Boris Stepanov (hse)




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2011 ASEEES Annual Convention of Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (Washington, DC, 17-20.11.2011)
Boris Stepanov (HSE) /

Б.Степанов (НИУ ВШЭ)

“Eurasia” as an object of ideological criticism and Intellectual history in the Post-Soviet Humanities

The main goal of the text is to analyze different strategies of reception and study of the doctrine of Eurasianism in the Post Soviet humanities. This case study is a part of my own research on the subject which began with my work on Euarasinists archives connected to my interest to philosophy of Lev Karsavin. About ten years ago I worked on the reconstruction of the discussion about the Church, the personality and the state among the Eurasianists using the documents gathered in Savitckiy’s archive in St Arch of Russian. My interest to contemporary Russian intellectual culture moved me to investigation of the Eurasianism on the edge of humanities, politics and media culture. So I tried to consider some statements on the Eurasia and Eurasianism, which were made by intellectuals in different political, disciplinary and research contexts.

I guess that no other political doctrine in the heritage of the “Silver Age” and exile has had such a significance for the Post soviet culture. Through 1990s and 2000s Eurasianism entered the programs of several political and social organizations, and also of several Post soviet states. Due to the recent statements by Putin and to the agreement on Eurasian economical alliance which has been already signed we can expect a new surge of interest to the doctrine. Works of the Eurasianists, especially of so called «last Eurasianist» Lev Gumilev, have large print runs. We can find the traces of Eurasianism in mass culture: in popular books like detectives of Holm van Zaychik and movies like «Mongol» (2007, S. Bodrov). Eurasianism is also popular among the intellectuals: we can mention several intellectual centers and established intellectuals who proclaim Eurasianist ideas (for example: Alexander Panarin, Irina Orlova, Boris Meguev etc ). But it seems more important that some elements and guidelines of Eurasianist doctrine (Russian/Eurasian civilization, empire, passionarity etc) became a part of intellectual doxa, as we can say after P.Bourdieu. These elements are even used by those intellectuals who are not the adherents of Eurasianism. For example, in the book published by the fund “Liberal mission”, we can find some speculations about the civilizational choice between The West and The East which was made by prince Alexandre Nevski.

On of the main problems of PostSoviet humanities is erosion of borders between science, particularly, humanities on the one hand and public and media discourse on the other. Some fields of research hasn’t effective means for identification of so called “disciplinary frontier”. Ideological relevance of Eurasinism gives a special topicality to the examination of the strategies of its scientific reception, their capacities of reduction its ideological potential and its reflexive appropriation. I mean that one the one hand we shouldn’t under estimate political and media conditions of the reproduction of knowledge on Eurasinism. But on the other hand that Eurasianism is actual not as form of isolationist ideology, but also as a hybrid phenomenon - I mean particularly classical Eurasianism - which is interesting not only for the social and intellectual history of exile but for history of science. In this examination I suppose following questions should be discussed:

What was the intellectual, political and media contexts of emerging Eurasinism in Postsoviet humanities and how this contexts has changed through this 20 years?

What was the role of various disciplines in the actualization of Eurasianism?


What significance is given by different authors to the activity of single Eurasinists? What is the degree of generalization in the description of  the conception as whole?
How different authors  estimate the scientific and cultural status of the Eurasianism, how they estimate political bias of this conception, Eurasinist’s claim to create a synthetic knowledge etc?
How different authors describes contemporary Eurasianism in the relation to its so called classical version?

Due to the limits of time I couldn’t consider all this questions in details, so I’ll try to schedule guidelines of the subject. I’ll try to make brief outline of contemporary history of Eurasinism as an political ideology and as a phenomenon of intellectual culture and than


