this age range in 2007, there will be fewer than 9 million by the year 2020, due to the low birth rates of the 1990s.

This explains why, in the present decade, the specter of crisis constantly looms: Russia’s demographic challenges are directly linked to Putin’s nationalist patriotic discourse. In his 2012 annual address to the nation, for example, Putin called for Russians to help “preserve the Russian territory from poverty” by conceiving more children, and he declared that three children per family should be the norm. Otherwise Russia would be “a poor, aging nation, unable to maintain its independence or even its territory … If the country is unable to reproduce and preserve itself … then it will need no exterior enemy, because it will collapse all on its own.”

The population decrease seems to have been checked for the moment. A natural population surplus even appeared in 2014 for the first time in 20 years, as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev jubilantly reported in his annual address to the Duma. According to the most recent United Nations population projection (July 2015), however, in 2050 Russia’s population will have shrunk to somewhere between 115 and 143 million, the midpoint being 129 million. But new information may significantly revise the outlook: already the annexation of Crimea has increased Russia’s population by about 2 million inhabitants. Other changes are expected insofar as the status of Eastern Ukraine, and thus the population of Donbass, is far from resolved.

A Moscow subway advertisement: The country needs you to break records. In Russia, three babies are born each minute.

A Moscow subway advertisement: The country needs you to break records. In Russia, three babies are born each minute.

Even as demographic stabilization required proactive policies, these demographic challenges have been joined by shocks to the Russian economy. Indeed, the large-scale economic crisis facing Russia as of the end of 2014 has also reignited issues of social stratification and the growth of inequality.

Growing Post-Soviet Inequality: From Stability to Crisis?

Russia’s society and economy were profoundly transformed by the dissolution of the USSR. The 1990s were characterized by a serious economic crisis that led to the widespread impoverishment of the population. Poverty, newly acknowledged and measured starting in 1992, affected more than a third of the population, according to official data from the Russian Statistics Service. Over the course of the 2000s, as the poverty rate fell, growing inequality became the major phenomenon, with the ostentatious consumerism of Moscow’s nouveaux riches standing in stark contrast to the destitution of people in rural areas. More recently, the economic crisis and the declining ruble have strongly affected the new middle classes, who, between housing loans and consumer spending, carry large quantities of debt.


Graph 3: Inequality in Russia by poverty rate and Gini coefficient

In Russia, poverty is measured using an absolute approach rather than a relative one, as in the European Union. People are considered poor if their monetary income is below the “subsistence minimum,” which corresponds to a caloric and physiological minimum of goods and services. The poverty rate was cut by two-thirds between 1992 and 2014, from 33.5 percent to 11.2 percent. It has especially fallen since the beginning of the 2000s, in conjunction with a general rise in living standards, although it was only in 2006 that actual average income returned to its 1991 level. Though the poverty rate has held steady since 2011 at around 11 percent, new data for 2015 will enable studies of the latest economic crisis and its effect on this indicator, which for now can give only a partial view of the current situation.

Likewise, Russia’s unemployment rate as measured by the UN’s International Labor Organization has not proven to be a very pertinent indicator at the moment. The current unemployment rate in Russia is low (around 5 percent of the active population) compared to the international average reported by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, because during times of crisis the biggest adjustments to the labor market are essentially in salary and duration of employment. These adjustments are structural characteristics of employment in Russia, observed during the ’90s as well as the 2008 crisis. Low salaries and poor work conditions mean that Russia sees significant job turnover; an estimated 30 percent of workers switch jobs each year, and many of those more than once in a year.

Instead, increased inequality now stands out as a social problem in Russia, particularly income inequality. Russia’s Gini index (a numerical representation of income inequality, ranging from zero for total equality to 1 for the most income possible concentrated at the top) has spiked, from 0.26 at the time the USSR fell to 0.42 in 2014, compared to 0.30 in France in 2012, 0.47 in the US, and 0.52 in Brazil.

The watchword of the Soviet period was egalitarianism, yet Russia has taken only two decades to become one of the world’s most unequal societies. Its extreme polarization calls to mind disparate images of babushka on the streets in frigid temperatures, trying to sell potatoes and hand-knitted socks, and the ultra-consumerism of nouveaux riche oligarchs—whose fortunes originated with the predatory privatization of the ’90s—spending lavishly in the French Riviera or the Alps.

In the 2000s, entrenched inequality emerged alongside a middle class that was active, educated, and urban. In their dynamism, modern social climbing, and Western lifestyle and bearing, this new middle class seemed to show the success of the government’s reforms. The members of this class became the primary targets for banks and advertisers. They have been encouraged to take on various housing and consumer debts, and many work in the service industry. The middle class was hit the worst by the 2014–15 crisis, which led to the disappearance of certain products due to economic sanctions, as well inflation (estimated at over 15 percent for 2015) and the falling ruble (especially considering loans drawn in foreign currency).

Russian society has seen profound changes in its norms and social markers over the past 25 years.

