REEEC New Directions Lecture: Martin Previsic, “The Yugoslav Gulag: The Goli otok (Barren Island) Labor Camp, 1949-1956”

Martin Previsic (Assistant Professor of History, University of Zagreb) gave the REEEC New Directions Lecture entitled “The Yugoslav Gulag: The Goli otok (Barren Island) Labor Camp, 1949-1956” on April 17. His presentation, part of a larger study on prison camps and the Tito-Stalin split, centered on Goli otok, the largest and most notorious prison in Yugoslavia. Goli otok was a public secret and a huge taboo in Tito’s Yugoslavia that is only recently being studied in detail. Previsic began his lecture by explaining why it was built. On November 11, 1945, when the Communist Party of Yugoslavia took power, Soviet methods were used in all spheres of economic life . However, on June 28, 1948, Tito was expelled from the Cominform, an organization of socialist countries led by the Soviet Union, because he had proposed a more independent approach to communism and a break from Soviet hegemony.

Martin Previsic speaking on violence in Goli otok and Tito’s communism

Previsic argued that the split was not unanimously supported within the Yugoslav Communist Party. While some party members were supporters of Stalin and opposed Tito’s action, the question of who were Stalin’s supporters was ambiguous. Anyone who did not completely agree with Tito’s position could be labeled a Stalinist and imprisoned, likely in Goli otok. It was a purge of anybody who was not considered a genuine Tito supporter.

At its height, Goli otok held 30,000 people and incarcerated 75 percent of alleged Stalin supporters. The main purpose of the prison was reeducation. Stalin supporters would be persuaded by pro-Tito prisoners to abandon their views in a non-violent environment. In reality, violence and humiliation were everywhere. The “bandits,” the lowest class of prisoners and those who were not sufficiently pro-Tito, could be tormented for months, and were assigned the hardest and most meaningless work.

To Previsic, Goli otok was a classic example of Yugoslav Stalinism, an “Anti-Stalinist Stalinism” that was designed to eliminate Tito’s party opponents in order to consolidate his power. Though Tito proclaimed that Yugoslav communism was a purer, better form of communism, Goli otok represented how Tito’s brand of communism also killed its own people for political reasons. By 1981, dozens of novels described Goli otok figuratively, signaling the crumbling of Tito’s persona and system. Through his study of Goli otok, Previsic tried to give the prison’s survivors a way to voice their experience in interviews and oral history. Even after Goli otok officially closed in 1987, released prisoners continued to be humiliated and subject to surveillance. They had to work for the secret police and pledge to not talk about their experience there.

Goli otok exemplifies the complexity of Yugoslavia’s communist heritage. It remains a well-kept secret without much documentation. In Croatia, many still say that only “bad people” were sent there. Previsic argues that memories of Goli otok reemerged periodically in the 1990s and 2000s in different contexts. The prison camps of the Bosnian War resembled Goli otok. “Spanish swimming,” a torture method the UDBA used to force prisoners to give up names, reemerged as waterboarding during the U.S. war on terror. Yet, there is no memorial or museum at Goli otok. Though tourists visit from time to time in the summer (and write articles for travel blogs about it), it remains a largely abandoned, crumbling place that still hovers over Croatian society.

Stephanie Chung is the Outreach and Programming Coordinator at REEEC and a Ph.D. Candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her research interests are in Soviet literature and culture, Russian women’s writing, and Czech literature. She received her B.A. in Plan II Honors/Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies in 2007; and her M.A. in Slavic Languages and Literatures in 2009 from the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently writing a dissertation on Soviet women’s memoirs as literary and media texts.

REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture: Lydia Catedral, “‘I just say Russian’: Speaking Russian and claiming Russianness among Uzbeks in the United States”

Lydia Catedral giving her REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture

On April 25, 2017, Lydia Catedral (PhD Candidate in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Illinois) gave a REEEC Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “‘I just say Russian’: Speaking Russian and claiming Russianness among Uzbeks in the United States.”

Catedral began by defining some relevant terms from sociolinguistics. After distinguishing between referential and non-referential meaning, the latter denoting meaning conveyed through aspects of language other than the semantic content of words (e.g. intonation’s capacity to provide information on the speaker’s attitude toward what they are saying), Catedral invoked Michael Silverstein’s work on non-referential indexicality (itself indebted to Charles Sanders Peirce’s semiotic theory) to discuss what the use of the Russian language “points to” in the social world of Uzbeks living in the United States. Using Penelope Eckert’s notion of the “indexical field”—a “field of potential meanings… or constellation of ideologically related meanings” in which “variation constitutes an indexical system that embeds ideology in language”—Catedral asked, “How do global and transnational movements of Uzbeks to the United States reorder or shift the indexical field of Russian language and identity?”

