Congratulations to our graduating students and Summer 2018 FLAS Fellows!

Congratulations to the following REEES students, who are graduating this May.

· Christina Filipovich (REEES major, Political Science minor)
· Danielle Lindblad (REEES major)
· Ilya Vorobyev (REEES major)

Also, congratulations to our Summer FLAS fellows listed below. Safe travels!

Grad Students
· Justin Balcor, Musicology (Georgian)
· Melissa Bialecki, Musicology (Russian)
· Rebecca Clendenen, Political Science (Turkish)
· Stefan Djordjevic, History (Czech)
· Jacob Goldsmith, Slavic (Russian)
· LeiAnna Hamel, Slavic (Yiddish)
· Zainab Hermes, Linguistics (Turkish)
· Sydney Lazarus, REEEC (Russian)
· Kathryn Quinn O’Dowd, Sociology (Czech)
· Danielle Sekel, Musicology (Bulgarian)
· Jesse Wesso, REEEC (Russian)

· Jamie Hendrickson, REEEC (Russian)
· Kari Schwink, Linguistics (Russian)
· Buyandelger Tsentsengarid, Global Studies (Russian)

Noontime Scholars Lecture: Alexander Erokhin, “Transformations of literary biographies and reputations in today’s Russia: Victor Pelevin, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Prokhanov, Lyudmila Ulitskaya”

On February 13th, 2018, Dr. Alexander Erokhin gave a lecture entitled “Transformations of literary biographies and reputations in today’s Russia: Victor Pelevin, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Prokhanov, Lyudmila Ulitskaya.” Dr. Erokhin is a Fulbright Visiting Scholar at the University of Illinois and Director of the Department of Publishing and Book Science at the Institute of Social Communications at Udmurt State University.

Dr. Erokhin’s talk detailed the characteristics of contemporary Russian fiction writers and the conditions under which they write. As he explained, on one hand, contemporary writers  in Russia enjoy unprecedented freedom of expression, though, one the other hand, writers are deprived of any high status, as the government does not consider literature a main concern of the state.

Dr. Erokhin focused on four very successful contemporary Russian authors: Victor Pelevin, Zakhar Prilepin, Alexander Prokhanov, and Lyudmila Ulitskaya. These authors all publish in print (rather than online), are highly awarded, have stable print runs, and are popular abroad. As Dr. Erokhin explained, he chose these authors for their range of readers (high brow to low brow) and also their political and aesthetic divergences. For example, Ulitskaya is a consistent supporter of democratic values, which she believes are articulated in Russia through the intelligentsia. However, Prokhanov and Prilepin are explicitly nationalistic and anti-Western. As Dr. Erokhin argued, these divergences have been illuminated by the Crimea crisis. He also argued that these discrepancies not only reflect the writers’ beliefs, but they also influence the aesthetic components of their work (i.e. mimetic vs non-mimetic). Dr. Erokhin identified Prilepin and Ulitskaya as representation of a realistic style. Conversely, Pelevin’s style reflects the disintegration of society and the individual mind after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Prokhanov’s style is eclectic, representing a mix of realism, naturalism, and postmodern means of expression. However, as Dr. Erokhin explained, all of the authors are similar in their attitude to the literary and cultural traditions of Russia. In fact, they all stress that they belong to the traditions of both contemporary Russian literature and the literature of Soviet Russia.

Alexander Prokhanov. Image source.

Dr. Erokhin delved deeper into each author’s biographies and the specifics of their asthetics. He began with Prokhanov, who began his career in the late 1960s as a traditional Soviet author — that is, a socialist realist. Though his mentors (including Trifnov) were representatives of urban prose, Prokhanov combines urban prose with the lyrical traits of village. However, since the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, his writing has moved mostly to military issues (i.e. his 1982 novel The Tree in the Center of Kabul). After Perestroika, he became one of the opponents of the liberal reformists, Boris Yeltsin and his team. According to Erokhin, Prokhanov amalgamates parts of realism with naturalism; he switches between themes of decay and resurrection in his novels; and his protagonists often search for the blissful feeling of peace and quiet, which usually ends in disillusionment. According to Prokhanov, today’s world is fundamentally corrupted, politically and spiritually.

