Tag Archives: gayropa

Russian Cultural Conservatism Critiqued: Translating the Tropes of ‘Gayropa’ and ‘Juvenile Justice’

My article on homophobia and juvenile justice finally came out in Europe-Asia Studies. You can get a pre-print copy here. I’ll do a quick summary and reflection in this post.

The article started as a series of dissatisfactions about the way ‘culture war’ and conservative turn were extended from application to the Russian elite and big politics to ordinary people. As if to say, that as the media propagate intolerance, people blindly and automatically follow. Now, sure, I’m not saying there isn’t a strong effect when the media consistently demonises a group – just look at the xenophobic British press. However, my argument is that there is never a neat translation into everyday life of a trope like gayropa. I started thinking about this in a post from 2019.

Another prompt for my article was Greg Yudin’s demolition of a notorious poll on attitudes to Stalin and the problematic preconceived ideas that shape much Russian polling. Greg was writing around the same time Levada’s latest poll on ‘attitudes to LGBT people’ came out. I commented then that more methodologically robust studies find that while Russia is ‘medium-high’ in terms of preference for ‘traditional’ values in comparison to other European countries, there are big long-term shifts towards ‘tolerance’ in general, and away from extreme attitudes towards LGBT people in particular.  

This week we see something similar with disproportionate attention and interpretation afforded to a Levada poll showing a fall in people answering ‘yes’ to the question: “do you consider Russia a European country” (from 52% in 2008 to 29% today). I pointed out that at the very least this is a very slippery question that tells us nothing about the substantive meaning of people’s answers – whether they say yes or no.

In my article I bring out the many conversations I have had with my long-term research participants about homosexuality, childrearing, corporal punishment and so on. Certainly there is some reflection of ‘official’ values in talk, but these are overshadowed by longer-term ‘structures of feeling’ – some of which do emphasise ‘traditional’ values. I also engage with Chantel Mouffe,  Michael Herzfeld’s work on ‘cultural intimacy’ and similar work by Alexander Kiossev. They critique an unsophisticated version of cultural hegemony. This allows a space for ‘everyday politics’ to emerge in talk, even in what might appear as unambiguously intolerant or conservative attitudes.

Some things I didn’t have space for in the article – how some perspectives on intolerance in places like Russia are a form of psychological projection; I highly recommend this piece by Katharina Wiedlack on the ‘Western gaze on Russian homophobia’. There’s a long discussion about cultural attitudes to childhood in the article; with the effect of Covid and various other things, I more and more tend to the conclusion that British people utterly despise children

In Chechnya and elsewhere in Russia, men are murdered for being gay, and official homophobia causes untold suffering and the perpetuation of intolerance. But as Wiedlack argues, there are ways of criticising and condemning prejudice and violence without perpetuating notions of western hegemony and counterproductive ‘leveraged pedagogy’ (Kulpa 2014) around sexuality and gender.

A Day of Knowledge – Topic-based teaching of Russian Current Affairs

Day of Knowledge

Day of Knowledge in a Russian School – 1 September.

I’m about to dive back into a semester of very intensive teaching. It’s Russia’s ‘Day of Knowledge’, so I thought I’d share a ‘mini’ course I’m going to be teaching.

In Danish it’s called Aktuelt Emne, which means ‘Current Topic’. This is a ‘mini’ course because its only worth 5 ECTS (which equates to 500 pages of compulsory reading and 26 hours of class time). It can run for a whole semester (13 weeks), but for various reasons I’m going to deliver it in 8 sessions, each of which covers a ‘sub-topic’.

The main questions that arise around this kind of teaching are: How specific the topic? How in-depth do we want to go, given the course is ‘only’ 5 credits and the students have a lot of other demands on them? What ‘level’ to pitch this at, given that the students have had little exposure to contemporary issues before and the fact that non-Russianists can take this course? How to balance the ‘Area studies’ approach with the need to expose students to concepts like ‘biopolitics’, ‘governmentality’ and ‘homo sacer’. These terms are likely to be meaningless to most students, even though the students have a general ‘humanities’ primer course beforehand.

Anyway, this year I’m trying to relate the course to the article I’m writing on ‘Gayropa’ and homophobia as an example of the ‘conservative turn’ in Russia. In the article I’m contrarian, arguing that homophobia has more significant  ‘roots’ in cultural history – for want of a better formulation – and aspects of Soviet-era enculturation and socialisation – a shorthand for which is the word ‘vospitanie‘. Visible deviants are ‘lacking’ in moral vospitanie. I conclude by saying these issues, along with an argument related to that of Daria Ukhova: mean that ‘conservatism’ is a defensive mechanism against the multiple failures of the state. These are more salient issues than state-directed propaganda against ‘Gayropa’. I’ll blog aspects of that article soon – the draft is here.