Catedral also gave an overview of the “indexicalities” of Russian in Uzbekistan and Central Asia. She noted a “strong association of Russian language with Soviet rule,” the connection between Uzbek nationalism and de-russification efforts (e.g. changing from a Cyrillic to a Latin alphabet), the “dichotomy between Russian ethnic identity and Uzbek ethnic identities,” and the Russian language’s status as the language of technology and the internet and a “language of status” (it is considered an international language and “prized in education”) in Central Asia.

Catedral citied an open letter from the president of an Uzbek community organization in the Midwest which distinguishes between three types of Uzbeks living in America: those who “make an effort to preserve Uzbekness (language, religion, and culture),” those who have converted to Christianity (“They say they are especially in California”), and “atheists” who teach their children Russian “like the Uzbeks in the former communist era,” (“For them… the mother tongue is not very necessary”). Catedral observed that the writer aligns himself with the first type and distances himself from the other two, both spatio-temporally (California, the communist era) and linguistically (“they”/”them”). In this context, the Uzbek language is connected to religious and cultural identity, and Russian is indexical of the failure to maintain Uzbekness.

In a conversation with two sisters about their wish for one of their daughters to maintain Uzbekness and Uzbek morality (e.g. “no short skirts or drinking”), Catedral found that they still relied on the dichotomy between Russianness and Uzbekness, but that it had “migrated into the American context as a way of not letting your kids assimilate into the American culture… ‘Russian’ acts as a stand-in for everything else you might not want to be.” However, Catedral noted that Russianness can also serve as a “momentary substitute” for Uzbekness, a product of misrecognition on the part of Americans. Such stories indicate that the issue is “a lack of knowledge on the part of non-Uzbeks, or people in the U.S. [It’s] not a problem with our own ethnic identification, but with how Americans don’t understand.” Another relevant concern for Uzbeks in the U.S. is the desire to present themselves as the “good kind of immigrant”: “Nobody wants to be from Pakistan,” which has to do with “concerns about Islamophobia” and “issues of race”—not wanting to be identified as Pakistanis, a lot of Uzbeks just say “Russian.”

Catedral also noted the sense that Russian was “insufficiently global,” contrary to the perception of Russian as an international language in Central Asia. One of her interviewees spoke of visiting Uzbekistan and noticing that her friends spoke in Russian to show how “international” they were (“They try to speak in Russian and they feel themselves to be just like on a Europeanized level”)—for her, speaking Russian to indicate internationalism was instead an index of provincialism.

Catedral concluded by asserting that these indexicalities of Russian and Russianness among Uzbeks in the U.S.—“Not maintaining Uzbekness,” “Uzbek immigrant identity as represented to Americans,” and “A local (and dispreferred) way of attempting to be global”—are fluid, and “the most salient ones depend on the interactional context.” Furthermore, she argued that the fact of transnational mobility results in a broader number of possible meanings in the indexical field of Russian and Russianness. In highlighting the interaction between Uzbek and Russian language and identity in the United States, Catedral’s research “has implications for understanding post-Soviet people as global subjects, and for uncovering the shifting meanings of Russian across varying transnational contexts.”

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

Distinguished Lecture: Sergey Zenkin, “Revolutionary Event and Literary Discourse”

On April 10, 2017, Sergey Zenkin presented a lecture entitled “Revolutionary Event and Literary Discourse” as part of the REEEC Distinguished Lecture Series. Dr. Zenkin is a Professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities. His lecture focused on the works of two French philosophers, Maurice Blanchot and Paul Ricoeur, through which we can gain a more complex understanding of revolutions and their subsequent interpretations.

Sergey Zenkin giving his REEEC Distinguished Lecture

Dr. Zenkin introduced his lecture with a point about how history is interpreted. He said that, in antiquity, history was interpreted using the reigns of monarchs and emperors as guides.  Currently, however, history is interpreted using chronological points as guides, especially wars and revolutions. History is, therefore, inhuman and catastrophic.

Turning to theoretical analyses of revolutions, Dr. Zenkin noted that revolutions are imbued with an aura of heroism and entail both creation and destruction. In Maurice Blanchot’s analysis, literary creation is based on rupture. The act of writing or speaking serves to separate the author from his subject. Likewise, revolution is a “fabulous moment” in which history is emptied out. The revolution is distinct from human time, desires, and projects. The individual is no longer relevant and is replaced by the community. Blanchot viewed the revolution from within, which removes it from chronological history. He also viewed revolution as a “total event” or “super event” because it overturns the world. The totality of the revolution ultimately necessitates that it be viewed from within because there are no external points of view. Moreover, there are no possible actions because all that could be done has been done already. Perhaps the only response available is seeing. However, according to Blanchot, there are no spectators, but only readers who interpret the revolution after it has occurred. The readers can confirm or reject thought about the revolution and therefore imbue it with meaning. Through their interpretive work, the revolution ultimately becomes history.