Lyumila Ulitskaya. Image source.

Ulitskaya also represents an older generation of Russian writers with Soviet roots. She entered the field of writing rather late (1980s) because of her Jewish and dissident background. Since the early ’90s, she has been popular among both the liberal intelligentsia and a broader audience, both in Russian and abroad. Her stories trace the lives of Russian Jewish intellectuals emigres and their family chronicles. According to Dr. Erokhin, in her eyes, it is only the intelligentsia who are able to name the past and the present of Russian history, ethically and aesthetically. Unlike Prokhanov’s bombastic portrayal of Russia’s national heritage and glory, Ulitskaya focuses on everyday life and ordinary events, and her languages expresses the importance of the mundane and quotidian existence.

Viktor Pelevin. Image source.

Dr. Erokhin then turned to Pelevin. Similar to Ulitskaya, Pelevin has antagonistic views towards the Soviet regime, however his critical attitude is grounded in different sources, such as Eastern mysticism and science fiction. He began writing in the early 1990s with great success, winning numerous awards, and is now considered one of the best contemporary authors. However, his later works of the 2010s have been met with disapproval. According to Dr. Erokhin, Pelevin attempts to move away from popular fiction into the realm of the “high brow” literature by transforming literary fiction into a transhuman, automatized discourse — in his texts, literature is becoming nonhuman. In his works, contemporary intellectual practices are corrupted and incantation of classics, such as Tolstoy, becomes a sort of laughter. Despite this, Pelevin is hesitant to comment on contemporary politics and the neorealistic movement of writing, rather he continues to show a ironic attitude towards these issues.

Zakhar Prilepin. Image source.

According to Dr. Erokhin, Prilepin is the only author that is exposed to the more diffuse, non-traditional strategies of literary production, such as online and offline community building, as well as rap music. He is effective in promoting his role as one of the radical, artistic, political leaders of Russian writers. He uses his involvement in the Eastern Ukrainian crisis, as well as his connections to adviser’s of Putin in order to promote himself as such. Like Prokhanov, he believes the best way to overcome Russia’s misfortunes is to return to healthy instincts in order to teach the nation to distinguish between good and evil in politics and ideology. For example, in his 2014 novel Ob his protagonist repeats this the thought that only senses survive, while ideas breakdown. According to Dr. Erokhin, in both Prilepin and Prokhanov’s work, one has to deal with the naturalization of phobias by means of realistic poetics.

In his lecture, Dr. Erokhin also singled out tendencies of Russian contemporary writers, basing his argument on the four writers detailed above. First, he noted the tendency to return to universal, political, ideological, and historical issues of classical Russian literature (beginning in the 19th century), called “metaphysical resurgence” or a “spiritual revival” by some critics.  Second is the tendency to search for new literary heroes, specifically those who are able to be socially, spiritually, and politically active. According to Dr. Erokhin, there is also the tendency to interpret social and historical reality of Russian history through the lens of communities (i.e. labor camp prisoners, the Orthodox church, etc.). Third, is the prominence of aesthetic discussions that reassess the relations between fiction and reality. Fourth, is the tendency to attempt to normalize Soviet period — in fact, as Dr. Erokhin explained, without this, the spiritual resurgence of Russian literature would be incomplete. Last is the tendency to attempt to consolidate Russian speaking culture and literary world around a set of national values and a notion of a consistent history.

Dr. Erokhin ended with a word on the Russian book market and its relation to contemporary literary discussions. According to him, the market for translations is stable, giving Russians an excellent opportunity to become acquainted with the best books abroad. However, world literature in Russia is mainly supported by commercial authors and popular fiction– that is, science fiction, detective novels, and such. Dr. Erokhin suggests that this causes a loss of contact between Russian writers and world literature, and jeopardizes the continuity of Russian literature.