Anyway, many of the sources I use in the article serve as readings on the course. I kinda artificially break up the course into ‘topics’, but in reality these overlap quite a lot.

Some of this is ‘experimental’ – I’m not sure how well some of the readings will go down. Whether they are cohesive enough to serve the learning aims. Whether the ‘summary tasks’ help prepare the students enough for further study and writing.

Russian Cultural Politics Today.

  1. (4 September) 8-11am Russian cultural politics today : Introduction
  2.  (18 September) 8-11am Russia’s conservative turn and soft power
  3.  (25 September) 8-11am Russia’s biopolitics – gender retraditionalizations
  4.  (2 October) 8-11am Russia’s biopolitics – state, the family and the child
  5.  (23 October) 8-11am Russia’s biopolitics – LGBT and youth – unruly others
  6.  (6 November) 8-11am Race, ethnicity and religion as sites of cultural politics
  7.  (20 November) 8-11am The liberal alternative – Russia’s opposition as a cultural sphere
  8.  (4 December) 8am-12pm Grounding the study of Russian cultural politics, and alternative perspectives.

Introduction to the course aims

This 5 ECTS Credit course aims to investigate the so-called ‘conservative turn’ in Russian cultural politics since around 2010. Scholars Andrey Makarychev and Alexandra Yatsyk (we read them in Week 2) argue that the current regime has taken an increasingly conservative turn since the protests in Russia in 2011 and 2012 for two reasons. First to solidify and legitimize a political system with one dominating leader supported by the elites, arguing that this form of ‘sovereign’ or ‘managed’ democracy is part of Russian identity, secondly to paint a picture of the western world as degenerate, rejecting its Judeo-Christian heritage, in contrast to Russia, which becomes a defender of European civilisation.

Yatsyk and Makarychev highlight three main components of this “new” conservative discourse in Russia: Russia is one of the few real sovereign nations in the world, a goal of reconstructing a unified Russian nation, in part used as an explanation for annexing Crimea, and finally the idea of ‘normality’ regarding family life, sexuality etc, rejecting the more liberal West as depraved and trying, through international organisations  to infiltrate and dismantle traditional Russian, Orthodox, values. Two examples of how this conservative turn goes beyond Russian political discourse and is reflected in concrete legislation are article 6.13, known as the gay propaganda ban law, passed in June 2013, as well as the law changing domestic violence that does not result in severe bodily harm from a criminal offence to an administrative offence, passed in 2017.

These are the kind of issues we will be examining in this course. The guiding questions that will be reflected in the assignment are as follows: What is the conservative turn in Russia? What has caused it? How has it affected political discourse around the family, gender roles, the upbringing of children? What kind of groups are identified as threats to this normative order? How does the government use this discourse to justify its foreign policy? How are race and religion relevant to conservatism and national identity? How ‘liberal’, is the liberal opposition to the government? How has the conservative turn been expressed in relations with neighbours of Russia?

Weekly assignments and readings:

Week One. Introduction:

Compulsory Reading:

Robinson, N. (2014) The Political Origins of Russia’s ‘Culture Wars’, Department of Politics and Public Administration University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland https://ulir.ul.ie/handle/10344/3796

Trudolyubov, M. (2014) ‘Russia’s Culture Wars’, The New York Times, 7 Feb 2014, pp. 14–16.


Summary task:

Andrey Makarychev & Sergei Medvedev (2015) Biopolitics and Power in Putin’s Russia, Problems of Post-Communism, 62:1, 45-54, DOI: 10.1080/10758216.2015.1002340

Task: the above text has a lot of newspaper and media sources, including in Russian. Select one and summarise it in 200-300 words. Explore at least one Russian media source and make some notes on it. Find out whether the issue has developed since 2015.

[48 pages]

Further Reading:

Andrei Melville (2017) A Neoconservative Consensus in Russia?, Russian Politics & Law, 55:4-5, 315-335, DOI: 10.1080/10611940.2017.1533271


Thomas Lemke (2001) ‘The birth of bio-politics’: Michel Foucault’s lecture at the Collège de France on neo-liberal governmentality, Economy and Society, 30:2, 190-207 (particularly see pp.202- for a summary of key terms)

Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998).

Week Two: Russia’s conservative turn and soft power

Compulsory Reading:

Makarychev, Andrey, Yatsyk, Alexandra: “A New Russian Conservatism: Domestic Roots and Repercussions for Europe” in Notes International CIDOB, No. 93, 2014. https://www.cidob.org/en/publications/publication_series/notes_internacionals/n1_93/a_new_russian_conservatism_domestic_roots_and_repercussions_for_europe

Riabov, O. and Riabova, T. (2014) ‘The decline of Gayropa? How Russia intends to save the world’, 5 February 2014 Eurozine https://www.eurozine.com/the-decline-of-gayropa

Summary task:

Sergunin, Alexander, and Leonid Karabeshkin. “Understanding Russia’s Soft Power Strategy.” Politics 35, no. 3-4 (2015): 347-363.

