Public Keynote Lectures

JOSHUA SANBORN, “Decolonizing Russia? Thoughts and Warnings from Russia’s First Imperial Collapse”

The renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 has intensified calls for both political and cultural decolonization in the Eastern European space. While these calls are for the most part overdue, it is worth considering the histories of decolonization as we move forward with new political and cultural programs. The talk describes both the history and the historiography of early twentieth-century Russian decolonization before discussing contemporary initiatives in the field of academia to decolonize both Russia and ourselves. It suggests that though there is promise in the concept of decolonization, there are also perils – many of them related to nationalism – that should be considered as well.

Joshua Sanborn is the David M. ’70 and Linda Roth Professor of History at Lafayette College (Pennsylvania, USA). His most recent monograph is Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire (Oxford UP, 2014), which argues that the process of state failure, social collapse, violent transformation, and imperial disintegration experienced by Russia between 1914 and 1918 was analogous to processes of decolonization in Africa and Asia in the period after World War II. His most recent co-authored work is Gender, Sex, and the Shaping of Modern Europe: A History from the French Revolution to the Present Day (with co-author Annette Timm) which just came out in a revised and expanded third edition from Bloomsbury in 2022. He is currently writing a book on culture, politics, and Cold War communities entitled Spies, Scientists, and the Cold War Imagination: How Fiction Shaped a Culture of Conflict. He has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Davis Center at Princeton University, and the Imre Kertész Kolleg in Jena, Germany.

Friday, 28 July, 5:00-6:30 pm, Tallinn Hall (M-218) on the second floor of the Tallinn University Mare building (Uus-Sadama 5).

EPP ANNUS, “The Late Soviet Roots of 21st-century Decolonial Engagements: an Ecosocial Perspective”

While the decolonial turn in Slavic and East-European studies is a recent phenomenon, anti-colonial and post-colonial reactions to Russian/Soviet rule(s) can be traced back to earlier centuries. This talk explores some varieties of anti-colonial and post-colonial imaginaries in late Soviet-era non-Russian cultures. The analysis proceeds from an ecosocial perspective. It sustains a focus on ideologies and practices of power and human reactions to it, but it also foregrounds the interconnectedness of societal and ecological systems. Colonization/decolonization is about ideas, attitudes, school curricula, and law– but it is also about earth, soil, water, and air, and about the bodily, material life that people lead within their environments.

Epp Annus is an associate professor at Tallinn University School of Humanities; she also lectures at the Department of Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures at Ohio State University. Her recent books include “Soviet Postcolonial Studies: A View from the Western Borderlands” (Routledge, 2018) and “Coloniality, Nationality, Modernity: A Postcolonial View on Baltic Cultures under Soviet Rule,” ed. by Epp Annus (Routledge, 2018). She is also an author or co-author of three monographs and several collective volumes in Estonian. She is currently working on a manuscript “Environment and Society in Soviet Estonia, 1960-1990” (under contract with Cambridge University Press). Her work in progress includes a comparative analysis of Soviet and post-Soviet postcolonial literatures and research on neoliberalism, postmodernism, and decoloniality in the 1980s. In addition to her work as a scholar, she has published two novels, some poetry, and several children’s books. Webpage:

Monday, 31 July, 4:30-6:00 pm, Tallinn Hall (M-218) on the second floor of the Tallinn University Mare building (Uus-Sadama 5).

JULIANE FÜRST, Arguments, Facts and Emotions or How Perestroika Never Finished the Conversation

The title of this keynote makes reference to one of the most seminal perestroika publications -  Argumenty i fakty - which in 1990 had a print run of 33.5 million copies and enthralled a large readership in all of the Soviet republics. It answered to the enormous societal thirst for knowledge about everything and everyone that was characteristic for these years in the about-to-break-apart Soviet space. As such the weekly newspaper stood for a number of phenomena which in retrospect have proven to be unique to this pivotal moment of change: It represented the last gasps of a pan-Soviet conversation before more fragmented narratives took over. It was the herald of much knowledge hidden hitherto to the public eye but also the incubator of new and enduring conspiracy theories. And its enormous appeal across society and geography indicates that perestroika society’s obsession with arguments and facts should be read less as an intellectual rather than an emotional engagement. In other words, rather than the information per se, it was the thirst that mattered. The political and social changes after the Soviet collapse spelt an end to the thirst as well as to the emotions underpinning it. This keynote is going to trace the trajectory of several public conversations, which erupted during perestroika and were sponsored by, as well as sponsoring, new emotional landscapes both in terms of terminology and as canvasses for political demands. It will argue that for different reasons in different parts of the post-Soviet space most of these conversations died together with the Soviet empire. The questions these conversations had raised concerning the entangled pasts and presents of victims and perpetrators, centres and peripheries, collectives and individuals and much more were shelved into the more obscure corners of public discourse, creating a big lacuna of ‘making sense’. 

Juliane Fürst is the head of the department ‘Communism and Society’ at the Centre of Contemporary History at Potsdam, lecturer at the Humboldt University in Berlin and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol. She has published a monograph on the Soviet Hippie movement titled Flowers through Concrete: Explorations in the Soviet Hippieland (OUP, 2021) and is the author of Stalin’s Last Generation: Soviet Post-War Youth and the Emergence of Late Socialism and, among others, the editor of Dropping Out of Socialism: Alternative Spheres in the Soviet Bloc (Lexington, 2016) and The Cambridge History of Communism Vol. III (2017). She is currently the Principal Investigator of the project ‘Perestroika from below: Participation, Biography and Emotional Communities 1980-1999’, which is funded by an ERC Advanced Grant.

Thursday, 3 August, 4:30-6:00 pm, Tallinn Hall (M-218) on the second floor of the Tallinn University Mare building (Uus-Sadama 5).