Nadia Hoppe is a PhD student in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Her research interests include 20th and 21st century literature, gender studies, and critical theory. Her dissertation traces the use of toilets in Soviet literature, art, and film.

“From Russia With Love” and Sousa’s Unexpected Tour Adventures in St. Petersburg: On Display Now at the Sousa Archives

On display now at the Sousa Archives is an exhibit entitled “Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: An Unexpected Tour Adventure.” This exhibit is centered around John Philip Sousa’s 1903 tour to Europe, particularly the Sousa Band’s Russian debut in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg.

Presented are the various adventures (or rather, misadventures) experienced by Sousa and his band throughout their sojourn in Russia. Large crowds were anticipated for the performances; however, as evidenced by a review in the Peterburgskii listok, only the first few rows of each performance were filled due to the beginning of Russia’s summer vacation season. The mishaps continue as Sousa laments the far superior advertising of his self-proclaimed rival, Суза; of course, he eventually learns that this is simply the transliteration of his own surname.

“Thou Charming Bird” Collage by Mary Peterson Zundo, ca. 1995. Image source.

Sousa also reflects upon the reception of the Sousa Band’s rendition of the Imperial Russian National Anthem. Upon request by the Secretary of the Prefect of the City, Sousa agreed to repeat the anthem on the condition that the audience’s applause continued—a total of four encores ensued.

The exhibit further displays photographs, political cartoons, and personal mementos from the trip to offer a complete view of Russian perceptions of America and Sousa’s music during the early twentieth century.

Also on display at the Sousa Archives is “From Russia with Love:” John Garvey’s Russian Folk Orchestra, which details the history of the University of Illinois’ own Russian Folk Orchestra, which was founded in the 1970s by the late professor emeritus of jazz, John Garvey. This exhibit offers visitors a background into Russian folk music traditions, particularly traditions concerning folk orchestras, or ensembles modeled on western European symphonic practices but made up of traditional instruments. The exhibit displays the University’s collection of instruments, including the domra, balalaika, zhaleika, and gusli. Included in the exhibit are also collections of scores, photographs, and recordings of performances by the University of Illinois Russian Folk Orchestra. This exhibit is part of a series of events this academic year pertaining to the “1917: Ten Days that Shook the World/Ten Days that Shake the Campus” initiative.

Sousa and Tsar Nicholas II’s Birthday: An Unexpected Tour Adventure will be on display through August 6, 2018, while you may view the “From Russia with Love:” John Garvey’s Russian Folk Orchestra exhibit through September 3, 2018. For additional information, please see the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music’s website.

Danielle Sekel is a graduate student in the Department of Musicology. Her research interests include Balkan musics which employ musical influences originating among Balkan minority populations.

Muslim Societies Across the World Lecture: Eren Tasar, “Soviet and Muslim: The Institutionalization of Islam in Central Asia”

On February 22nd, Dr. Eren Tasar presented a lecture about his new book, Soviet and Muslim: The Institutionalization of Islam in Central AsiaDr. Tasar is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

At the beginning of his talk, Dr. Tasar noted that, while Americans are generally aware of the persecution of Christians by the Soviet state, they are generally unaware of the persecution of Muslims.  Moreover, those scholars who do study Islam in the Soviet Union tend to view Islam as incompatible with Soviet ideology.  However, in Soviet and Muslim, Dr. Tasar shows that Islam and Soviet ideology could be compatible.  His work begins with the Second World War because this was the period in which Stalin attempted to normalize relations with religious organizations.  In 1943, he created the Spiritual Board of the Muslims of Central Asia and Kazakhstan (SADUM).  The development of this organization through the remainder of the Soviet period is the focus of Soviet and Muslim.  The work is thus an institutional history.  Though Dr. Tasar notes that institutional histories are problematic because they only represent the viewpoints of powerful men, he also points out that the views of ordinary men and women are difficult to ascertain.  Diaries are not present in the cultural context of Central Asia and those few religious texts that were not officially sanctioned are not readily accessible to researchers.

