Another day, another calumny against Russian Studies

Seems like you can write any old crap even for EU-funded media now and make defamatory accusations without any repercussions: This latest of many such articles contains baseless and frankly ridiculous statements about ‘Western’ scholars who work on Russian culture. We are all ‘useful idiots’ now.…/russian-cultural-offensive…/

Two sections are most relevant:


“Western universities and research centres focusing on Russian cultural studies often end up in a way glorifying the Russian empire both in its Czarist, Bolshevik, and current forms instead of uncovering and condemning the track record of dictatorship, mass repressions, mass murders, deportations, and genocide.”

No evidence is presented to support this statement.

Secondly, in a section attacking Jan Rachinsky of Memorial, the authors write:

“Thus, a weaponised Russian/Soviet culture is being promoted in the West with the help of gullible education and research centres, eulogising Russian culture and raising whole new generations of scholars with an imperial paradigm and mindset.”

The only evidence offered to support this second statement is a link to a Swedish university film club (in Uppsala). This statement neglects to mention that the club makes clear it seeks to contextualize Soviet film in terms of the ‘tragedy’ and ‘pain’ of the Stalinist and post-Stalin epochs.…/master-programme…/ires-film-club-/

The two opinion writers have no claim to expertise on the topic of Russian Studies. One has a Law degree from Cambridge and works for USAID, the other is also a lawyer working for a think tank that has no expertise in this area.

I wouldn’t usually pay much attention to this, but the article is published by a relatively ‘mainstream’ EU-affiliated outfit. Many people will see this article. Yes, I know it is an Op-Ed, but even the shonkiest outlet would exercise more editorial control than is in evidence here.

Of course, the chief irony is that Dostoevsky is increasingly taught as a quintessentially European (showing the influence of French and English literature), as much as a ‘Russian’ writer. In the neoliberal university you are MORE likely to encounter him in an English literature department, where he would be presented as a globally-significant author who anticipated some twentieth-century developments in literature. Much, if not most of the Russian context, along with the politics, would be absent completely. The course you study him on might use – *horror-of-horrors* – the politically-incorrect term “The Great European Novel”. (Long ago, I once taught Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Stendhal and Flaubert in a course bearing this name).

By contrast it is precisely in a Russian culture or lit course that his views would come in for dissection, contextualization, and implicit or explicit condemnation (as a thinker who became arch-conservative, betraying the progressive ideals of his youth). Should his political views of Pan-Slavism be highlighted? Yes they should. Any Russian Studies course that is not a pure ‘lit-crit’ one, would probably spend some time talking about his political views and how he, as a public figure, represents more than one current in 19-century Russian thought. And how influenced that thought is by European traditions, while not losing sight of its indigenous development.

In a lit-crit course ‘Dosti’, as he’s known by teachers (or it just me?), might be read alongside Tolstoy, who also comes in for a bashing now, despite writing from a (albeit limited) perspective of the colonized well ahead of his time. The New Yorker published a piece with a spectacularly bad-faith interpretation of Tolstoy’s anti-oppression, Christian pacifist and anarchist philosophy. If we transplanted what the New Yorker author wrote to English lit, it would come out equally anachronistically and bizarrely wrong as something like: ‘Shakespeare in Othello ignores the resonance of #MeToo in his depiction of Desdemona’s murder. Shakespeare’s preoccupation with the vegetable metaphors in Othello does disservice to the idea of guerilla gardening for progressive causes.’

I don’t bother keeping track of these ridiculous self-promoting pieces attacking authors dead for a hundred and fifty years or more, but sure as eggs is eggs there will be more of them.

9 thoughts on “Another day, another calumny against Russian Studies

  1. J.T.


    Worse yet, the label “Eurasia” used today by many university and think tank programs echoes a central tenet of Russian nationalism—that it’s Russia’s destiny to dominate Eurasia from Portugal to the Bering Strait. There is an entire ideology of Eurasianism, whose main advocate is Aleksandr Dugin, one of Russia’s most zealous fascist ideologues.

    From “It’s High Time to Decolonize Western Russia Studies” by Artem Shaipov and Yuliia Shaipova for Foreign Policy. The article makes quite a few bizarre suppositions about the field.

    Regarding “Dosti,” it’s not just you! At my old uni, both professors and lit students used the term. See also “Shosti,” a diminuitive for Shostakovich.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Frances Atherton

    This article is outrageous! It’s completely unfounded and is simply an attack on Western scholars who study Russian culture. It’s a shame that such baseless accusations can be made without any repercussions. It’s a disservice to dedicated scholars trying to promote understanding and appreciation of Russian culture.


  3. PaulR

    So Russian history and culture can be reduced to ‘dictatorship, mass repressions, mass murders, deportations, and genocide’? That’s all that matters, apparently. In that case, should we teach British history, for instance, the same way?



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