Study Abroad in Odessa, Ukraine (Summer 2016)

Thanks to a generous REEEC grant, I spent last June and July studying Russian in Odessa, Ukraine.  I shared an apartment with my friends Nadia and Tyler, UIUC Slavic Ph.D. students.  We all took intensive Russian classes at the Odessa Language Study Centre.  Nadia and Tyler took individual courses, while I decided to take a group class, which I would describe as a mixed bag.  On one hand, my language instructor Olga was incredible – like the other teachers at OLSC, she had many years of experience teaching Russian to international students in Odessa.  She also had a great sense of humor (sample Olga-ism: “My conscience is clean, I never use it”) and a keen interest in delineating cultural differences and similarities, sharing her perception of the local worldview (e.g. “U nas net feminizma,” “We don’t have feminism [here]”) and opinions on pressing social issues like political corruption (including a memorable anecdote about the “musornaia [garbage] mafia” chasing one of her students out of town for proposing the establishment of a municipal recycling system).  On the other hand, a group class entails accommodating students of varying levels – as a result, the first few weeks of class were a bit too rudimentary for me.  Private instruction is more expensive, but in retrospect, I should have opted for one-on-one lessons.  That being said, I still got a lot out of my classes with Olga, and I highly recommend OLSC to anyone who wants to study Russian in Odessa.

Odessa is a predominantly Russian-speaking city; culturally, it’s also quite “Russian,” a testament to its history as part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union. Around 2500 years ago, current-day Odessa was a Greek colony; later, it was part of the Crimean Khanate, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the Ottoman Empire.  Following the Russo-Turkish War of 1787-1792, the city of Odessa was founded in 1794 by Catherine the Great’s decree.  Although originally valued for its strategic significance as a warm-water port on the Black Sea, Odessa quickly became one of the largest cities in the Russian Empire.  Due in part to its port-city status, it also become an exceptionally diverse cultural center, fostering a vibrant, cosmopolitan atmosphere that persists to this day.

As places to spend the summer go, Odessa is hard to beat.  Our apartment was a five-minute walk from Lanzheron Beach, apparently one of the nicer beaches in the area – “apparently” because once we found “our” beach, we went back to the same spot at least once or twice a week without much further exploration.  Lanzheron Beach has a cute boardwalk with several restaurants and beachside cafes (we were regulars at Prichal No. 1).  In general, downtown Odessa is filled with great bars and restaurants – some of my favorites were Dacha (a restaurant in a gorgeous 19th-century country estate), Kompot (traditional Ukrainian cuisine, kitschy Soviet décor), and Dzhondzholi (delicious Georgian food).  Odessites are also very proud of their stunning opera house (where we saw a nice production of Carmen), and the lovely Palais-Royal Garden is right around the corner.  For night owls and party animals, Odessa’s “Arkadia” region is also worth checking out – it has several huge clubs with pool complexes and regular concerts and DJs.


The Odessa National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet

Among Slavists, Odessa is known for its role in literary and film history.  In 1823, Pushkin wrote several chapters of his verse novel Eugene Onegin when he lived in the city during his “southern exile.”  Gogol wrote the second volume of Dead Souls in Odessa from 1850-1851 (he famously burned the manuscript).  Several notable Russian-language writers were native Odessites, including Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, and Isaac Babel, whose “Odessa Tales” are set in the city.  Odessa’s place in literary history is memorialized by statues all over town, as well as by the Odessa Pushkin Museum and the Soviet-era Literature Museum.  Odessa was immortalized in a famous film sequence in Sergei Eisenstein’s “Battleship Potemkin” (1925).  The city was an important filmmaking center before and during the Soviet era, and it hosts the wonderful Odessa International Film Festival every summer.


