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After the USSR: leading scholars to speak on Russia and the Caucasus

2017-11-17

Nationalism and identity in the post-Soviet space and beyond is the focus of two upcoming conferences organised by Malmö University’s research platform Russia and the Caucasus Regional Research (RUCARR).

RUCARR’s Second Annual Conference will take place on November 22-23. This year, the research hub has also organised a further conference titled Circassians in the 21st century: Identity and Survival, which will run from November 23-24. Staff and students are welcome to the keynote presentations, where professors Paul Goode (University of Bath) and Walter Richmond (Occidental College) will present their work.

Nationalism on the agenda

The upcoming conferences will be dealing with timely issues, considering the current political climate. In recent years, the global spotlight has regularly been pointed at Russia, spurred by political developments like the conflict in Ukraine and the 2016 American elections. The rise of right-wing populism also means, as Goode points out, that nationalism has become an increasingly hot topic in both politics and research.

“Lots of people weren’t paying much attention to Russian nationalism before the annexation of Crimea. A variety of questions to do with national and ethnic identity will be discussed at the annual conference; my own talk will be on nationalism and patriotism in post-Soviet Russia.” 

Goode hopes his presentation will shed light on what is happening on an everyday level in Russia. Studies on nationalism, he argues, are too often focused on national survey data, and miss what goes on among ordinary citizens in their daily lives.

“These commonplace interactions are meaningful because they create certain kinds of legitimacy that are often more enduring than what happens in top-down approaches,” he explains.

Cultural identity and ethnic cleansing

Another noteworthy theme that will be explored at the conference on Circassians in the 21st century, is the Circassian diaspora and their struggle to preserve their cultural identity. Although this may seem like a somewhat niche area of interest for most people, Richmond, who specialises in the Caucasus region, believes it ties in with many present-day problems.

“Circassians were one of the first ethnic groups subjected to what’s now referred to as ‘ethnic cleansing’. A particularly significant aspect of their migration to Anatolia that relates to modern migration is the fact that the Turks actively, and often violently, tried to force Circassians to assimilate. I think this is an interesting point: nations that ‘open their doors’ to immigrants and then expect those immigrants to assimilate, to lose their ethnic identity,” Richmond remarks.

Knowing first-hand what it means to live this intersection between historical and current migration issues, several Syrian refugees in Sweden, who are also ethnic Circassians, will be attending the conference.

All in all, the two events promise to spark some thought-provoking discussion and Malmö, according to Goode, is a prime location for these conversations to take place.

“What happens in Russia is always going to affect what happens in Europe, and vice versa,” he says. “Scandinavia, because of its location, is a very central part of this, which is why it’s wonderful that the RUCARR exists in Malmö and that it’s drawing in so much international expertise.”

Text: Maya Acharya

Last updated by Maya Acharya