By Sofya Omarova
This blog was previously published by the Oxford Brookes University and it is available here
The 21st Annual Association for the Study of Nationalities (ASN) World Convention was held at the Harriman Institute, Columbia University from 14-16 April 2016. This year the ASN Convention hosted more than 150 panels. This included panels on regional studies covering the Balkans, Central Europe, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the Caucasus, Eurasia, Turkey and Greece. There were also thematic panels covering topics such as Migration, Nationalism Studies and Authoritarianism/Democratisation.
This conference was brilliant in terms of its broad thematic and regional coverage and multidisciplinarity. The atmosphere at the ASN conference encouraged friendly intellectual conversations, uplifting critical thinking, and enthusiasm to contribute more efficiently to the development of political science.
My research concerns the politics of Central Asia and the Caucasus, authoritarianism and nationalism studies, and I found three papers particularly interesting. The first paper was by Caress Schenk from Nazarbaev University. Her project was related to the creation of an international labour market in Russia and Kazakhstan, with regard to the integration processes within the Eurasian Union. The main argument was around the critical assessment of current labour migration policies. She stated that the migration policies require some major changes at both the structural and bureaucratic levels. The “black listed” migration, as a structural issue, is the imposition of legal boundaries for certain undesirable groups of population (e.g. Tajik and Kyrgyz migrant workers), which limits their free work opportunities and navigation within the Eurasian Union. Despite liberalised norms of workers’ registration (within 5 days of stay in the EU), there are still a great number of bureaucratic challenges and a lack of official information on the complicated legal procedures of labour migration.
The second presentation was about the construction of urban narratives about modern, national and neo-liberal capital of Kazakhstan, Astana. Adrien Fauvre (Science Po) posed the following complex research question: Can urban planning be an empirical entry to discuss the ideological discourse on the development dependent on energy resources in Kazakhstan? He was comparing three historical urban planning utopias related to Astana’s history/development: 1) “Tselinograd – Agro-industrial center” during the USSR 1960s; 2) “Astana – Eurasian capital”, the post-modern city created on oil resources in 2000s; 3) “Astana – smart city”, a futuristic ecologic project. The author argued that urban planning utopias directly reflect the ideological and political discourse in the country; and are realised on revenues from petrodollars.
The third paper was delivered by Rico Isaacs (Oxford Brookes University) in the panel on “Political Institutions and Political Order under Authoritarianism”. His research explored the agency available to opposition movements in an authoritarian context by way of Albert Hirschman’s framework of exit, voice or loyalty. Kazakhstan was the case-study for exploring the different options available to actors leaving the political arena. The author argued that there are two main forms of political exit in the authoritarian context: exit from the regime & exit from the political system. The opposition’s voice has two paradigms – vertical (public complaints), and horizontal (complaints to superiors). Sanctions or “exit taxes” are tightly linked to the (perceived) loyalties towards the existing regime and the president. Overall, this research sheds light on the complex structure of ‘exit opportunities’ for the opposition in Kazakhstan.
By looking into diverse theoretical and regional case studies, scholars can enrich their knowledge on migration, nationalism and identity politics; and I certainly was inspired by the evolving concepts and research trends. The ASN Convention is probably the best place to present a paper on those subject matters, and I look forward to doing so myself in the future.
BASEES Annual Conference 2016 – Review by Huw Houssemayne Du Boulay
The British Association for Slavonic and Eastern European Studies (BASEES) Annual Conference 2016 was held from the 2-4th April 2016 at Fitzwillian College, Cambridge. The keynote speech, by Professor David Moon, dealt with contacts and collaboration between Soviet and American scientists in the 1920s and early 1930s on soil fertilisation and grain production, with special significance as this was the period of the “Dust Bowl” crisis, made famous by the novel “The Grapes of Wrath”. The speech detailed both the American-Soviet collaboration, including e.g. using grain from Kazakhstan in some of the areas with the most drought (with the Russian name for the crop subsequently being loaned into English), but also for the immense compassion and respect between the two sets of scientists. As this was a period when the United States did not recognise the USSR, some of the American scientists made trips to the Soviet Union both against the wishes of the US State Department and by having to personally fund the trips. Many of the Soviet scientists were surprised when American scientists could speak Russian, however as was explained, many of the “Americans” were in fact emigres from the USSR. Along with most stories of the USSR in the 1930s involving high-ranking officials, the story did not have a happy ending, but the presentation was an enlightening one.
Further talks were on the simultaneous ethnic and civic nation-building programmes in Kazakhstan. There was particular interest in the ethno-cultural centres that have been created in the post-Soviet period and the desire of the Kazakh government to break up Russophone communities in the country, by for instance, using the cultural centres to separate Belarusians and Russians.
The most relevant talks for my own research concerned official patriotism in Putin’s Russia. The first paper focussed on official state patriotism and insights included the idea of “mental boundaries” for modern Russia as a way to explain the reluctance to acknowledge Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia as foreign countries. This was contrasted with the idea of creating a Russian state on the current borders of the Russian Federation not being in the minds of most Russians. Three main aspects of the expectation of Russians for a strong state were identified, namely: an overarching welfare state; a narrative on the “glorious” history of Russia – through victory day and the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War (for some Russians this was said to be as important for them as their own birthday!) and Russia to have a strong position in the international community. However, the talk identified that though Russians wished to be a “superpower”, this was understood not in the sense of its position in international affairs, but as related to a high standard of living for ordinary citizens.
The second of the talks was on the Russian liberal opposition, focussing on Alexei Navalny and the idea of the “Dictatorship of Laws” and how Medvedev had instigated this movement through the early speeches of his tenure as President. The talk went onto explain what the author called “the Dichotomy of Russia”, where Ukrainian migrants were preferred to those of Central Asia due to their ability to integrate properly and easily become perceived as “Russians” as opposed to “Ukrainians”. The final talk of the panel was on the Russian Orthodox Church’s role in official patriotism, with key insights including Patriarch Kirill’s role as a spokesperson for official Russian policy through the “Holy Russian Project”, and the spiritual renewal in Russia linking to the National Security Strategy in relinking the Russian Orthodox churches in Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Patriarch Kirill was also asserted to glorfiy Stalin, as with the Russian state commemorations of Victory Day and in using war metaphors when describing his outcry against Pussy Riot. Overall, the talk spoke of the “shared language” of Orthodox Church patriotism with that of the state, therefore the dichotomy of the panel was between the state and Orthodox patriotisms against that of the liberal opposition.
Overall, the conference was an invigorating chance to both hear from other researchers and to network with academic friends, old and new.
The views and opinions expressed by the author(s) on this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of CASPIAN or the universities affiliated to the project.