Memorial Plaque on N.V. Gogol’s Odessa Residence


Although downtown Odessa is beautiful and quite safe, there is a lot of poverty in surrounding areas.  In addition to the general economic decline in Ukraine, Odessa formerly benefitted from an influx of Russian tourists every summer, which (for obvious reasons) has dried up since the annexation of Crimea and War in Donbass.  However, there are ongoing efforts to revitalize Odessa as a tourist center, including (usually free) cultural events that take place all summer long.  It’s also an extremely affordable place to live, even on a graduate student budget (the silver lining of the region’s economic woes, from a foreigner’s perspective).  Most locals aren’t fluent in English, making life in Odessa a truly immersive language-learning experience – if you want to order food at a restaurant, you’ll have to work on your Russian.

Overall, I found Odessa to be a fascinating and beautiful city.  I’d particularly recommend it as a study abroad destination for language students, especially since there’s no need to get a student visa (by all accounts one of the more frustrating parts of studying in Russia).  I’m certainly planning to go back as soon as possible.

Matthew McWilliams is a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian. 

Faculty News

Mark Steinberg, Director of Graduate Studies, Professor of History, Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, and the Center for Global Studies, published a new book on February 1st of 2017, The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921, was released through Oxford University Press. Steinberg’s book explores a different perspective of the historical period that ranges from the 1905 Bloody Sunday events to the end of the Civil War, all presented through the perspectives and experiences of those who lived through the period. Writing on the key characters of the revolution, including Vladimir Lenin, Lev Trotsky, and Alexandra Kollontai, Steinberg takes knowledge and information from the present and uses it to breath new air into the past. For more information on Dr. Steinberg’s book, follow this link to Oxford University Press.

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

The Russian Revolution, 1905-1921

Marek Sroka, Librarian for Central European Studies and Associate Professor of Russian, East European & Eurasian Studies, published “American Books to the Rescue: The American Library Association (ALA) and the Postwar Restoration of Polish Libraries, 1944-1948,” in the final issue of 2016’s The Polish Review 61(4), and then published “”A Book Never Dies”: the American Library Association and the Cultural Reconstruction of Czechoslovak and Polish Libraries, 1945-48,” in Library and Information History 33 which was released in 2017.

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

The Polish Review, vol. 61, no. 4

Dr. Kristin Romberg, Assistant Professor of Art History and REEEC Affiliate, published an anthology, “Tektonika,” in volume 1 of Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism), edited by Serguei Oushakine and published by Moscow and Ekaterinburg: Kabinetnyi uchenyi in the summer of 2016.  Romberg also spoke at The Russian Avant-Garde: Scholars Respond panel at the Museum of Modern Art on February 8th, 2017. The panel was organized in tandem with the exhibition A Revolutionary Impulse: The Rise of the Russian Avant-Garde and discussed the how an art object could be revolutionary. Information about the panel is available here.

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

Formal’nyi metod. Antologiia rossiiskogo modernizma (The Formal Method: An Anthology of Russian Modernism)

A Summer in St. Petersburg

Peter-Paul Fortress

Peter-Paul Fortress

This past summer, I had the opportunity to study Russian abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia, thanks to the Foreign Language and Area Studies fellowship. I had been to St. Pete before in late winter of 2013 on a short homestay. Prior to leaving, I was ecstatic to experience a familiar city transformed by summer. I expected to have a tough immersive experience with Russian while also being able to soak up the culture first hand.

My summer abroad strengthened my language capabilities in ways I couldn’t have imagined. If you have ever been on a crowded subway or even through an old McDonald’s drive-through, you know the struggle of understanding someone who talks too quickly through a grumbled speaker. This is the norm on Russian public transit. By the end of my term, the grumbled Russian ramblings became understandable. In August, I could carry on a conversation about Russian-American relations with the bartender who, in June, referred to me as the “silly American woman.”