Housing has played a significant role among the many causes of deepening inequality. From 1992 to 2000, the proportion of housing owned by the state went from 74 percent to 35 percent, and this process reinforced social and spatial inequalities. When private-property rights were established after 1991, all those living in a residence were given the right to take ownership for free (along with full responsibility for upkeep). A vast system of privatization was thus set in motion, and the principle of property transmission by inheritance was recognized. But residents of communal apartment buildings, already in a difficult housing situation, were instantly penalized. In the emerging real estate market, there were huge gaps between Moscow prices and those in the rest of the country. Apartment exchanges, cross-selling, and subletting arrangements developed, transactions that, virtually unregulated at first, often enabled fraud. This system also led to a new phenomenon for Russia: homelessness. The poor had trouble taking on costs like water, gas, and electricity, which had previously been subsidized or even free.

On the other hand, privatized housing also allowed some households to amass capital in the medium term and sometimes to have a source of income in the form of rent. The housing issue is therefore a crucial factor in today’s social organization and stratification, and has been revived both by the natalist family capital programs that stimulated the regional real estate markets and the recent wave of real estate loan defaults in Russian cities. Most recently, in 2015, a law was finally passed to create a bankruptcy process for people to manage the debt burden.

Regional differences in such an immense country have also contributed to these disparities. Indeed, the inequalities among the 89 regions of the Russian Federation are often greater than inequalities among households within a single region. For example, oil-rich Tyumen is 40 times richer than the rural region of Buryatia near Lake Baikal. The impact of these regional disparities on the population is all the greater because social-aid programs are decentralized; they vary according to the wealth and the political stances of their respective regions. Inequality across cities and rural areas is also very high, even more so between the two worlds of the capital, Moscow, and the provinces. Regional social inequalities are much more marked today than they were at the end of the Soviet era.

Russian society has thus seen profound changes in its norms and social markers over the past 25 years. Social inequalities have built up and taken on new, more visible forms, such as urban beggars living alongside fantastic wealth. Some changes have deep roots in the end of the Soviet period: the society of homo sovieticus was far from homogenous, nor was it totally controlled.

Today’s societal structures, however, and especially the forms that inequality now takes, are radically different. The fall of the USSR and the development of a liberal economy brought about new behaviors and lifestyles. Access to housing, education, and healthcare—the three pillars of the paternalistic Soviet state—has changed drastically. And today, a generation of young people born in the ’90s is coming of age, with no knowledge of the Soviet period except what they hear from their parents’ generation. There has indeed been a change, and the 2010s clearly mark the start of a new era.

Russia’s newfound grandeur and national pride—as modeled by Vladimir Putin and represented in key moments like the Sochi Olympics, the annexation of Crimea, or the call to renew Russia’s population—have gone hand in hand with the contraction of free expression. In a sort of implicit social contract, the populace is more and more left with a choice: get out (if and where possible), or be loyal.


Translated from the French by Jolie Hale, with financial support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.


Jump to remarks:


  1. A. N., interview with author, T-ogo Village, Crimea, Ukraine (June 7, 2007) [identity concealed to protect interlocutor
  2. “Kyiv,” the transliteration from Ukrainian, refers to the capital of the Ukrainian state independent since 1991. I use “Kiev,” the transliteration from Russian, to refer to the city before 1991, in imperial or Soviet times.
  3. Katherine Verdery, What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next, (Princeton University Press, 1996), p. 4.
  4. This characterization is Timothy Snyder’s. See Timothy Snyder, “Not Even Past,” Thinking Ukraine Forum (May 19, 2014)
  5. See, e.g., Anton Shekhovtsov, “The Kremlin’s Marriage of Convenience with the European Far Right,” Open Democracy (April 28, 2014)
  6. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Monitoring Mission Report on the Human Rights Situation in Ukraine (August 15, 2015)
  7. Faith Hillis, Children of Rus’: Right-Bank Ukraine and the Invention of a Russian Nation (Cornell University Press, 2013).
  8. The reference is to the western bank of the river that bisects the country, the Dnipro; viewed from Kiev looking downstream towards the Black Sea, the west side is to the “right.”
  9. Hillis translates Malarossiya as “Little Russia.” It could with equally validity translate as “Russia Minor.” Read anachronistically, it could stand as a synonym for “Ukraine.”
  10. Faith Hillis and I were on Fulbrights at the same time in Kyiv, and I still recall her reaction, over one of our periodic research discussions over coffee, to the archives’ revelations of right-bank Ukrainian Russophiles and Polish and Jewish Ukrainophiles, offending the origin myths of current identities all around. Even then she was aware of (and uneasy about) the controversial conclusions to which her sources led her. Little could we have guessed how much more inflamed topics of Russian nationalism, separatism, or a non-ethnic civic identity would be by the time her project came to print.
Featured image: A Ukranian tank in Slovyansk. Photograph by Sasha Maksymenko / Flickr