Nevertheless, Soviet and Muslim provides an important analysis of the evolving relationship between Islam and Soviet ideology through the lens of SADUM.  SADUM was molded by the atheistic and colonial biases of the CPSU, so the organization promoted a scripturalist, conservative Hanafism that was opposed to the cult of saints predominant in Central Asia.  However, the organization also reflected the society in which it was founded.  Its conservative Hanafi ideology gained greater traction as literacy, secularization, and urbanization increased.  These trends also influenced the organization.  Though SADUM was controlled by the Bobokhonov family, the dissimilarity between grandfather and grandson reflects the evolution of Central Asian society more generally.  The eldest Bobokhonov was a Sufi scholar, while his grandson was a Soviet bureaucrat who held a PhD.

However, the power of this organization was not only based on the increasing congruency between its ideology and the society in which it existed.  SADUM also interacted with the Arab world, where it became the institutional representation of Soviet Muslims.  This interaction enabled SADUM to demonstrate its utility to the Soviet state and bolstered its influence domestically.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, however, undercut the esteem of SADUM—and the Soviet Union more generally—within the Arab world.  SADUM never regained its international prominence.  Over the course of the war, it gradually lost the confidence of the Soviet state because it proved unable to contain the cult of saints or the dissemination of unregistered mosques, which the increasingly-islamophobic state viewed as a threat.  Dr. Tasar’s Soviet and Muslim thus traces the rise and fall of this organization and provides a partial answer to the question of what it meant to be Muslim in the Soviet Union.

Kathleen Gergely is a second year student in the Master of Arts in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies.  Her research interests include political Islam in the North Caucasus, Russian counterterrorism policy, and regional administration in the Soviet Union and Russian Federation.

Lilya Kaganovsky (REEEC affiliate faculty) launches new book “The Voice of Technology: Soviet Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1928–1935”

Lilya Kaganovsky’s The Voice of Technology: Soviet Cinema’s Transition to Sound, 1928–1935 (Indiana University Press, 2018) explores the history, practice, technology, ideology, aesthetics, and politics of the transition to sound within the context of larger issues in Soviet media history. As cinema industries around the globe adjusted to the introduction of synch-sound technology, the Soviet Union was also shifting culturally, politically, and ideologically from the heterogeneous film industry of the 1920s to the centralized industry of the 1930s, and from the avant-garde to Socialist Realism. Industrialization and centralization of the cinema industry greatly altered the way movies in the Soviet Union were made, while the introduction of sound radically influenced the way these movies were received. Kaganovsky argues that the coming of sound changed the Soviet cinema industry by making audible, for the first time, the voice of State power, directly addressing the Soviet viewer. By exploring numerous examples of films from this transitional period, Kaganovsky demonstrates the importance of the new technology of sound in producing and imposing the “Soviet Voice.”

Lilya Kaganovsky is a Professor of Slavic, Comparative Literature, and Media and Cinema Studies at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She is author of How the Soviet Man was Unmade, and editor (with Lauren M. E. Goodlad and Robert A Rushing) of Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style and the 1960 and (with Masha Salazkina) of Sound, Music, Speech in Soviet and Post-Soviet Cinema.

Why Aren’t Russians Studying in the US?

International Students and Scholar Services (ISSS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recently published statistics for Fall 2017 international student enrollment.

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is now second among public institutions in the United States when it comes to enrolling international students. Last fall 3,336 new international students (a new record) were admitted, which brings the total number of international students at UIUC to 10,834. These students represent 113 countries across the globe, with the continent of Asia accounting for the greatest number of students (87% of total population).

ISSS 2017 Statistics

Among Russian, East European, and Eurasian countries, however, the total number of international students is 92. This number accounts for 0.85% of the total international student population. For comparison, Harvard’s international population this year was 9851, with only 33 students from Russia (0.3% of total international enrollment), and less than 50 combined from all other Eastern European and Eurasian countries.

