The 123rd NZ issue contains three main topical sections, published alongside a number of thematically linked pieces in the regular columns, the main themes all having common areas, some narrow, others rather broad.
The most burning issue in today’s political, socio-economic and cultural life in nearly the entire world is migration: people moving between different countries, regions and continents. It is the “fear of migration” that right populism is based on, while human rights campaigners, traditional liberals and some left-wing groups insist on every person’s right to strive for freedom, prosperity and happiness in every part of the globe.
Boundaries — geographical, ethical, linguistic, cultural and any other — have become an object of reflection for social scientists and humanities scholars. One of the topical sections of this issue is titled “Cultural Phenomenology of Borders”. The main theme itself, the intersection of dividing lines — in this case, political and cultural — is set in Alexander Kustarev’s essay “Long-Distance Hurdling”. In his column (Political Imaginary) the magazine’s regular contributor surveys the history of the migration problem and its current state, analyses the main pros and cons of migration discussed in the past decades, and tries to predict some of the ways in which the problem is likely to develop in the future. In another regular column, Sociological Lyrics, Alexei Levinson also talks about borders, considering not their intersection but rather their setup and expansion. The question Levinson poses is the image of Russia as something sacral (evoking the heritage of Stalin’s era) and at the same time moving, expanding; a phenomenon that Putin’s domestic and foreign policy hinges on. From the historical vantage point, the sacralisation of borders has not begun yesterday; the Treaty of Versailles (and the so-called Versailles system of international relations) was an important stage in the process. The treaty ended WWI and created many independent national states, which raised the recently drawn borders to the status of a sacral notion. This is the subject of “The Treaty of Versailles. A Concise History”, a book by the historian Michael S. Neiberg, reviewed in the New Books section by one of our editors, Andrei Zakharov. Another response to a book on a similar subject is Alexander Klinsky’s review of Tim Marshall’s “Prisoners of Geography”.
The section in question of borders comprises six articles. Philosopher Valery Savchuk offers a survey and a socio-cultural commentary to the significance of fences in Russia’s everyday life. Starting from inner urban micro-borders (for what is a fence if not a border around a house?), the issue’s contributors move on to borders understood in a broader conceptual sense. In his piece “On Natural Borders and Culture Wars: The Survival of a Migrant/Refugee Group, or Does Fichte Still Inspire Us?” the Serbian philosopher Petar Bojanić reflects on the connection between such seemingly unrelated concepts as the limits (boundaries) of cultural norms and “natural limits”. The latter notion was used by Fichte and then, in the late 19th—20th centuries, widely used to justify territorial expansion and aggression. The fortunes of these notions today are a separate story. Zhanna Nikolaeva and Alexei Noskov turn to the subject of St. Petersburg in “Reflections of the Time Phenomenon in St. Petersburg’s Ontic Contours”, talking about the city’s temporal boundaries. Anna Troitskaya in “Art Localisation as a Way to Reformat Urban Space” focuses on how the meanings of urban space are defined and transformed through contemporary art “being imposed” on or “intervening” in it. Sergei Troitsky, the head of the Centre for the Study of Cultural Alienation Zones and Borderlands, part of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, analyses “trauma” as the basis, the cause and the code of the formation of topographical hierarchy. Alexei Tsarev offers an account of urban alienation zones being drawn in Russian hip hop, raising the question of whether the boundaries of such alienation can be crossed within this local variety of a global music genre.
The theme of boundaries, geographical and cultural-historical alike, is continued in a conversation between another of NZ editors, Kirill Kobrin, and Vladimir Svetlov, a Riga-based photographer, featured in the NZ Interview section. They talk about whether it is possible to overcome a profound difference, that between two cultures: late Soviet and contemporary Russian-language Latvian on the one hand, and Chinese on the other.
The most topical section of 123rd issue is the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine, starting a new electoral cycle in the country. Our coverage of it opens with the article “The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine: The Origins and Form of Protest in the Parliament” by the British political scientist Sarah Whitmore. Georgy Chizhov has compiled a survey of Ukrainian political parties in the election year. “Enforcedly Displaced Persons from the South-East of Ukraine: Citizen Solidarity and Volunteering in War” by Irina Kuznetsova studies the role of Donbass refugees in Ukraine’s life today, as well as of their methods of self-organisation and social activities. A piece by Wojciech Konończuk contains two opposite views of the “Ukrainian question”: Russian and Polish. Igor Isaev develops the Polish theme — this time separately from the “Ukrainian question” — in his article “Holding the Past: How Fighting Communism in Poland Ruins Democracy” (Culture of Politics).
From the past we move on to the future, if only unrealised. NZ has been looking into transformations undergone by images of the future at different stages of modernity, considering, in particular, a certain melancholy sentiment regarding a future that was promised by progress but never happened. This sentiment is now called “hauntology”; a term spread by the British theorist Mark Fisher, who changed the meaning of the notion once introduced by Jacques Derrida. Fisher (1968–2017) is the protagonist of the third thematic section of this issue, “In Search of Lost Future”. In “Mark Fisher: From Boring Dystopia to Acid Communism” the British writer and architecture critic Owen Hatherley, a regular NZ contributor, gives a detailed analysis of the work of Fisher, who was mainly known as the author of the blog k-punk. The essay was written in response to a recently published posthumous edition of Fisher’s writings. Ilya Budraitskis talks about Fisher’s relevance for Russia’s present-day cultural-political situation in “How to Read Fisher in Russia: The Vampire Castle in the Middle of Boring Dystopia”. The selection opens with an excerpt from “Imaginary Cities”, a book by the British cultural critic Darran Anderson. Titled “‘Urbs’, Suburbia and the Last Century’s (Un)Realised Future”, it is an account of dystopian perceptions of future cities popular in the past two centuries.
Among other regular NZ sections in this issue are Case Study, featuring “Count Vladimir Kokovtsov and the Alumni Society of the Imperial Alexander Lyceum” by Lyudmila Klimovich and “Two Initiations of a Humble Soviet Hero: ‘Alone’ by Grigory Kozintsev and Leonid Trauberg”, as well as Politics of Culture, featuring Igor Kobylin’s “‘Mind and Market’: Academician Moiseev’s Ecological ‘Management’”. The New Books section contains reviews as well as the Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review by Alexander Pisarev.