Peterhof Fountain

Peterhof Fountain

Outside of classes, I spent my time in some of the most beautiful and interesting places I’ve ever been. The Summer Garden was my favorite place to sit and watch people. The first time I was in St. Pete, the garden was closed because it was winter. The Peter-Paul Fortress was where I spent most of my Saturday mornings. It was my favorite spot in the city in 2013, but it was even better with warmer weather. I experienced new places, such as Moscow, Peterhof, and some small villages and towns outside of the city. During my last week in St. Pete, I took a boat tour around the city, as it is made up of many canals. I watched the sunset over the fortress and, later that night, I watched the drawbridges rise over the Neva river. It was a necessary sight to see when you’re there over the summer.

I learned a lot about myself, the Russian language, and the culture during my time in St. Pete. To some degree, I expected much of what I learned and experienced. Perhaps the most valuable learning moments I had on my study abroad trip were through experiencing Russia as a foreigner on an extended stay. Going into my study abroad, I expected to be treated like I was on my first trip: people weren’t reluctant to use English to help me out when I was struggling to communicate my thoughts; when presented with my documents, they were kind and even struck up a conversation about me being American. This summer, the kindness towards my being American was drastically lacking. I experienced hate for my nationality. While in a McDonald’s, I was yelled at to “get out of our country.” Experiencing blatant distaste due to where I call home was new for me. What I felt in these instances has been branded into my brain more so than anything else I learned while abroad. Everyone says that the study abroad experience changes your perspective on the world and can even be life-changing. This is true in more ways than I can explain.

Sharadyn Ciota is an undergraduate double majoring in Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies and Political Science at the University of Illinois. She was a Summer 2016 REEEC FLAS Fellow.

Georgian Alpinism and Soviet Tourism at the Edge of Empire

Benjamin Bamberger (PhD Candidate in History) was a 2015-2016 American Research Institute of the South Caucasus (ARISC) Graduate Fellow. Below he shares his preliminary findings and his experience of conducting dissertation research in Georgia. Originally posted in the 2015-2016 ARISC Member Newsletter, no. 7, pages 12-13:


My dissertation examines the role of alpinism and other forms of touring in the construction of national identities and national space in Soviet Georgia. In particular, I focus on alpinism as a key site for the contestation and consolidation of ideas about the Georgian nation and Georgian people, between both Russian and Georgian intellectuals and between Georgian intellectuals and the mountainous populations within Georgia at this time. Georgian alpinism began in 1923 with the first ascent of Kazbegi (known locally as mq’invarts’veri) under the leadership of Georgian mathematician Giorgi Nikoladze, which marked both the first major Soviet summit and the beginning of a dedicated Georgian alpinist community.

In the pre-war period, Georgian alpinists were an integral part of the burgeoning Soviet alpinist movement and accomplished many of the first victories of Soviet alpinism.Yet, while the Georgian alpinist community became more closely integrated with Soviet sports and tourism institutions, the goals of Georgian alpinists often remained more nationally focused, causing conflict between prominent Georgian alpinists and officials in Moscow well into the 1950s. Such conflict was exacerbated by the centralization of control and resources in Moscow, and by the continued use of Orientalizing stereotypes by Russian alpinists and tourists during their travels to the Caucasus.

Relying on archival materials, newspapers, periodicals, and books from both Tbilisi and Moscow, my research examines the ways that Georgian and Russian alpinists had conflicting conceptions of Georgia as a space and different understandings of the proper relationship with local mountainous peoples. Ultimately, my research explores the limits of Soviet anti- imperialism and the complicated ways that the Soviet project was committed to supporting forms of national autonomy while never truly escaping a belief in the “backwardness” of non-Russian peoples.

Due to the generous support of ARISC, I was able to extend my research in Tbilisi by two months where I continued to focus on print materials located at the National Parliamentary Library of Georgia. There, I examined relevant books, journals, and newspapers from the period of my research (1920’s-1950s). Although my work plan had a neat delineation of reading newspapers in February and books in March, in reality both months contained significant research in both types of sources as citations from one type of source would often lead me to another.