Task: Make a one-page summary of the text’s main points in your own words. Bring to class. This is an essential skill to develop to support essay writing and working towards a successful bachelor project. Then write a paragraph from the perspective of a critical reader who wants to argue that the claims of Russian soft power strength in general are exaggerated (you might need to skim Keating and Splidsboel to get some ideas for this, but most of all use your common sense!).

[34 pages]

Further Reading:

Bassin, M., and G. Pozo, eds. 2017. The politics of Eurasianism: Identity, popular culture and

Russia’s foreign policy. London: Rowman & Littlefield.

Keating, V. C., & Kaczmarska, K. (2017). Conservative Soft Power: Liberal soft power bias and the ‘hidden’ attraction of Russia. Journal of International Relations and Development. DOI: 10.1057/s41268-017-0100-6 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/314286278_Conservative_Soft_Power_Liberal_soft_power_bias_and_the_’hidden’_attraction_of_Russia


Kosachev, Konstantin, (2012) The Specifics of Russian Soft Power. Russia in Global Affairs, 3, 2012. https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/number/The-Specifics-of-Russian-Soft-Power-15683

Viatcheslav Morozov (2013) Subaltern Empire?: Toward a Postcolonial Approach to Russian Foreign Policy, Problems of Post-Communism, 60:6, 16-28: https://doi.org/10.2753/PPC1075-8216600602

Morozova, N. 2009. Geopolitics, eurasianism and Russian foreign policy under Putin. Geopolitics 14 (4):667–86.

Neumann, I. B. 1995. Russia and the idea of Europe: A study of identity and international relations. London: Routledge.

Polyakova, A. 2014. Putin and Europe’s Far Right World Affairs, Vol. 177, No. 3 (SEPTEMBER / OCTOBER 2014), pp. 36-40

Prozorov, Sergei (2004) : Russian conservatism in the Putin presidency: The dispersion of a hegemonic discourse, DIIS Working Paper, No. 2004:20, Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS), Copenhagen This Version is available at:http://hdl.handle.net/10419/84604

Prozorov, S. 2007. The narratives of exclusion and self-exclusion in the Russian conflict discourse on EU-Russian relations. Political Geography 26 (3):309–29.

Snegovaya, M. 2017. Conservative Turn in Eastern Europe: Political Conservatism in Russia. Desenvolvimento em Debate v.5, n.1, p.95-113, 2017. https://www.academia.edu/35571272/Conservative_Turn_in_Eastern_Europe_Political_Conservatism_in_Russia

Flemming Splidsboel Hansen Russian influence operations Trying to get what you want DIIS POLICY BRIEF 30. OKTOBER 2018 https://www.diis.dk/publikationer/russian-influence-operations

Tsygankov, A. (2007). ‘Finding a civilisational idea: ‘West’, ‘Eurasia’, ‘Euro-East’ in Russia’s foreign policy’, Geopolitics, 12 (3):375–99.

Tsygankov, A. (2016) Russia’s foreign policy: Continuity and change in national identity 4th ed. (Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield).

Week Three: Russian biopolitics – gender retraditionalization

Compulsory Reading:

Muravyeva, M. (2014) ‘Traditional Values and Modern Families: Legal Understanding of Tradition and Modernity in Contemporary Russia’, Journal of Social Policy Research, 12(4), pp. 625-638. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/282856363_Traditional_Values_and_Modern_Families_Legal_Understanding_of_Tradition_and_Modernity_in_Contemporary_Russia

Muravyeva, M. (2018) Austerity, Gender inequality and Feminism after the crisis: “Should women have more rights?” Traditional Values and Austerity in Russia. ROSA-LUXEMBURG-STIFTUNG [read sections 1 and 3.]


Temkina, A., Zdravomyslova, E. (2014) ‘Gender’s crooked path: Feminism confronts Russian patriarchy’, Current Sociology, 62(2), pp. 253-270.

Summary Task:

Muravyeva, M. (2018) Austerity, Gender inequality and Feminism after the crisis: “Should women have more rights?” Traditional Values and Austerity in Russia. ROSA-LUXEMBURG-STIFTUNG [read section 4]. Put yourself in the place of a Women’s Rights NGO in Russia. How would you implement the proposals? Summarise in 200-300 words.