So why aren’t more students from REEE countries enrolling at the University of Illinois? While student mobility data paints a disappointing picture, the reality of the situation is more complex. A recent report published by IIE highlights a few reasons why Russians in particular aren’t choosing to enroll in universities abroad, among which the most important reason may be the high cost. Starting in 2016, Russian ministries proposed a “State Quota System,” according to IIE, which “makes available free education spaces for both domestic and international students using federal budget allocations.” This shows Russia’s clear commitment to scholarships for foreign students studying in Russia, but it is somewhat unclear to what extent the government sponsors Russian students enrolling in international universities.

IIE 2017 Report

I recently interviewed Ms. Daria Shapira, a graduate student in the Law Department at UIUC, who indicated that the greatest challenge she faced was fluency in English, as she was expected to be just as competent and quick with the language as her fellows in the cohort. But while learning a new language can certainly be difficult, it is a challenge that each international student faces. Between sips of coffee I next asked Ms. Shapira my most important question, Why did you choose UIUC? The answer was both surprising and unsurprising. Unlike many of our international students, Ms. Shapira already had ties to Champaign-Urbana and UIUC, having lived here for several years before attending UIUC.

While it certainly seems that only a small number of Russian students choose to study abroad in the US, American Councils, citing data from the 2015 Open Doors Report, reports that, “The U.S. is now the second most popular study abroad location for Russian students, behind only Germany, which provides substantial financial support for visiting students through its academic exchange program.” It follows then, that the problem is not necessarily with UIUC or American universities in general, but the general state of outbound student mobility in Russia and other REEE countries.

Which begs the question, “Why do we or should we want REEE students studying here?” A stronger presence of students from REEE backgrounds could only enrich our understanding of the culture we are so proud to study. Right now, it is possible for some students to earn a degree here in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and not share class with a single native speaker of the region, except professors. I think that is a shame. So what can be done? While we cannot change educational policies or the state of government scholarships in Russia, the challenge falls on us to find a way to attract Russian students to this university, as best we can. UIUC, already in second-place in total international enrollment in the US, is well suited to “lead the charge” for enrolling more students from Russia and Eastern Europe. This should be a focus for us moving forward.


Jesse Mikhail Wesso is a first-year graduate student in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and an Outreach Assistant at the Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center. 

REPOST: Linguistic Diversity Between East and West: The Case of Georgian

This article was originally posted on the UIUC’s European Union Center‘s blog Linguis Europae on Monday, April 2nd, 2018.

By Kathryn Butterworth

The Republic of Georgia on the Eastern rim of Europe is unique in its language and dialect diversity, in addition to being home to many minorities and minority languages. With a population of about 4 million, Georgia is home to more than a dozen languages. The official state language is Georgian. It is a literary and written language shared by multiple subgroups of other languages like Svans, Mingrelians and Laz that belong to the same group of Kartvelian languages as Georgian. The other ethnic groups in the country include Azeris, Armenians, Russians, Ossetians Yazdis, Ukrainians, Kists, and Greeks.

The country’s multilingualism is largely a result of its history that evolved from disparate kingdoms first united under Bagrat III into a single state in 1008. A successor state of the Soviet Union, Georgia has been an independent state since 1999 and a member of the Council of Europe. It is home to sizable immigrant communities and multiple dialects within its own borders, but Georgian remains the sole official language of the state. When Georgia joined the Council of Europe in 1999, the state’s historically homogenous approach to language policy appeared to have been counteracted by its willingness to sign the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML). However, unlike neighboring successor states like Armenia that signed and ratified the ECRML in 2002, Georgia has not ratified the Charter to protect its unique linguistic diversity in coordination and consultation with the Council of Europe.

