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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 7.3 (2006) 675-688

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Corinna Kuhr-Korolev, Gezähmte Helden: Die Formierung der Sowjetjugend [Tamed Heroes: The Formation of Soviet Youth]. 366 pp. Essen: Klartext, 2005. ISBN 3898613496. € 39.90.
Corinna Kuhr-Korolev, ed., Sowjetjugend 1917–1941: Generation zwischen Revolution und Resignation [Soviet Youth, 1917–1941: The Generation between Revolution and Resignation]. 312 pp. Essen: Klartext, 2001. ISBN 3884749838. € 27.90.

It is no coincidence that the topic of Soviet youth has found a particular following in Germany. After all, Germany was the birthplace and pivotal center of the modern youth movement. It was in Germany that young people in the beginning of the 20th century began to voice a distinct identity of youthfulness and create separate cultures and spaces. It was in Germany that youth groups first became corralled into political life and where youthful adventurism and enthusiasm were manipulated and exploited by rival factions. It was also in Germany that young people, even children, were roped in the form of the Hitler Youth into a criminal regime and a brutal war. Awareness of youth, both as a concept and as a real political force, has thus always been high in the country of the Wandervogel and the Edelweisspiraten.1 It is not surprising that the first chronicler of Soviet youth was a German with Russian roots. Klaus Mehnert published his seminal book Die Jugend in der Sowjetunion (Youth in the Soviet Union) in the early 1930s, giving a first independent glimpse of the new Soviet generation to a world that was highly bipartisan about the Soviet project.2 When the Soviet Union collapsed and the archives opened, the topic of youth remained on the back burner for a surprisingly long time. Not until 1999 did an international workshop in Marburg reveal the multitude and diversity of researchers working on the topic and re-affirm the special interest that German scholarship took in the subject. The result was a highly diverse volume of articles, published in 2001 as Sowjetjugend 1917–1941: [End Page 675] Generation zwischen Revolution und Resignation. The years since have seen a rapid succession of monographs on youth, youth culture, and youth policy in prewar Russia: Anne Gorsuch's book on youth during the period of the New Economic Policy (NEP), Aleksandr Rozhkov's study of youth in the Kuban in the 1920s, Viktor Isaev's work on Siberian youth under Stalin, and, recently, Corinna Kuhr-Korolev's detailed analysis of early Soviet discourses on youth, Gezähmte Helden: Die Formierung der Sowjetjugend.3

The volume Sowjetjugend showcases the work of almost every scholar working on prewar Soviet youth at the time, including German, Swiss, American, and French historians. As such, it not only significantly adds to the body of knowledge on Soviet youth but also highlights the specific characteristics of different national and historical schools in their approach to a topic that is subject to many assumptions and preconceptions in both East and West.

The German and Swiss hosts of the conference were involved in a larger project on youth and violence, which significantly colored their choice of themes and interpretive models. The paradigm of violence, like that of youth, is rooted in its own historicism. Since the opening of the archives and the exposition of many matters formerly carefully hidden, the subject of violence in all its forms—individual, collective, state-sponsored, or private—has become a fashionable trope through which to view Soviet and especially Stalinist society. With file after file spilling out of the archives documenting instances of a brutal police force, crime, hooliganism, and other forms of violence, it was tempting to put these issues at the center of historical investigation, thereby challenging many of the tenets of the revisionist school and contributing to a neo-traditionalist trend.4 The connection between youth and violence virtually cried out for scholarly treatment: who is more vulnerable...


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