[54 pages]

Further Reading:

Åberg, P. 2015. Civil society and biopolitics in contemporary Russia: The case of Russian “Daddy-Schools”, Foucault Studies, 20, 76-95

Johnson, J. E. (2007) ‘Domestic violence politics in post-Soviet states’, Social Politics, 14(3), pp. 380-405.

Johnson, J. E., Saarinen, A. (2013) ‘Twenty-first-century feminisms under repression: Gender regime change and the women’s crisis center movement in Russia’, Signs: Journal of women in Culture and Society, 38(3), pp. 543-567.

Oleg Riabov & Tatiana Riabova (2014) The Remasculinization of Russia?, Problems of Post-Communism, 61:2, 23-35, DOI: 10.2753/PPC1075-8216610202

Salmenniemi, S., Adamson, M. (2015) ‘New heroines of labour: domesticating post-feminism and neoliberal capitalism in Russia’, Sociology, 49(1), pp. 88-105.

Zdravomyslova, E. (2010). Working mothers and nannies: Commercialization of childcare and modifications in the gender contract (a sociological essay).Anthropology of East Europe Review, 28 , 200–225

Week Four: Family, welfare and child policies

Compulsory Reading:

Sherstneva, N. (2014) ‘Why are children’s rights so dangerous? Interpreting Juvenile Justice in the light of conservative mobilization in contemporary Russia’ in N. Novikova, and M. Muravyeva (eds). Women’s History in Russia: (Re)Establishing the Field Cambridge Scholars Publisher, pp.193-215. https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/asb/detail.action?docID=1859167

Höjdestrand, T. (2016). Social Welfare or Moral Warfare? Popular Resistance against Children’s Rights and Juvenile Justice in Contemporary Russia. International Journal of Children’s Rights, 24(4), 826-850. https://doi.org/10.1163/15718182-02404007


Sirotin, V. (2009) Children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List.  Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Available at: http://stephenshenfield.net/archives/research-jrl/97-jrl-special-issue-no-45-november-2009#2

Summary task:

Elena Mizulina et al., comp., Kontseptsiia gosudarstvennoi semeinoi politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii na period do 2025 goda (The Concept of state family policy in the Russian Federation for the period until 2025) (Moscow, 2013),


Alternative version: https://rg.ru/2014/08/29/semya-site-dok.html

Summarise the state’s main aims in the concept of state family policy in more than one, but less than two pages.

[80 pages]

Further Reading:

Borozdina, E. et al. (2014) Using maternity capital: Citizen distrust of Russian family policy. European Journal of Women’s Studies, 23(1), pp.60-75.

Kingsbury, M., (2019) Let’s have more Russian babies. How anti-immigrant sentiment shapes family leave policy in Russia, Communist and Post-Communist Studies, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.postcomstud.2019.07.004.

Fabian, K., Bekiesza-Korolczuk, E. (Eds.) (2017) Rebellious Parents: Parental Movements in Central-Eastern Europe and Russia, Indiana University Press.

 Johnson, J. E. , et al. (2016), Street-level Practice of Russia’s Social Policymaking in Saint Petersburg: Federalism, Informal Politics, and Domestic Violence Jnl Soc. Pol. 45, 2, 287–304. doi:10.1017/S0047279415000689

Kainu, M., Kulmala, M., Nikula, J. and Kivinen, M. (2016), ‘The Russian Welfare State System: With Special Reference to Regional Inequality’, in C. Aspalter, ed.,, Welfare State Systems. Burlington: Ashgate.

Rivkin-Fish, M. (2010) Pronatalism, Gender Politics, and the Renewal of Family Support in Russia: Toward a Feminist Anthropology of “Maternity Capital” Slavic Review, Vol. 69, No. 3 (FALL 2010), pp. 701-724.

Slonimczyk, F., Yurko, A. (2014) ‘Assessing the impact of the maternity capital policy in Russia’, Labour Economics, 30, pp. 265-281.

Stella, F. and Nartova, N. (2015) Sexual citizenship, nationalism and biopolitics in Putin’s Russia. In: Stella, F., Taylor, Y., Reynolds, T. and Rogers, A. (eds.) Sexuality, Citizenship and Belonging: Trans-National and Intersectional Perspectives. Series: Advances in critical diversities (1). Routledge: London, pp. 24-42. ISBN 9781138805040


  1. Shmidt, “Kak zashchishchat’ detei,” Polit.Ru, October 26, 2012,




Week 5: Russia’s biopolitics – LGBT and youth: unruly others

Compulsory Reading:

Erpyleva, S. (2018). Freedom’s children in protest movements: Private and public in the socialization of young Russian and Ukrainian activists. Current Sociology, 66(1), 20-37.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0011392116668223