It is well known that the formation of the field of reflection on Eurasianism in contemporary Russia took place in the context of ideological quest of the late 1980s and the revival of the traditions of Russian thought repressed by Soviet ideology. In the early 1990s there were the first attempts to produce an integral cohesive description of the Eurasianist philosophical doctrine. These attempts of reconstruction were carried out from different ideological positions (see (Antoshchenko, 2000)), but overall they did not go beyond general philosophical and ideological context and were made primarily as some immanent reconstructions. The pre-revolutionary Russian intellectual tradition and the cataclysms of the beginning of the XX century provided general context for that. Simultaneously the politicization of Eurasianism intensified (becoming obvious already in 1991, in the book "The Mysteries of Eurasia," by Dugin AG), in connection with the formation in 1993 of the conservative-nationalist wing of Russian politics (See this Umland, 2009 .) To the end of the 2000s this led to the formation of several political organizations and movements, which lifted on board the ideology of Eurasianism. In the mid-1990s the regional Eurasian ideology was formed: a landmark moment in this regard was provided by the sayings by N. Nazarbayev 1993-1994 (See Nazarbayev, 1997, Dugin, 2004, analysis of these ideologies, see Laruelle, 2009).

The interesting case for the characteristics of Eurasinism’s assertion in contemporary Russian intellectual culture and of identification of its scientific status and relation to the politics is reception of the heritage of NS Trubetskoy - one of the movement leaders, whose works on linguistics had been already published in the Soviet times (Trubetskoy 1960; Trubetskoy, 1985). In the beginning of 1990s with the participation of leading representatives of Russian philology and linguistics he was asserted as a classic of this discipline. There was a celebration of 100th anniversary of the birth in 1990, than the collection of papers dedicated to his role in the development of phonology, comparative linguistics and so on was published.

At the same time his Eurasian heritage had been brought into circulation with a participation by linguists, but may be to a greater extent - by philosophers, political scientists, etc. At that moment the contradictory character of there’s scientific status and the succession of contemporary Eurasianism to its classical version weren’t really comprehend. For example, the academic publication of Trubetskoy’s works which appeared in 1995 was preceded by an article LNGumilev, published with the subtitle "notes of the last Eurasian." In the foreword to this volume Nikita Tolstoy praised Trubetzkoy for the comprehension of true nationalism. In the other articles which were published in this period of emerging Eurasinism as a contemporary political ideology (the articles which can be associated with this intellectual trend) we can find other interpretation strategies of Russian philologist political engagement: it was either the desire to get away from thinking this problem (for example in Toporovs work 1990, 1991), or an attempt to moral rehabilitation Trubetskoy and to make an opposition between Troubetzkoy who had asserted the primacy of culture over politics and other Eurasianists – for example LPKarsavin, P. Suvchinskiy etc, whose activities led to the politicization of the movement and, thus, to its collapse (Sobolev, 1991). Seeming noticeable that for some comparative linguists Trubetzkoy-eurasinist became more significant than Trubetzkoy-structuralist: Vladimir Neroznak, head of center of languages ​​and cultures of Northern Eurasia (the CIS and Baltic states) named after Trubetskoy in MSLU and organizer of the 1999 Trubetskoy Annual International memorial conference "Eurasia at the crossroads of cultures and languages" refers to ideas of Trubetskoy on personologia, well-known linguist from MSU Oleg Shirokov made a reprinted edition of "Exodus to the East" (1997, reissued in 2008).
In the second half of the 1990s Eurasianism becomes an increasingly popular topic in political debates and in journalistic discourse that invades the humanities. The emerging Russian Cultural Studies (Kulturologia) as Galina Zvereva, Marlene Laruelle, Yutta Scherrer and others described greet the Isolationist orientation of Eurasianism . Another important context related to the influence of Gumilev was an environmental one. The idea of ​​Eurasia was connected there to the ideas of a harmonious nature and society evolution (See, for example. Treasurers, 1996; Subetto, 2001). During this period, a body of works gradually emerges which attempts to reconstruct the history of the Eurasianists movement through the archival materials (such as an archive of PN Savitsky in SARF). But the number of such works was extremely small, especially comparing to the expansion of the mass-oriented and trivialized Eurasianism (see for example. Stepanov, 2002). They didn’t have much influence on the reception of classical Eurasianism’s heritage.