Working this way allowed me to maximize the number of sources I was able to examine and prioritize those that were most important for Georgian alpinists during the decades of my research. One of my central research questions concerned the relationship between Georgian alpinists in Tbilisi and their counterparts in the mountainous regions like Svaneti or Khevi. Initially, I expected to find a form of “nested orientalism” — in short, that Tbilisi-based alpinists would see their regional counterparts as more primitive and backwards and in need of cultural development in a way that mirrored Russian discourses about backwardness in the Caucasus more generally.

However, my research has shown that not only was this not the case, but in fact the opposite was true. From the very beginning of Georgian alpinism in the 1920s, Georgian alpinists from Tbilisi saw the mountainous populations as equal partners in their endeavors and often made a point to include local people in their expeditions. In many instances, they explicitly rejected the Orientalizing impulses of Russian tourists, alpinists, or researchers.

The result was a productive partnership between Tbilisi and the mountainous regions that led to the development of large cadres of local alpinists, especially in Svaneti. It is clear that such collaboration was part of a Georgian nation- building project that helped to better connect places like Svaneti to the Georgian nation and which helped to lay claim to the mountainous regions as inherently Georgian. But this partnership also caused a number of conflicts within the larger Soviet alpinist community based in Moscow, which sought to develop alpinism among workers in the trade unions and which continued to conceptualize places like Svaneti as separate from the larger Georgian nation.

As a result of the ARISC fellowship, I have gained a much better understanding of the continuity in the overall goals of the Georgian alpinist community from the 1920’s until the 1950’s. After their first ascent on Kazbegi (mq’invarts’veri) in 1923, Georgian alpinists articulated a set of goals that argued for cooperation with local people, a physical and discursive conquest of specifically Georgian mountains, and for scientific research of the “motherland.” These goals remained clear operating principles well into the 1950’s, even as the Georgian alpinist community was more closely integrated into sport and tourism structures in Moscow. By examining Georgian language works during my fellowship, I have also been able see the many ways that Georgian alpinists continuously memorialized past expeditions and how they used these expeditions as orienting devices for future goals. This research has allowed me to understand how Georgian alpinists themselves conceptualized what was specifically Georgian about Georgian alpinism.

My current research has confirmed that conflict between Georgian alpinists and sport and tourist institutions in Moscow centered on conflicting conceptualizations of the Georgian nation, differing relationships with the mountainous populations, and ultimately contrasting ideas about how alpinism should be developed in Georgia. In the prewar period, this conflict continued to escalate and often led to outright hostility between Georgian alpinists and officials in Moscow. Unfortunately, the sources in Tbilisi were largely silent on how this relationship changed in the post-war period, since many of the most relevant materials for this period are located in Moscow archives. As a result, I spent an additional two and a half months examining documents in Russia, where I found a remarkable continuity to the pre-war period. Here, conflict between Georgian alpinists and Russian officials continued to revolve around competing ideas of space, arguments over the proper relationship with local peoples, and disagreements over the function of a nationally minded Georgian mountaineering community more generally, insights that would not have been possible without first examining many of the Georgian language sources available in Tbilisi made possible through the ARISC Graduate Fellowship.

Benjamin Bamberger is a Ph.D. candidate in History at the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign. His research interests include Georgian mountaineering, Soviet nation-building, and Soviet tourism to the Caucasus.

Suvel Võib!

(Re-posted from The Polyglot, Indiana University Bloomington’s IU Summer  Language Workshop Alumni Newsletter).

Suvel Võib!

by Skylar Lipman



“In summer, you can!” This colloquial Estonian saying describes the energy one experiences during summer, that energy that drives people to the beach, to their friends and families, and to tackle life-long projects. This summer encouraged me to do just that; through the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop, I began to tackle a life-long goal of mine to learn the language and culture of Estonia, helping me to connect with family, and perhaps one day taking me to the beautiful beaches of Estonia. The IU Summer Language Workshop coupled with the Baltic Studies Summer Institute (BALSSI) provided many opportunities for focused study and for connecting with individuals, guaranteeing a strong start in language acquisition and securing multiple paths for continued studies.