Wilkinson, C. (2014) Putting “Traditional Values” Into Practice: The Rise and

Contestation of Anti-Homopropaganda Laws in Russia, Journal of Human Rights, 13:3, 363-379, DOI: 10.1080/14754835.2014.919218

Summary task:

Levada (2019) ‘Otnoshenie k LGBT-liudiam’, Levada Centre 23.05.2019 https://www.levada.ru/2019/05/23/otnoshenie-k-lgbt-lyudyam

Levada (2013) ‘Novyi opros ob LGBT’, Levada Centre 3.07.2013 https://www.levada.ru/2013/07/03/novyj-opros-ob-lgbt

Wiedlack, K. (2018) ‘Quantum Leap 2.0 or the Western gaze on Russian homophobia’, Adeptus, 2018(11). https://www.researchgate.net/publication/326304340_Quantum_Leap_20_or_the_Western_gaze_on_Russian_homophobia

Write an outline for an LGBT student organisation (300 words) arguing that fighting homophobia in Russia needs to take account of the issues Wiedlack raises. Use some statistics from the Levada surveys. Is homophobia getting better or worse? What aspects of homosexuality do Russians find most problematic? How do they compare to Danes?

[55 pages]

Further Reading:

Kondakov, A. (2015) ‘Heteronormativity of the Russian Legal Discourse: The Silencing, Lack, and Absence of Homosexual Subjects in Law and Policies’, Sortuz: Oñati Journal of Emergent Socio-Legal Studies, 4(2), pp. 4-23. http://opo.iisj.net/index.php/sortuz/article/viewFile/603/581

Kondakov, A. (2017) Prestupleniia na pochve nenavisti protiv LGBT v Rossii: otchet (St Petersburg: Centre of Independent Sociological Research: Renome).

Kon, I. S. (2003) ‘O normalizatsii gomoseksuaľnosti’, Seksologiia i Seksopatologiia, 2003(2), 2–12. http://www.pseudology.org/kon/Articles/NormaGomosexuality.htm accessed 8 June 2019.

Kulpa, R. (2014) Western “leveraged pedagogy” of Central and Eastern Europe: Discourses of homophobia, tolerance, and nationhood. Gender, Place & Culture, 21(4), 431–448.

Kulpa, R. & Mizielińska, J. (2012) ‘“Guest editors” introduction: Central and Eastern European sexualities “in transition”’, Lambda Nordica: Journal of LGBTQ Studies, 2012(4), 19–29.

Krupets Y., Morris J., Nartova NadyaOmelchenko Elena, Sabirova G. Imagining young adults’ citizenship in Russia: from fatalism to affective ideas of belonging, Journal of Youth Studies. 2017. Vol. 20. No. 2. P. 252-267.

Mole, R. (2011) ‘Nationality and sexuality: homophobic discourse and the “national threat” in contemporary Latvia’, Nations and Nationalism, 17(3): 540–560.

Omelchenko, Elena, and Guzel Sabirova. “Youth cultures in contemporary Russia: memory, politics, solidarities.” Eastern European Youth Cultures in a global context. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2016. 253-270.

Patin, K. (2016) ‘The Origin of Russian Gay Myths: Four Myths that Fuel Hatred for Gays in Russia’, 29 March 2016 https://codastory.com/lgbt-crisis/russian-myths/ accessed 8 June 2019.

Pomeranzev, P. (2016) ‘Europe, Putin and “Gayropa” Bait:  The Kremlin’s messaging on gay rights issues has little to do with beliefs’, 18 January 2016. https://codastory.com/lgbt-crisis/putin-wants-to-confuse-you/ accessed 8 June 2019.

Sirotin, V. (2009) Children and adolescents in the USSR and post-Soviet Russia Research and Analytical Supplement to Johnson’s Russia List.  Special Issue No. 45. November 2009. Available at: http://stephenshenfield.net/archives/research-jrl/97-jrl-special-issue-no-45-november-2009#2.

Week 6:  Race, ethnicity and religion as sites of cultural politics

Anderson, J. (2013) ‘Rock, art, and Sex: The “Culture Wars” Come to Russia”’, Journal of Church and State, 55(2) 307-334. https://academic.oup.com/jcs/article/55/2/307/807019

Laruelle, M. (2010) ‘The Ideological Shift on the Russian Radical Right: From Demonizing the West to Fear of Migrants’, Problems of Post-Communism 57(6): 19–31.

Summary task:

Zhuravlev, D. (2017) Orthodox Identity as Traditionalism: Construction of Political Meaning in the Current Public Discourse of the Russian Orthodox Church, Russian Politics & Law, 55:4-5, 354-375, DOI: 10.1080/10611940.2017.1533274

As previously, make a summary in one or two pages of this article based on the assumption that you will later write an essay referring to it. The purpose of the notes is to record now the main content you will need in an essay: You need to summarise the main argument, but also find useful quotes to use in your essay.