By the second half of the 1990s - early 2000s and is the emergence of a number of academic and political periodicals which programs were related to the Eurasianism ("Bulletin of CSU. A series of "Vostokovedenie. Eurasianism. Geopolitics "," Eurasian Journal"). In 1995 group of Russian etnologist organized a journal "Vestnik of Eurasia» (Acta Eurasica). The journal focused on the etnological investigation of non-European communities and territories of the former USSR. The materials on the history of Eurasian movement were also systematically published there. In the early 2000s Vestnik began to publish an articles devoted to a critical analysis of ethnological ideas of Eurasianism and forms of appropriation of classical Eurasianists by Lev Gumilevs and neo-Eurasianists. However, it should be noted that the intellectual strategy of the journal was not quite clear. The statements which we can find in editorials seems rather contradictional to the message of critical articles. For example in theirs preface to a collection of articles, published in the journal, Sergey Panarin and Dmitrij Raevskij considers the work of journal in the same horizon with the the ideas of neo-Eurasianists, becase of belief that Eurasia is really exists (Panarin, Rajewski, 2004). Besides all the reservations about the scientific frames of the journal’s work, these statements seem to be rather sympthomatic from the point of view of making distance between science and politics.

The criticism of Neoeurasinism was rather sympthomatical for the new configuration of post-Soviet intellectual space formed by the end of the 1990s. I guess we can consider it as one of the design elements of a new intellectual community, which can be called a liberal-oriented. For example the first issue of "Neprikosnovenniy Zapas" - journal published by Novoe Literaturnoe obozrenie publishing house - opened with an article of historian Sergei Ivanov, devoted to critical analysis of Gumilev’s ideas (Smith, 1998). In 2000, this line goes with the publications of geographer Vladimir Kaganskij focused on the geographical mythology of Eurasianism and NeoEurasinism(Kaganskij, 2000). The most fundamental criticism of the ideological functions of Eurasianism belongs to Galina Zvereva, whose articles published in the "Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie” and in some other intellectual periodicals. Using the conceptual means of discourse analysis and the new intellectual history, she identified strategies of populism in the works of several well known representatives of Russian intellectual establishment who worked in mass-oriented brunches of humanities (especially in social sciences, history and Russian cultural studies). Zvereva shows how Eurasianists concepts became a part of post soviet intellectual doxa. It seems to me that significance of her works were connected with the elaboration of analytic tools for comprehension of borders between scientific knowledge on culture on the one hand and public and media discourse on another. Another important contribution to the critique of Eurasinism ideologies in Post Soviet space made the works of ethnologist Viktor Schnirelmann, who described different versions of Neoeurasinism and its influence to the ethnological thought (Shnirel'man, 2004; Schnirelman, 2006, etc.)

The beginning of the 2000s is also characterized by the increased interaction between Russian, French, American and other traditions of studying Eurasianism. An important mediator in this interaction became international quarterly Ab imperio, which published series of articles on classical and contemporary Eurasianism. The appearance of the monographs by Laruelle, dedicated to classical Eurasianism (Laruelle, 1999; Russian. Lane. - 2004) and neo-Eurasianism (Laruelle, 2007) can be considered the most important result of this process. These works are the most systematic examples of ideological criticism of Eurasianism. They take into account the achievements of Western post-colonial theory (part of the first book is devoted to the reception of the East cultures in the Eurasinist texts), expanding the theoretical understanding of the context of Eurasianism significantly. They contrast thus with the Russian monographs of the same period (Vandalkovskaya, 1997; Antoshchenko, 2003), which are based mainly on the intrinsic reconstructions of the views of the Eurasianists. The second important aspect of this kind of work is the deconstruction of intellectual genealogy of neo-Eurasianism. Characteristically, though, this focus makes unimportant the history of Eurasian Movement and the process of formulating of the Eurasianists doctrine, and, consequently, the work with archival materials.

The next notable stages of development of criticism of the Eurasionist ideology are represented by the special issues of magazines "Ethnographic Review" (2006, № 3) and "Forum of contemporary East European History and Culture" (2009, № 1,2; 2010, № 1,2). In the latter case the ideological criticism developed in the context of different disciplines - etnology, sociology, political science, cultural studies - was accumulated and summoned up. However, that criticism is considered mainly in the sphere of political ideology and does not address the study of the mechanisms of mass culture.