Map of Georgia (Image Source)

Historically, Georgia has always been at the crossroads of great empires. It was dominated by Persians, Arabs, Turks, and most recently by the Soviet Union. In addition to dialectal diversity arising from these historical contexts, Georgia is also geographically situated in a linguistically and ethnically rich and distinctive region in the Caucasus. The country borders Russia to its north (specifically the North Caucasus region of Russia), and Armenia and Azerbaijan to its south and southeast.

North Caucasian languages are equally if not more linguistically diverse. The Caucasus are a mountainous region. Indeed the North Caucasian mountain range serves as a natural border, also called isogloss, between languages of the North and South Caucasus. Georgian is the largest language in the Kartvelian language group, alongside Svan (largely located in the Svaneti (სვანეთი) region of Georgia in the northwest), Mingrelian (Samegrelo (სამეგრელო) region in the southwest of the country near Abkhazia) and Laz (a language primarily found in the West of Georgia and also in parts of Turkey). These languages are spoken in conjunction with Standard Georgian and speakers of Svan, Laz and Mingrelian are considered ethnic Georgians despite the fact that their spoken language is different than standard spoken Georgian and is not always mutually comprehensible. In other words, if one only understands Georgian, one will not necessarily understand Laz.  Below is a map depicting the ethno-linguistic complexity of the North and South Caucasus, as described above.

Language diffusion map (Image Source)

As the map illustrates, the region is home to languages within the Indo-European language group in addition to Kartvelian and North Caucasian languages. Dialects of the Georgian language itself vary regionally and this is a common phenomenon shared with most states which have a degree of ethnic and geographic heterogeneity. In the Republic of Georgia, these dialects are generally segregated by an East/West division. Due to the mountainous topography of Georgia’s north and northwest region, many of these dialects result from seclusion in which the Georgian language has been molded over time. In the East, the two main dialects of Georgian are Kakhetian (located in the Kakheti region) and Kartlian.

A screenshot of the Mkhedruli Georgian alphabet, from this guide to Georgian alphabets 


Georgian has its own alphabet: the so-called Georgian script. It has its origins in the foundations of Orthodox Christianity in Georgia from 337 onward. Later, the three historical alphabets have evolved into a single one, the so-called Mkhedruli alphabet that was originally used for secular, unofficial writing. Later it expanded and was popularized in commerce and trade. According to Omniglot, the first dictionary of Georgia was a Georgian-Italian dictionary written with the Mkhedruli script and published in 1629 in Rome, Italy. Today, this script is the sole alphabet used to write Georgian.

The Georgian language moved through traditional stages such as low, middle and high Georgian and eventually developed into the form we see today. The language is known for its complexity, both in its verbal system as well in its pronunciation. This is to say that while Georgian has a phonetic alphabet, it is notorious for its consonant clusters, rendering it difficult to pronounce in the beginning stages of learning.

While Georgian is in its own distinct language group different from Slavic or Indo-European languages and has a distinct culture, it lays claim to simultaneously being a part of and apart from Europe.  Though sharing a cultural history with Europe, primarily rooted in Christianity, Georgia also envisions itself as a crossroads between East and West with a distinct history and culture.  This tension between a type of modernity associated with the West, and a strong need to preserve traditional Georgian culture and language norms may help explain the lack of real commitment to the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. It is, interestingly enough, quite obvious in the linguistic landscape – including road signs – throughout Georgia.

Road sign in Latin and Georgian script (Image source)


World Heritage Encyclopedia. ‘Kartvelian Languages.’, accessed 4-8, 2017.

Kobaidze, Kock Manana (2004-02-11) From the history of Standard Georgian Archived September 27, 2007, at the Wayback Machine

Resources for the Study of the Georgian language, University of Illinois Library,, accessed 4-8 2017

OMNIGLOT: the Online Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages: Georgian,

Kathryn Butterworth was a graduate student pursuing a Master of Science in Library and Information Science at the iSchool when she wrote this text in 418, ‘Language and Minorities in Europe’ in spring 2017.