[60 pages]

Further Reading:

Agadjanian, Alexander: “Revising Pandora’s Gifts: Religious and National Identity in the Post-Soviet Societal Fabric” in Europe-Asia Studies, vol. 53, no. 3, 2001

Aitamurto, K. 2016 Paganism, Traditionalism, Nationalism: Narratives of Russian Rodnoverie. Routledge. DOI https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315599304

Arnold, R. & Lawrence P. Markowitz (2018) The evolution of violence within far-right mobilization: evidence from Russia, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 41:9, 1558-1573.

Bahry, D. (2016) Opposition to Immigration, Economic Insecurity and Individual Values: Evidence from Russia, Europe-Asia Studies, 68:5, 893-916, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2016.1178710

Damm, Emily Belle, and Skye Cooley. “Resurrection of the Russian Orthodox Church: Narrative of Analysis of the Russian National Myth.” Social Science Quarterly 98, no. 3 (2017): 942-957.

Hutchings, Stephen, and Vera Tolz. 2015. Nation, Ethnicity and Race on Russian Television: Mediating Post-Soviet Difference. London: Routledge.

Kizenko, N. (2013) ‘Feminized patriarchy? Orthodoxy and gender in post-Soviet Russia’, Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 38(3), pp. 595-621.

Dzidziguri, Shalva. “The Power and limits of the Russian Orthodox Church”. Forbes Opinion. December 14, 2016. https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/12/14/the-power-and-limits-of-the-russian-orthodox-church/2/#362fd0bc6c5d

Petro, Nicolai N. “Russia’s orthodox soft power.” Carnegie Council (2015).

Laruelle, M. In the Name of the Nation: Nationalism and Politics in Contemporary Russia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Laruelle, M. (2014) ‘Beyond Anti-Westernism: The Kremlin’s Narrative about Russia’s European Identity and Mission’, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo 326,


Lomagin, Nikita. “Interest groups in Russian foreign policy: The invisible hand of the Russian Orthodox Church.” International Politics 49, no. 4 (2012): 498-516.

Teper, Y. (2016) Official Russian identity discourse in light of the annexation of Crimea: national or imperial?, Post-Soviet Affairs, 32:4, 378-396, DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2015.1076959

Tipaldou, S. and K.Uba (2014) The Russian Radical Right Movement and Immigration Policy: Do They Just Make Noise or Have an Impact as Well?, Europe-Asia Studies, 66:7, 1080-1101, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2014.927647.

Tolz, Vera, and Sue-Ann Harding. 2015. “From ‘Compatriots’ to ‘Aliens’: The Changing Coverage of Migration on Russian Television.” Russian Review 74: 452–477.

Umland, A. (2017). Post-Soviet Neo-Eurasianism, the Putin System, and the Contemporary European Extreme Right. Perspectives on Politics,15(2), 465-476. doi:10.1017/S1537592717000135

Week 7: The liberal alternative? – Russia’s opposition as a cultural sphere

Laruelle, M. (2014) ‘Alexei Navalny and Challenges in Reconciling “Nationalism” and “Liberalism” ’, Post-Soviet Affairs 30(4): 276–97.

“Scratch a Russian liberal and you’ll find an educated conservative”: an interview with sociologist Greg Yudin http://www.criticatac.ro/lefteast/scratch-a-russian-liberal-and-youll-find-an-educated-conservative-an-interview-with-sociologist-greg-yudin/#.WNPNJyj31Jw.twitter

Ilya Matveev, 2014 The “Two Russias” Culture War: Constructions of the “People” during the 2011-2013 Protests, South Atlantic Quarterly 113(1):186-195 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/274055930_The_Two_Russias_Culture_War_Constructions_of_the_People_during_the_2011-2013_Protests

Summary Task:


Listen to the podcast and make notes. Try to cross-reference your notes with material from Laruelle that you have read in her articles.

[43 pages + 1 hour listening]

Further Reading:

Morozov, V. (2017) ‘Mif o reaktsionnosti rossiiskogo massovogo soznaniia i problema intellektual’nogo liderstva’ [The myth about reactionary Russian mass consciousness and the problem of intellectual leadership], Blog Post/Policy Memo. PONARS Eurasia. New Approaches to Research and Security in Eurasia. 28 April 2017. http://www.ponarseurasia.org/ru/article_20170428_Morozov accessed 8 June 2019.

Hale, H. E. (2011) The Myth of Mass Russian Support for Autocracy: The Public Opinion Foundations of a Hybrid Regime, Europe-Asia Studies, 63:8, 1357-1375, DOI: 10.1080/09668136.2011.601106

Hopf, T. (2013) ‘Common-Sense Constructivism and Hegemony in World Politics’, International Organization 67(2): 317–54.

