The 124th NZ issue contains three sections, each dedicated to its own topic, as well as our regular columns. The first part talks about the results of the Arab Spring, which began in 2011 and led to the change of governments in a number of Middle Eastern and North African countries, sometimes causing devastating civil wars. Titled “From Spring to Autumn: The Post-Revolutionary Arab World”, the section opens with an editorial article introducing the main issues under discussion. One of its aims is to challenge the widespread view that the Arab Spring ended, inevitably and irreversibly, in the “Arab Autumn”, with the dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in Libya, Egypt and some other countries giving way to nothing but chaos and the consolidation of conservative (or radical Islamist) powers in the region. The introduction is followed by a general survey of the current state of affairs, “The New Arab Order: Power and Violence in Today’s Middle East”, by the American political scientist Mark Lynch. The outcomes of the revolutionary events and civil conflicts that started in 2011 are further considered by Nikolai Surkov in his analysis of ongoing political processes (“The Lessons of ‘Arab Democratisation’in North Africa”. Valerie Hoffman, an American scholar of religious studies, discusses the same subject from another perspective in her piece “The Arab Spring and Its Results: Religion and Politics”, focusing on the links — strong if not always immediately obvious — between Islam and politics in the Arab world. The section concludes with a survey by Andrei Zakharov and Leonid Isaev of the present-day situation in Libya, a country where the Arab Spring, supported by the West, destroyed the dictatorship, but also challenged the very existence of the state (“Anarchy, Oil and the Federation: Libya after the Arab Spring”).
The motif of revolutions, civil wars and radical reforms projected onto the history of Russia is the subject of Igor Smirnov’s piece “Subverted Ritual: Our Unique Path”, published in Culture of Politics. Smirnov views the country’s past as a process in which two basic concepts, “historicity” and “ritualisticity”, can be said to compete with each other, the former dominating the latter. This creates an endless cycle: one that sees the nation, after being shaken by cataclysmic events, return once again to the state of (almost voluntary) submission to institutionalised violence. “The unique nature of the ‘Russian world’ is in its instability and fragmentation, in its lack of clear identity and disparate ritual base”, — the author concludes. “Russia’s society if more historical than it is ritualist”.
The theme of this issue’s next section is set in Alexander Kustarev’s essay “Weimar Germany. Weimar Russia. Planet Weimar” appearing in Political Imaginary. Marking the centenary of the Weimar Constitution (its adoption started a period in German history that lasted until the Nazis took power in 1933), the piece begins by asking if the term “Weimar” can be applied to post-Soviet Russia. It goes on to briefly describe the restoration nostalgia that swept over the humanities-educated part of the Soviet intelligentsia during the perestroika and immediately after 1991. The final part of the piece offers an original view of the historical roots of “Weimarism” in political practices; causes that are by no means restricted to interwar Germany. Kustarev believes that the on-going crisis of the liberal democratic model has made this phenomenon extremely relevant again in the present-day West.
One of the main constituents of “Weimarism” in its broadest sense, as well as of the current conservative populist trend, is nostalgia. Svetlana Boim (1959–2015) is known for her extraordinary interpretations of this notion. The next section of the issue is a tribute to the philologist, anthropologist, writer and artist, who would have turned 60 this year. It opens with one of her own pieces, “Outer Space in the Ladies’ Toilet”, a highly personal essay written towards the end of her life, published here for the first time. Also in this section is a specially commissioned essay by Boim’s close friend, the Hungarian cultural historian and writer Zsófia Bán, titled “The Red on the Black”. Taking as his starting point Boim’s “The Future of Nostalgia”, Vladislav Degtyarev analyses the concept of “cultural nostalgia”, contrasting it with “melancholy”. The theme of nostalgia is given a somewhat unusual treatment in Ilya Budraitskis’s article “Brezhnev as Our Contemporary? Nostalgia, Retromania and the Colonisation of the Soviet Past”, which talks, among other things, about Susanne Schattenberg’s biography of Leonid Brezhnev, recently translated into Russian.
The third theme of the 124th issue is urbanism. Here the past and present of the modern city are considered in the context of Nizhny Novgorod. This section opens with a short essay by one of our editors, Kirill Kobrin, “The NN/G Code”, in which he proposes a conceptually new approach to the city’s history. It is followed by the proceedings of “urbanism field workshops”, held in Nizhny Novgorod in the summer of 2018 as part of a collaboration between the Arsenal contemporary art centre and NZ. The section concludes with “One Step away from Politics: Nizhny Novgorod’s Architecture School of the 1990s and Street Art of the 2010s”, in which the art curator Alisa Savitskaya and the artist Artem Filatov consider these important phenomena of the city’s socio-cultural life.
Our regular Case Study section offers Oleg Beida’s detailed overview of the life of Boris Pash (born Pashkovsky), an American intelligence officer of Russian descent. Another regular section, Politics of Culture, contains two pieces. In one of them, Andrei Portnov and Tatyana Portnova present a comparative cultural-political analysis of the story behind two key works of Ukrainian literature, the novels “No Ground” by Viktor Petrov and “The Cathedral” by Oles Honchar. In the other, “Jacques Presser and the Jewish Autobiographical Tradition in the Netherlands”, Arianne Baggerman and Rudolf Dekker, professors at the University of Amsterdam, introduce the reader to the works of the classic of Dutch historiography, little known in Russia.
The issue traditionally features Alexei Levinson’s column Sociological Lyrics and concludes with the New Books section.