Paul Ricoeur offers a different interpretation on revolution. He argued that there is a homology between texts and actions because both are separated from their subjects and constituted of material objects. Moreover, neither actor nor author can control the consequences of action or text. The author addresses his text to an indefinite audience. The audience reads his work and this implies action as well—a reaction to the author’s text. Ricoeur also analyzed “events of foundation,” which are extraordinary, total events affecting an entire nation or all of mankind. These events combine both negativity and creativity. Zenkin posited that, for modernity, the “event of foundation” is the revolution. Revolutions are endowed with meaning through the reactions that they evoke, such as commemoration through semi-religious rituals or repetition. Ricoeur also analyzed revolutions through the frame of mimesis of total events. The mimesis of total events shows that revolutions are paradoxical, endow absolute and negative freedom, and generate a rupture which must be sustained.

Dr. Zenkin concluded his lecture with a brief discussion of Yuri Lotman’s analysis of revolution as both culture and explosion, which normalizes revolution. Zenkin suggested that we ultimately cannot choose between revolution and normalization, writing and interpretation, or culture and explosion.

Kathleen Gergely is a first-year REEEC MA student. She is also a 2016-2017 FLAS Fellow for Russian.

Noontime Scholars Lecture: Laura Dean, “Incongruent Implementation of Human Rights-Based Policy in the Post-Soviet Region”

Laura Dean giving her Noontime Scholars Lecture on March 14, 2017

Every year, approximately one million people are trafficked throughout the post-Soviet world. Although human trafficking is a global issue, Laura Dean (Assistant Professor of History and Political Science at Millikin University) argues that the problem is particularly acute in the post-Soviet region. In her lecture, entitled “Incongruent Implementation of Human Rights-Based Policy in the Post-Soviet Region,” she explored why the region has had such a problem controlling human trafficking. Do the difficulties stem from internal or external forces? And what factors help or hinder the implementation of more comprehensive human trafficking policies?

In order to answer these questions, Dean’s research focuses on state structures and institutions, to see how responses to the problem of human trafficking have varied from country to country. In this presentation, Dean focused on three countries: Ukraine, Latvia, and Russia. Although every country in the post-Soviet region has adopted at least a criminal code against human trafficking, their responses beyond that have varied widely. In tracing out the particularities of these three states—each of which have different resources, institutional networks, and overall approaches—Dean aimed to explore what was working, and what could be improved.

Ukraine, the first state Dean discussed, was the first post-Soviet state to address the question of human trafficking with a criminal code in 1998. Despite this promising policy step, Ukraine has had problems with implementation: agencies and institutions have problems communicating with each other, local officials have little instructions on how to implement top-down policies, there is a lack of resources due to the overwhelming problem of internally displaced people from eastern Ukraine. Dean’s second example, Latvia, addressed many of these problems of implementation. It has fewer policies than Ukraine, but it has done a much better job of implementing them: agencies and institutions have clearly defined relationships, and they work closely with international organizations and governing bodies. Finally, Dean focused on Russia. While Russia has implemented a criminal code, it has no other state policy connected to anti-trafficking measures. There is also no centralized rehabilitative service; as a result, people who have been trafficked often have to rely on local institutions or Orthodox churches. Although there are people trying to tackle the issue of human trafficking in Russia, Dean noted, they are severely limited by the lack of state support.

Although Dean’s lecture focused on the state-level process, she also devoted some attention to broader, regional issues. Perhaps the most pressing of those issues is changing the perception of what human trafficking looks like. Due to the “Natasha Effect,” the popular imagining of a human trafficking victim is a young woman, usually trafficked as part of the sex trade. Though the sex trade plays a role in human trafficking, that a narrative ignores other forms, such as forced labor or organ trafficking. As the name “Natasha” indicates, it also emphasizes that most victims of this process are of Slavic descent, whereas in reality, Central Asians are increasingly becoming the target of trafficking operations.

Furthermore, Dean observed that it is important to use quantitative data carefully. One commonly used metric to discusses the success (or failure) of anti-human trafficking policy is to trace the number of initiated criminal investigations and the number of rehabilitated victims. The assumption is that higher numbers mean more effective enforcement, but lower numbers may mean a country’s approach is so effective that traffickers are more hesitant to use it. Pure quantitative data also gives researchers no information on how policies are implemented, another critical factor to consider.