Morozov, V. (2015) Russian’s Postcolonial Identity: A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World (Basingstoke, Palgrave). [chapter 5 on populism is useful]

Pavlova, E. (2014) ‘Fight Against Corruption in Russian and European Discourse: “Irreconcilable Differences”?’ EU-Russia Papers 14, http://ceurus.ut.ee/home/eu-russia-forum/.

Week Eight: Grounding the study of Russian political culture and alternative perspectives

4 hours booked for final session.

Compulsory Reading:

Morozov, V.  Chapter 5 The People Are Speechless: Russia, the West and the Voice of the Subaltern, in Russia’s Postcolonial Identity A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World. Palgrave. pp.135-165. [pdf on Blackboard – Copydan]

Karine Clément & Anna Zhelnina, 2019 Beyond Loyalty and Dissent: Pragmatic Everyday Politics in Contemporary Russia International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society, pp. 1-20. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10767-019-9319-0

Summary task:

Work on a one-page plan of a possible assignment topic based on one of the week topics. Try to go beyond just a topic to create an ‘argument’ within a title for the essay. E.g. “Russian soft power appears successful based on projecting an image of conservatism to those abroad, however, based on the evidence from its foreign policy actions in Georgia, the Baltics and Ukraine, in reality it has few supporters outside Russia”. Decide on 4-6 academic sources that you would need to re-read and use for the evidence in your essay. Write a few sentences summarising each article and indicating how they are relevant to your argument.

[52 pages]

Further Reading:

Karine Clément (2018): Social mobilizations and the question of social justice in contemporary Russia, Globalizations, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2018.1479014

Samuel A. Greene, 2019, Homo Post-Sovieticus: Reconstructing Citizenship in Russia, social research Vol. 86 : No. 1 : Spring 2019 181-202.

Morozov, V. (2015) Russian’s Postcolonial Identity: A Subaltern Empire in a Eurocentric World (Basingstoke, Palgrave).

Joanna Szostek (2017) Defence and Promotion of Desired State Identity in Russia’s Strategic Narrative, Geopolitics, 22:3, 571-593, DOI: 10.1080/14650045.2016.1214910


Russian ‘notorious’ homophobia? The perils of measuring intolerance (and making cross-cultural comparisons)

LGBT right activists protest Russia

Activists in Berlin protest LGBT rights violations in Russia, including egregious abuse of Cyrillic and a large dose of Orientalism to boot.

I’m reading a lot at the moment about ‘culture war’, the conservative turn’ and things like historical homophobia in Russia. This is to prepare a paper and, hopefully, publication on this topic for a special issue in Europe-Asia Studies that a colleague proposed. So immediately I thought, well, what about looking at this from the ground up? Instead of taking it as read that where conservative entrepreneurs like Yelena Mizulina lead (‘prohibition is freedom’), ordinary people ‘follow’, my hunch was that actual penetration into society of ‘Gayropa’ tropes is weak. That’s not to say there is some fertile ground, and of course a long history of different types of intolerance, some of which are ingrained.

And so I was lucky enough to be able to do some focused interviews with some of the long-term contacts I have and surprisingly was able to get quite a (small) cross-section of people talking about this in my fieldwork last year. My rather banal conclusion is that while homophobia (like antisemitism) is sometimes talked about as if it were a national pastime (hey don’t troll me; more than one Russian friend has made this ‘joke’), Russia is not the ‘intolerant’, socially conservative place it is so often presented to be, when observers assume an active response to elite-led rhetoric about the malign influence of a degenerate western ideology of permissiveness. Take up and ordinary use of ‘Gayropa’ is the exception, not the rule around ‘everyday homophobia’. Although, having said that more than of my close friends in the field is a very big consumer of the Juvenile Justice narrative and there certainly is a susceptibility to the paedophilia-homosexuality linkage slur (Tova Höjdestrand has done good work on this and ‘grass-roots conservatism’ in general). This was brought home to me because when I moved from the UK to Denmark, it became a hot topic – Scandinavia being the blank canvas of permissiveness onto which some people project their fantasies (no I’m not going to talk about the story about the brothel for animals in Denmark – get your own browsing history tagged).

Danish Porn and Art Warning Sign

One of a collection in the series ‘You know you’re in ultra-laid back Denmark when…’ Porn (including some hardcore and violent films!) ‘might not’ be suitable for children?

Anyway, I will get back to those topics in a later post, perhaps when my article it better developed. In this post I want to focus in on the recent polling on homophobia (an ‘emblematic’ topic for measuring intolerance of others), in the light of the equally topical debate on the perils of opinion polling, and the homo soveticus debate. These three issues are now linked in my mind. What follows is my rather rough working draft of my deep suspicion of public opinion polling as evidenced by that done in Russia on homophobia (okay, I only looked at Levada).