This summer course was organized such that students were truly immersed in a language-learning environment. The result was eight weeks of focused, meaningful study. Main components of the Workshop included interactive classes, coffee hours, films, and presentations by guest lecturers. The variety of programming helped me approach the language from multiple angles, and kept the language-learning process from stagnating. Classes encompassed the bulk of daily activities. BALSSI’s small class sizes allowed the class a great deal of freedom in pace and in specific materials covered. There were three students studying Estonian, myself included, each with distinct interests. Because of the flexibility of the program, opportunities for learning vocabulary relevant to our interests were plentiful. Coffee hours were wonderful ways of relaxing and practicing Estonian in a more casual environment – a valuable opportunity to continue to be immersed in the language after the morning courses. Outside-of-class activities, such as cooking demonstrations, were also enjoyable opportunities to learn the language and meaningfully engage with the target culture. BALSSI’s varied programming also included weekly Baltic film screenings, ranging from post-WWII to contemporary Estonian and Lithuanian films, and helped students connect with Baltic societies in unique ways. Each film offered a new perspective on relevant issues, and exposed students to regionally important political, historical, and current events and views. These films, combined with lecturers, opened students to new ideas, spurring new thoughts and questions.


Bart Pushaw, an IU and BALSSI alum, giving a lecture on Baltic Art

An important feature of this year’s program was a guest speaker who truly did combine the BALSSI film series with lectures. Liina-Ly Roos gave two presentations and consequently lead two discussions surrounding cinema in the Baltic region. Through the weekly BALSSI film screenings and discussing these as well as other films with Roos, students from Estonian, Lithuanian, and Russian courses came together to explore memory in the Baltic States, drawing from a range of sources reaching from haikus to contemporary music, stretching our imaginations to ponder time and even the existence of a unified “Baltic” identity. Discussing such matters as memory and time invited students to adopt a new mentality, a rich, culturally-minded addition to our goals of language acquisition.

Issues of memory and time were further explored in the BALSSI talk titled “Baltic Modern: Art in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania,” this time through visual art such as painting, architecture and urban planning, graffiti, and photography, among others mediums. Bart Pushaw, a doctoral candidate at the University of Maryland and a BALSSI alum, presented on major Baltic art movements throughout an extraordinary range of time periods, connecting them with cultural and relevant political developments in the Baltic States and worldwide. Pushaw became an unexpectedly important connection for me personally, as we discussed the concepts of nationalism, impacts of music on visual art and vice versa, as well as the connections between these arts and ecology. Pushaw is now a wonderful reference and resource for me as a student of Baltic culture, as we have kept in contact, further discussing these themes.

A topic that permeated all BALSSI films or lectures was the topic of politics, from the distant to recent past and to the present. Pushaw’s photographs of graffiti were quite direct in addressing the current political atmosphere, putting a humorous spin on the shared agendas of prominent political figures. Many conversations on the Estonian political climate as well as many relating to Estonian culture turned, if only briefly, to recent Soviet occupation, an interesting topic for many, and one with very relevant implications today. On this, and on the continuing topic of a “Baltic” identity, Indiana University’s Professor Toivo Raun spoke succinctly and purposefully, using concrete figures to compare countries, regions, and even cultural values. Despite these widely varying approaches to understanding Estonia, it is easy to identify common threads among Professor Raun’s, Pushaw’s, and Roos’s research interests.


Baltic Music band the Hedgehogs performing for BALSSI students

I cannot delve into each lecture relevant to the Estonian program, as there is an infinite number of intersecting disciplines. I have learned over this past summer that culture and even language itself are quite interdisciplinary subjects. For this reason, the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop’s and BALSSI’s use of formal classes, coffee hours, activities, films, and lectures were all necessary and useful ways of internalizing Estonian. Just as important as programming, however, were my peers. Through my classmates, I found myself connected with new fields of research, with new collections of experiences and interests. Each of my Estonian classmates had vastly different interests, and we used these to contribute to each other’s language-learning experiences. From one peer’s fascination with linguistics, I learned so much about various grammatical systems, which only furthered my understanding of the grammar of both my native tongue and Estonian. This has truly enhanced my skills in the art of communication. My other classmate is a wonderful storyteller, spinning tales that sparked in me a new wonderment of the people of Estonia. Perhaps above all, my peers and I studied with an open-minded and understanding professor, one who is passionate and curious, asking and answering questions with genuine care for her students.

