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01 2014

The 93rd NZ issue includes three topical sections and a number of stand-alone selections and articles that can be viewed as related to the main subjects if one looks at the issue as a whole.

The first topical section, “Soviet Academia: Metamorphoses of Internal Isolation”, focuses on the drama of the humanities in the USSR and, more particularly, the drama of those who were directly involved in this area of research. As we know, the Soviet humanities were quite a strange and complex phenomenon. On the one hand, the genuine achievements of Soviet specialists in this field are remarkable in their scale and significance. On the other hand, philology, Oriental studies, historiography and other academic subjects were constantly kept under great pressure and strictest control in the USSR, at times becoming a target for repression, censorship and so on.

The strong and weak points of the Soviet humanities, the problem of its “convertibility” outside of the USSR and the Soviet bloc, as well as its remnants inherited by post-Soviet academia – these are the main issues around which the discussion revolves in this section. It opens with Alexander Dmitriev's article about the attitude of Soviet (mainly late Soviet) humanities researchers to the history of their own area of studies. Dmitriev poses several important questions, which determine the way the whole section comes across. Among them are: why did Soviet humanities researchers grow extremely obsessed with the past, especially the 1920s; how did their obsession affects their academic output; is it possible to separate the strengths of this output from its weaknesses?

Developing a number of themes related to the problem of the Soviet humanities, other authors talk about its different aspects. Alexander Markov analyses the writings of Soviet art historians on ancient Russian icon painting (“God Mentality in the Soviet Times”), Sergey Ivanov reviews the history of Celtic studies in the USSR, while Richard Marshall talks to David Bakhurst, the scholar of late Soviet philosophy, about Evald Ilyenkov's works and their significance not only for the Soviet humanities, but, first and foremost, outside the USSR, discussing their perception abroad. Alexander Chantsev offers a most curious series of interviews with Soviet orientalists (mostly people of an older generation, with experience of working for Soviet institutions), which trace the development of their areas of studies during the Soviet and post-Soviet era. What is, of course, especially interesting here is how those two periods compare with each other, and what prospects orientalism has in Russia today.

This section is complemented by Andrey Ranchin's article “Diplomas, Ratings, Indices: On Criteria for Evaluating Research Activities”. It considers some the gravest problems of present-day Russian academia, as well as recent attempts by the authorities to reform it by making it more “efficient”.

The second topic of this NZ issue covers tumultuous political events in the post-Soviet and (broadly understood) postcolonial space. These mainly mean the latest protests against “soft authoritarianism” in Russia and Ukraine, as well as the relatively recent Arab Spring, whose political, social and economic consequences are becoming more and more apparent. Writing in the Culture of Politics section, Andrey Ryabov considers the so-called “consumer revolution” (an extremely hot topic for Russia and Ukraine) using Turkey and Brazil as examples, while the British political scientist Sarah Whitmore reflects on the causes of the Ukrainian Euromaidan protests. Both pieces address the problem of “modernisation”, its various paths and conflicts between its “agents” and the interests of elites and other social strata.

The second topical section, titled “Desert Storm: The Third Anniversary of the Arab Revolutions”, focuses on the consequences of the Arab Spring. Leonid Isaev writes about the situation in Egypt, where the toppling of Hosni Mubarak's regime, which was supported by the army, has eventually led to the military's return to power (“The Generals Leave, Only to Return: The Third Anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution”). Konstantin Truevtsev analyses the civil war in Syria, its scope being rather far removed from the idea of “democrats fighting Assad's authoritarian regime”, widespread in the West. Finally, Alisa Shishkina offers an illuminating piece on the role of the Internet, online communities and the authorities' attempts to block access to the World Wide Web during the Arab Spring. The reader is certain to note that this set of questions can be applied to the current post-Soviet climate.

The above articles (including those exploring the theme of “modernisation drama”) are joined by Alexander Kondakov's piece “Execrating Feminism in a Courtroom: How Gendered Citizenship Was Being Designed during the Pussy Riot Trial” (Case Study).

Finally, the third topical section of this issue, “Place and Time Modifiers: Identity Grammar”, touches on a certain aspect of the identity problem, one of the key issues arising in contemporary societies. Identity awareness precedes and accompanies modernisation; moreover, modernisation often takes place with a view to acquiring an identity, much hoped-for and usually constructed in advance. Boris Cherny presents a biographical sketch about the author Simon Markish (“Shaping and Revisiting Russian Jewish Identity. The Case of Simon Markish”). Viktoria Sukovataya talks about “the national Other” reflected upon in Sholem Aleichem's novel “The Bloody Hoax”. Yulia Bernstein's article “Time Modifiers: The Jews of the Former USSR in the Mirror of the American Holocaust Memorialisation Project” is an unusual take on becoming aware of Jewish identity in the context of “traumatic memory of the past”. The problem of Jewish identity and self-identification is further studied in Alexey Levinson's column,Sociological Lyrics, in an essay titled “Euroidentity”.

Two other regular columns, Political Imaginary by Alexander Kustarev and Old World Chronicles by Kirill Kobrin, explore themes linked to some of the greatest European thinkers, such as Niccolò Machiavelli, Max Weber and Karl Marx. Kustarev gives a comparative analysis of Machiavelli's and Weber's views on the nature of power, while Kobrin interprets “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” in the European historical context of the mid-19th century, the time when the concept of modernité first emerged.

The issue concludes with Russian Intellectual Journals’ Review, compiled by Vyacheslav Morozov, and the New Books section.