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  • Russian Nationalism and the Politics of Soviet Literature: The Case of Nash sovremennik, 1981–91
  • Ewa Thompson
Simon Cosgrove , Russian Nationalism and the Politics of Soviet Literature: The Case of Nash sovremennik, 1981–91. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. xii + 253 pp. $75.00.

Since 1956, when the Moscow monthly Nash sovremennik emerged as a post-Stalinist creation of the Russian Writers' Union, it has consistently represented the views of the nationalistic segment (likely a majority) of the Russian elites. The journal's continuing importance is reflected in the fact that in 2007 it boasted the largest number of individual subscribers of all the periodicals in the Russian Federation. The journal's editor-in-chief is still Stanislav Kunyaev, one of the key figures in Simon Cosgrove's book. [End Page 149]

Cosgrove provides an orderly and well-structured account of the politics of Nash sovremennik in the crucial decade leading to the disintegration of the USSR. He also provides a cultural history of the period, and scholars will delight in his meticulous attention to detail. Copious footnotes and two appendices add to the book's credibility: Cosgrove's work can serve as a model of relevant and dispassionate scholarship in Slavic studies. The book documents nearly ever statement and offers only a limited commentary. The appendices explain the structure of the Russian "thick journals" (a tradition that goes back to the nineteenth century) and provide capsule biographies of the journal's principal editors and associates. Particularly valuable is Cosgrove's ability to avoid falling into the trap of mirror-imaging Russian society and seeing its culture as fundamentally similar to the cultures of the West. He points out that the cultural politics described in the book is not in any way analogous to the cultural struggles occurring in democratic societies. In Russia, it is a struggle for the version of orthodoxy that is to be adopted. Nearly all of Nash sovremennik's associates have shared the view (espoused by Russian President Vladimir Putin, among others) that the disintegration of the USSR was a tragedy rather than a victory for Russians.

The book's centerpiece is the taxonomy of Russian nationalist authors. Cosgrove divides them into two groups: "popular" (conservative and reformist) and "statist" (Red and White). The White statists are the largest group and include such writers and journalists as Yurii Bondarev, Aleksandr Kazintsev, Vadim Kozhinov, Stanislav Kunyaev, Yurii Kuznetsov, Mark Lyubomudrov, Yurii Seleznev, Igor Shafarevich, and Vladimir Soloukhin. The second most numerous group consists mainly of the "conservative populist" writers such as Viktor Astaf'ev, Vasilii Belov, Valentin Rasputin, and, arguably, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Such writers as Leonid Borodin straddle the two camps. Cosgrove explains how the first group took over the leadership of the journal. He also shows that although many of the Nash sovremennik collaborators during the Soviet era were anti-Communist to varying degrees, the situation changed in the 1990s when the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (headed by Gennadi Zyuganov) adopted the ideology of Russian nationalism. Cosgrove calls this the first paradox of Russian nationalism. He offers several more, pointing out that although Nash sovremennik represented mostly the "White statist" nationalism, it contributed both to the demise of the Soviet Union (in which Russia was dominant) and to the viability of the Russian Federation. Despite the ascendance in 1991 of the Democratic Russia faction led by Boris Yeltsin, the nationalists eventually assumed power in the Federation. Even though the Yeltsin group intermingled with the popular and statist nationalists, its "liberal nationalism" failed to jell or attract a broad spectrum of other nationalists, let alone supporters of the "Red empire." The effect was that the Yeltsin government produced a nationalism that was "ethnic, statist, authoritarian and nation-shaping" (p. 144), including many who wanted to Russify the non-Russian fifth of the population. The epilogue takes the reader beyond the dates mentioned in the title and provides a summary and an interpretation of the remainder of the 1990s. Cosgrove points out that in the 1990s democratic institutions were installed "from above" by Russia's rulers rather than emerging "from below" through grassroots pressure. [End Page 150] A genuine desire for a democratic society...


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