Since only relying on quantitative data to study human trafficking policy gives a very limited view of the issue, Dean’s lecture underscored that researchers, policy advisers, activists, and others need to use a mix of quantitative and qualitative approaches to study the issue. States that have good legal structures, like Ukraine, may face challenges with implementation. Only using quantitative data would mask Ukraine’s trouble implementing human trafficking policies, and makes less apparent Latvia’s success in fostering inter-agency communication and creating policies that are easy to implement. In other cases, such as Russia, wider political narratives make tackling the issue of trafficking difficult. Given the vastly different approaches that states in the post-Soviet region have used, more research needs to focus on the long-term consequences and effectiveness of each state’s trafficking policies, using both quantitative and qualitative data.

Deirdre Ruscitti Harshman is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at the University of Illinois. Her dissertation, “A Space Called Home: Housing and the Construction of the Everyday in Russia, 1890-1935,” explores how multiple, often conflicting, understandings of the home emerged across the revolutionary divide of 1917, and what these conceptions tell us about belonging. Her article “Cooking Up a New Everyday: Communal Kitchens in the Revolutionary Era, 1890-1935” was published in the December 2016 issue of Revolutionary Russia. When she is not doing academic work, she is working on perfecting her plov recipe. 

Noontime Scholars Lecture: Karol Kujawa, “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations”

On February 14th, REEEC Visiting Scholar Karol Kujawa gave a Noontime Scholars Lecture entitled “Migration Crisis: Implications for Turkish-EU Relations.”  Kujawa is a Kosciuszko Foundation Fellow and Assistant Professor at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University. His lecture was co-sponsored by the European Union Center.

IMG_1837

Karol Kujawa

For the past several years, the EU has been facing a refugee crisis. Turkey, traditionally a “gateway to Europe,” plays a key role in this migration process.  As a result of the Syrian Civil War, Turkey has become the site of political asylum for over 2.8 million Syrians.  Turkey currently hosts more refugees than any other country on Earth.

According to Kujawa, Turkey decided to host these refugees for several reasons.  First, Turkish authorities initially believed that Bashar al-Assad’s regime would fall—and their “guests” (as the Turkish prime minister called Syrian refugees) would return home—within a year.  Second, the Turkish people were in favor of helping refugees, due to a cultural tradition of “welcoming people from the Ottoman Empire, the Caucasus, Crimea… all of them are refugees, and the society is very cosmopolitan.”  Additionally, “Turkish people really love children,” and over 50% of Syrian refugees in Turkey are minors.

Since the migration crisis began, however, the number of terrorist attacks within Turkey has risen dramatically.  The crisis has led to an increase in “anti-European feelings” among the Turkish people, which is “one of the main purposes of this terrorism” (most of which is perpetrated by ISIS).  Since 2015-2016, popular support for Turkey’s potential accession to the EU has waned, and nationalism and xenophobia are on the rise within the country: “even the seculars are nationalists… there is currently no moderate movement in Turkey.”  On the European side, “we have seen almost the same process”—after an earlier more welcoming attitude toward migrants, “Europeans gradually started changing their minds about the refugees.” This has also coincided with a rise in nationalism throughout Europe.

An “EU-Turkey Statement” was released on March 18, 2016, outlining a new agreement between Turkey and the EU with regard to the migration crisis.  According to this statement, “All new irregular migrants crossing from Turkey into Greek islands… will be returned to Turkey,” but “For every Syrian being returned to Turkey from Greek islands, another Syrian will be resettled from Turkey to the EU.” The EU also agreed to accept more refugees, liberalize the visa process, help improve conditions for refugees on Turkish soil, and to speed up the disbursement of 3 billion euros allocated under the Facility for Refugees in Turkey.  As a result of this agreement, the number of refugees coming to Greece decreased, although according to Kujawa, “that was mainly the result of stopping [migrant] smugglers on Turkish soil.”  Stronger borders have also been established in the Balkans.  However, Kujawa stressed that this is just a temporary solution: Syrian refugees will continue to migrate to Europe, and “there are still too many refugees in Syria, and too many coming to Turkey. To be honest, the only way to stop this problem is to stop the war in Syria.”