hedgehogs 2

Ain Haas, The Hedgehogs front man, demonstrating a traditional Baltic instrument

One unique aspect of the Indiana University Summer Language Workshop is the opportunity to create rich connections between individuals from diverse academic and cultural backgrounds as well as between important topics in social studies. The multiple cultural intersections that exist between most Workshop languages can be observed in the Workshop’s extracurricular program.  Because we were situated among so many other language-learners, I believe that we were afforded a very unique opportunity to explore aspects of other languages offered in the summer program and could choose to learn about other cultures and how each of our languages of study fits into the histories of the others. Indeed, language is not a stagnant object but a living, changing organism. Language is every being’s means of interaction, and in today’s increasingly globalized society, it is becoming imperative to make the effort to understand other peoples. Reaching out to learn a language is reaching out to make a connection. The process stirs much questioning, perhaps decreases those things we take for granted, and opens us to new experiences. These beginning strides in learning the Estonian language have done just this, and the summer programming has assisted me in securing connections for continuing this beautiful study.


Skylar Leili Lipman (Estonian level 1, 2016) is an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois pursuing dual degrees in Restoration Ecology and Bassoon Performance. Aside from her main studies (and spending quality time with her bird), she is very passionate about learning the Estonian language as a means of strengthening her ties to her heritage and as a means of connecting with family members still in Estonia. She is also engaged in intercultural work on campus and hope to continue this research far into the future, perhaps with Estonian as a driving force.

To read more about Skylar’s experiences and thoughts, follow the link here.

If you are interested in either IU’s Summer Language Workshop or the Baltic Studies Summer Institute, follow the following links:

Summer Language Workshop at Indiana University

Baltic Studies Summer Institute


Noontime Scholars Lecture: Anca Mandru, “‘Born through literary critique’: Early Romanian Socialism and the Literary Marketplace”

Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea sprang out of the Romanian literary tradition with new methods, new subject matter, and in the political theme of socialism. This interesting historical figure was the centerpiece of Anca Mandru’s presentation, “’Born Through Literary Critique’: Early Romanian Socialism and the Literary Marketplace” in a Noontime Scholars Lecture on November 15, 2016. Set against the backdrop of Romania’s socialist history that began just a few decades after Gherea’s death, Mandru’s discussion focused on his personal history and reception by both the public and intelligentsia.

Anca Mandru

Anca Mandru giving her Noontime Scholars Lecture

Mandru discussed Gherea’s birthplace and Jewishness in terms of a “foreigner’s complex”. Born in the Yekaterinoslav Governorate of the Russian Empire (now in Ukraine), Gherea escaped to Romania at twenty, and began building himself as a literary critic and as a businessman. Mandru stressed that learning Romanian as a 2nd language resulted in grammatical mistakes and choppy Romanian prose that actually affected Romanian literary tradition.

According to Mandru, Gherea was loathed by Romanian critics. Not only was he a non-native Romanian, but his style was unorthodox for the Romanian literary tradition. Because of his strong connection to socialism, his writings did not take on the same a-political literary style like his contemporaries. In addition to his unorthodox writing style, he was also very successful outside of academia. He owned a prosperous restaurant in the Ploieşti railway station, and was often depicted as both a theoretician and butcher in literary journals of the time. Mandru suggested that his connection to the public and distance from the ivory tower of academia popularized his methods and theories, but also made him a target for criticism by other writers.

Despite Gherea being a socialist thinker, his work was not recognized by the Romanian communist party. Mandru suggested that this was due to his opinions on the Russian Revolution. Gherea disagreed with the revolution, and therefore was only recognized later in Romania’s communist history.

