The end of the Soviet bloc has been typically figured as a moment of opening for its citizens. Iconic images of Berlin youth breaking through the Wall (or Muscovities lining up for the first McDonald's) stand in for this new openness. However, such an account would only be true if we limit ourselves to the bloc's Western borders. From the point of view of "the East"--the numerous African and Asian societies with which the Soviet bloc engaged--1989 or 1991 was a moment of the Second World's (self-)provincialization, the near-total severing of cultural networks leading to anywhere but the West. Beyond offering an inventory of the ruins of these once-vibrant engagements, this talk will historicize one of their important legacies, namely, the racism of the contemporary Russian and East European intelligentsias. It emerged among certain anti-Soviet dissident millieus, as a negation of the official anti-racist propaganda, the support for Third-Worldist (Vietnamese, Palestinian, Angolan, etc.) forces or the Civil Rights movement in the U.S., and even the workings of Soviet affirmative action. This backlash built upon an older civilizational hierarchies (whose more innocent manifestations have been studied in recent scholarship as "the imaginary West"), in which the East or the South figured as backward spaces best avoided.
Rossen Djagalov is Assistant Professor of Russian at New York University.
This event is part of the Humanities Research Institute research cluster “Russia and the Global Color Line“.