Kujawa noted that the EU and Turkey need each other, so they must try to cooperate. The EU needs Turkey’s help to stop the flow of refugees into Europe, and the Turkish economy relies on trade with the EU: over 50% of Turkish exports go to Europe.  However, many member states would oppose Turkey’s accession to the EU, due to human rights issues (“states like Austria and Luxembourg are very sensitive about the question of freedom and human rights, and will oppose integration with Turkey”), increasing levels of xenophobia (“anti-Islamic demonstrations… in Hungary especially”), and the rise of nationalist movements that threaten the integrity of the EU itself (“we don’t even know if the European Union will survive”).

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

REEEC Faculty Named IPRH Fellows

Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) at the University of Illinois has awarded its annual Faculty and Graduate Student Fellowships to seven faculty members and seven graduate students for the 2017-2018 academic year, which will center on the theme of “Paradigm Shifts.” IPRH also announced its first class of New Horizons Summer Research Fellows for 2017. New Horizons fellowships support faculty summer research and provide for the hire of an undergraduate research assistant. More information about the fellowships and a complete list of fellows can be found here. Please join REEEC in congratulating faculty members George Gasyna and Jessica Greenberg on their IPRH fellowships!

George Gasyna (Associate Professor, Slavic Languages and Literatures and Comparative and World Literature) was named a 2017-2018 IPRH Faculty Fellow for “A Time for the Province: Palimpsest and Contact in Twentieth-Century Polish Borderland Literature.”

George Gasyna

Jessica Greenberg (Associate Professor of Anthropology) was named a 2017 IPRH New Horizons Summer Faculty Research Fellow for her project will be “Ghosts in the Machine: Rights, Sovereignty and (post) Institutional Crisis in Europe.”

Jessica Greenberg

New Directions Lecture: Christine Evans, “17 Reasons To Get Along with the Secret Police: Tatyana Lioznova’s ‘Seventeen Moments of Spring’ from the Soviet 1970s to the Putin Era”

David Cooper (Director of REEEC) introducing Christine Evans

On February 23rd, Christine Evans, (Assistant Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee and a scholar of Soviet culture, mass media, and plays) gave a lecture on the popular 1973 Soviet TV miniseries Seventeen Moments of Spring. Her lecture, entitled “17 Reasons To Get Along with the Secret Police: Tatyana Lioznova’s ‘Seventeen Moments of Spring’ from the Soviet 1970s to the Putin Era,” was a sociological study of the show, and its reflections of Soviet culture and thought. It was a case study of some of the work that Evans had done to argue that the Soviet culture of this time was dynamic and vibrant, even though it was in a kind of stagnation along with the Soviet system in general.

The miniseries follows the fictional narrative of Maxim Isaev, a Soviet spy in Nazi Germany during the final days of World War II operating under the name of Max Otto von Stierlitz. Depicted by Vyacheslav Tikhonov, Stierlitz works to disrupt negotiation efforts between the Nazi and US governments for a separate peace. Evans focused on how the show’s recurring themes spoke to the trends of the 1970s Soviet society under Brezhnev.

One such recurring theme is that of questioning what is seen. Many times on the show, documents profiling Nazi officers and other characters are featured. These documents mention the crimes and horrible actions of the Nazis they name. However, these same Nazis are later portrayed as quite human characters when they are on screen. They are shown drinking, laughing, talking, and engaging like everyday people. The viewer is left questioning how such atrocities could be done by people who seem so human and normal, and a general sense of moral ambiguity prevails throughout the show.

This, Evans argued, resonated with the Soviet Union of the 1970s. Many Soviet people knew that their state had done terrible things; yet, they also knew that the people in their government were still human, and that they had done much good for others. They, too, were morally ambiguous in a way.

In another parallel, German officers and intelligentsia are intensely loyal on the show to the Nazi regime either by suppression or fanaticism, just as Soviet officers and intelligentsia were loyal to the USSR for the same reasons. Stierlitz always does his part to work loyally within his authority structures—his spy networks and his taking orders from other Nazis while undercover—while at the same time, acting independently enough to do what he needs to do. In this way, the show comments on the loyalty that many Soviets felt to their regime and the need they felt to do their part to make it work. Stierlitz’s independence and authority of action, devoid of any considerations beside his tasks, hearkens to the shadow of Stalin that hung over the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

Evans explored many other themes of the show in this way, also discussing the reactions and reviews of film critics in the Soviet Union and the notes of the producers of the show. Her extensive study of Seventeen Moments of Spring was a compelling testament to the values of sociological analysis as a tool for the historian or anyone who wants to further their understanding of Eastern European, Russian, and Eurasian societies and cultures.

Nick Goodell is a sophomore at UIUC, double majoring in History and Philosophy. He also speaks weekly about history on the radio show that he co-hosts, “The People’s History Hour with Grant Neal and Nick Goodell.”