Let’s take the recent Levada poll on ‘Attitudes towards LGBT people’. Radio Echo Moskvy presents these as: ‘More than half of Russians are negative towards sexual minorities’. This is accurate. However, without longitudinal context (conspicuously absent in coverage of the poll), things look different. While the headline ‘disapproval’ of homosexuality (56%) is presented with no time series to compare it to, other longitudinal data shows an ebb and flow from 51% approval in 2005, to a low of 39% in 2013, and back to 47% in 2019. Similarly, instead of ‘disapproval’, one could highlight the volatility of the ‘strong approval’ rating of equal rights: from 17% in 2005, down to 7% in 2013 and now 20%. In any case, psychology of survey data shows that people are more likely to respond with a ‘strong’ answer to items they interpret as politically topical and are presented with (compare the critique of ‘push polling’) – Brexit and migration is a good example of this.

Looking at the question of survey data and public opinion more generally, a major problem of interpretive comparability over time (among many others) is the tweaking of question wording that inevitably happens and the difficulty in formulating open questions. Levada recently came in for criticism on this very issue with their controversial survey on Stalin and Stalinism.  Here too, on homosexuality, the same problem is evident; it is very difficult to compare longitudinally a much more interesting question about ‘nature versus nurture’ in the creation of sexuality. In the 2019 poll, the question is, ‘Do you think sexual orientation can be changed under the influence of external circumstances or is it an innate characteristic?’ Leaving aside the clumsy and potentially confusing wording of this question that many respondents might struggle to understand, this question is quite different from the one in 2013: ‘Do you think sexual orientation can change under the influence of propaganda?’ Interestingly, Russians gave a resounding ‘no’ to this answer in 2013. In the 2019 version 46% agreed that sexual identity is malleable, while 27% thought sexuality was innate. I would argue that both question forms are methodologically ‘leading’ and that pollsters could have chosen a more neutral or open form of questioning.

There appears to be more interpretive value in more modest aggregate longitudinal comparisons. On ‘family values’ and the civilizational differences between Russians and ‘Europeans’ this has been attempted through integrating survey data going back to 1989. These show a relatively rapid movement from harsh intolerance of homosexuality towards a slightly less intolerant mindset by 2011. For example, Fabrykant and Magun (2011) present data showing a sharp fall in people wanting to exterminate homosexuals (from 31% to 5%) while ‘toleration’ nearly doubles to around 25% of respondents. The authors are optimistic about changes to normative values given that even the highly stigmatised meaning of homosexuality shows moderation over time. On the other hand, their comparative results show that in 2013, 70% of respondents still gave answers indicating they thought homosexuality was pathological in some way. (Big thanks to Marharyta Fabrykant for making me aware of these materials – you can check out her work here).

More recently, the same authors have pointed out that Russia is among on the ‘medium-high’ end of tradition-normative values in comparison to other European countries (Fabrykant and Magun 2018: 82) [opens as a PDF]. They base this evaluation on the work of Viktoriia Sakevich (2014) who analysed Pew Research Center data on ‘moral’ values.  When these findings are broken down by category, Russia differs little from Western European countries on issues such as extra-marital and premarital sex, divorce, abortion, contraception. In some cases Russia is more ‘liberal’ than both Anglo-Saxon and some Southern or Eastern European countries. Homosexuality is the outlier, with Russia more similar to Asian and African countries.

However, we should again exercise caution, because so much depends on how questions are phrased. If we return to the important question of nature-nurture and homosexuality, Russians do not look so much like outliers. A recent UK poll, for example, records 34% of respondents as believing that gays are not born, but made, with much internal variation in the sample (YouGov 2017 – Opens as a PDF). As recently as 1998 a majority (62%) of British people thought homosexuality was always, mostly, or sometimes ‘wrong’ (Clements and Field 2014). One could even take a contrarian view and argue that based on attitudes towards adoption of children by homosexuals, British and Russian people are pretty similar when it comes to the question of equal rights: British people are strongly against gay men adopting (actually, like Russians they are very inconsistent and answer differently depending on how the question is asked!). Edwin Bacon makes a similar argument, highlighting similar levels of nationalism in Russia and some Western countries today, and reminding us that attitudes towards homosexuality only changed (but did they?) in recent living memory in the West, and that on some measures, Russia is arguably more socially ‘liberal’ (immigration). Finally, as I write this, open hatred of gay people is in the news in the UK with two violent attacks in public given widespread coverage (in Southampton and in ‘tolerant’ London) this week and the ongoing standoff over the teaching’ of LGBT issues in Birmingham.