The Patriotism of Despair
Nation, War, and Loss in Russia
Culture and Society after Socialism
Published by: Cornell University Press
312 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 x 18.00 mm, 34 halftones
- ISBN: 9780801475573
- Published: April 2009
The sudden dissolution of the Soviet Union altered the routines, norms, celebrations, and shared understandings that had shaped the lives of Russians for generations. It also meant an end to the state-sponsored, nonmonetary support that most residents had lived with all their lives. How did Russians make sense of these historic transformations? Serguei Alex Oushakine offers a compelling look at postsocialist life in Russia. In Barnaul, a major industrial city in southwestern Siberia that has lost 25 percent of its population since 1991, many Russians are finding that what binds them together is loss and despair.
The Patriotism of Despair examines the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, graphically described in spray paint by a graffiti artist in Barnaul: "We have no Motherland." Once socialism disappeared as a way of understanding the world, what replaced it in people's minds? Once socialism stopped orienting politics and economics, how did capitalism insinuate itself into routine practices? Serguei Alex. Oushakine offers a compelling look at postsocialist life in noncosmopolitan Russia. He introduces readers to the "neocoms": people who mourn the loss of the Soviet economy and the remonetization of transactions that had not involved the exchange of cash during the Soviet era.
Moving from economics into military conflict and personal loss, Oushakine also describes the ways in which veterans of the Chechen war and mothers of soldiers who died there have connected their immediate experiences with the country's historical disruptions. The country, the nation, and traumatized individuals, Oushakine finds, are united by their vocabulary of shared pain.
"The Patriotism of Despair brilliantly demonstrates that 'culture matters more than ever' during periods of societal transformation. Serguei Oushakine investigates a range of groups—nationalist activists and intellectuals, war veterans and soldiers' mothers—that form communities of loss around symbolic representations and ritual enactments of shared trauma in Russia. Based on fieldwork from 2001–2003 in the city of Bernaull in Southwestern Siberia, the book provides a rare glimpse of culture in a Russian province (most other ethnographies are based in Moscow or St. Petersburg).... The Patriotism of Despair is one of the most significant works on post-Soviet culture to date, showing how trauma is not simply limiting, but generative—of communities and of understandings of what happened, what it means, and what to do. This ambitious undertaking... engages an impressive array of evidence: analyzing interviews, recounting rituals, excavating archives, and interpreting photographs."~Jane Zavisca, Contemporary Sociology
"Drawing on return visits to Barnaul, his boyhood city, near the Chinese and Kazakh borders, he paints a profound psychological tableau of coping. His groupings are diverse: disgruntled leftists, whom he labels 'neocoms'; Chechen war veterans; and the mothers of dead soldiers. All, however, find meaning and community in narratives of tragedy.... From Oushakine's keen reading, one gets a sense of how, for a still wider circle of Russians, collapse and disorder led to alienation from the Western values that Russian reforms had tried to sell them, which then for some shaded into anti-Semitism and a crude nationalism."~Foreign Affairs