Mandru’s presentation offered an introduction to literary tradition in Romania and shed light on the ways in which literary tradition changes throughout history.

Madeline Artibee is a REEEC M.A. student.

MillerComm Lecture Series: Masha Gessen, “Retrofitting Totalitarianism in Putin’s Russia”

Masha Gessen

Masha Gessen

Journalist, author, and activist Masha Gessen spoke to a packed audience at Knight Auditorium on October 25, 2016, discussing her current work on contemporary Russia in a MillerComm lecture entitled “Retrofitting Totalitarianism in Putin’s Russia.” Combining her deep knowledge of contemporary Russian society and politics with an analytical frame of totalitarianism, Gessen eloquently argued that in Russia, the state and society are in two different modes. The state is in what Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar has referred to as a post-communist mafia state: it’s run like a family by a patriarch who distributes money, power, and favors, and one cannot enter the family unless invited, “adopted,” and cannot leave the family voluntarily. Society, according to Gessen, is in a period of “recurrent totalitarianism” (with the original referent as the Soviet state under Stalin). “Like a recurrent typhoid fever… It’s not quite as lethal, but the symptoms are exactly the same.”  In contemporary Russia, recurrent totalitarianism is fueled by “the memory of the memory of terror.”  As Gessen stated, “It’s not that people say they like Putin because they’re afraid of the consequences if they speak their true opinion…. They’re telling the truth.” A product of totalitarianism, according to Arendt, is that it robs people of the ability to form opinions.  As a consequence, there is doublethink in society: Putin’s popularity rating increased to 82% since the invasion of Crimea, yet Russians’ sense of economic well-being has decreased. In a normal society, those two lines would have to intersect, Gessen argued, but not in a totalitarian society and not in contemporary Russia.

In the last two decades, Gessen has emerged as a unique voice in American media, providing astute insight into Russian society and politics, and standing firm in her critical analysis of Putin and contemporary Russian politics. The power of her work, however, is not just in her ability to elucidate Russian politics and society for American readers, but in the global trends and concerns that she unpacks with singular clarity. Her MillerComm talk was classic Masha Gessen – combining perceptive analysis with sharp wit, and a devastating frankness about the social and political troubles of our times.

While visiting the University of Illinois, Gessen also visited classrooms and participated in a public conversation with Christopher Benson, professor of Journalism and African American Studies. Gessen and Benson discussed the changing environment of journalism today; the ways that global social media shapes narratives of geopolitics; the payoffs and perils of being a critic as well as a reporter of the news; and the challenges of keeping up with the 24-7 news cycle. The event was hosted by IPRH.

MillerComm lecture hosted by: The Program in Jewish Culture & Society/ Krouse Family Visiting Scholars in Judaism and Western Culture Fund and Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center; in conjunction with: Center for Global Studies, Cline Center for Democracy, Department of Anthropology, Department of English, Department of Gender & Women’s Studies, Department of History, Department of Journalism, Department of Slavic Languages & Literatures, Department of Sociology, Hillel, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trangender Resource Center, Program in Comparative & World Literature, Spurlock Museum, Women & Gender in Global Perspectives Program.

Dr. Maureen Marshall is the Associate Director for REEEC. She earned her PhD at the University of Chicago in Anthropology in 2014 with a thesis on “Subject(ed) Bodies: A Bioarchaeological Investigation of Lived Experiences and Mobile Practices in Late Bronze-Early Iron Age (1500-800 B.C.) Armenia.” Her research focuses on the bioarchaeology of early complex polities and empires in the South Caucasus and Eurasia. She is also the Associate Director of Project ArAGATS, the joint American-Armenian project for the Archaeology and Geography for Ancient Transcaucasian Societies.

Contributions by Matthew McWilliams, a REEES M.A. student and a FLAS Fellow for the 2016-2017 academic year for the study of Russian.