Thus, an important outcome of the Eurasianists studies may be considered in the paradigm of the production of ideological criticism of this doctrine. Much worse is the situation with the research projects that are based on a study of archival publications, with the reconstruction of the history of the movement as a set of contradictory views of its members, and so on. I think it’s becase of Eurasianism is considered only as a common and well thought-out concept, but not in all the ambiguity of its historical existence. Such works appear last years in the U.S. and German Eurasianists studies. I mean monographs of Stefan Wiederkehr and Sergei Glebov, Volume “Russia between East and West: scholarly debates on Eurasianism” and some others. (Wiederkehr, 2008; Shlyapentoh, ed. 2007; Glebov, 2010, etc.). Their significance is due to both the reliance on archival materials that help describe the dynamics of formation of the movement and the formation of significantly more complex system of contextualizing the Eurasianism related to the concepts of modernity, empire, etc. 

Thus there is not only an opportunity to inscribe Eurasianists into the context of social history, but to undergo an analysis of specific contexts of the movement, which in turn implies a recognition of their political bias which finds confirmation in the documents (See Glebov, 2010).

In Russia, such works are virtually absent. The studies of classical Eurasianism which continue to appear, sometimes even quite profound in using archival documents, still tend to be the immanent reconstructions and in some cases demonstrate not quite reflective position on the continuity of Eurasianists thought. A book by Bystryukov about P. Savitsky (Bystryukov, 2007) can provide an example here. For the reasons of “academic integrity” the review of the tradition of research of Eurasianism in this book includes works by A. Dugin.



In the end of my story I’d like to point out another way of the Eurasianism study which comes more immediately to the problems of the disciplinary self- reflection. It is clear that research strategy described here as an critique of ideology has a principal limitations besides differencies of its technology. They are due to the fact that the basis of this analysis is negative identification with the object of research, which is initially positioned out of the frame of science.  Following examples show the way to include the Euranism in the history of science and to make it independent from the ideological environment.

So, I would like to point out to the book by Patrick Serio, "The structure and integrity: intellectual origins of structuralism in Central and Eastern Europe. 1920-30s. »(Seriot, 1999, in Russian. Lane. Serio, 2001) and the article by Mark von Hagen, " Empire, borders and diaspora: Eurasia as anti-paradigm for post-Soviet period "(Hagen, 2004). Despite the different disciplines, genres and approaches these works are similar in the way of posing their object. In each case, Eurasianism is not taken solely in its ideological incarnation: for the both authors it fits into the history of the discipline. This does not mean that the authors turn a blind eye to its ideology. Exploring the relationship of ideology to scholarship, they see it is ambiguous. Thus, analyzing the work of Trubetskoy – a classic structuralist, and also the leader of the Eurasianists - P. Serio shows how his work on the Eurasianist ideology provided a fertile ground for the formulation of some of his structuralist thesisis. The conclusion about the stimulating effect of ideology on scholarship has multidisciplinary and transnational projections: following Serio, Trubetskoy’ studies of the "Russian geographical world” were important for the progress of linguistics, and his desire to create a specifically Russian research ground or scholarship contributed to the world Humanities. M. von Hagen, in his turn, shows the sense in which classical Eurasianism anticipates the post-colonial history of empire, while clearly emphasizing its ideological bias. A problematic relationship between Humanities and politics is the impetus for the historicization of classical Eurasianism, for the task of considering it in different social and intellectual contexts. Meanwhile, the heritage of the Eurasianists becomes a critical point - in the context of methodological self-reflection of modern scholarship, - important not only for is important not only for domestic but also for the Western intellectual tradition. This is an analysis of metaphors and conceptual ground in one case - comparative linguistics, and the history of Russia in the American research tradition in the other. Thus, both works are characterized by a reflexive attitude towards the problems of modernity. If we look for some analogues of this type of work, we can mention the book by Vishnevetzky dedicated to Eurasianists influence in Russian music (Vishnevetsky, 2005), which undergoes an interesting attempt to project the problems of Eurasianism to the development of Russian musical culture of the 20th century. The case is that Vishnevetsky brings Eurasianism from the field of pure ideology to the field of musical esthetics.


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