Poster Workshop Russian Intimacy.

Poster Workshop Russian Intimacy.

Conference reports Postsocialist Revolutions of Intimacy

 “Postsocialist Revolutions of Intimacy: Sexuality, Rights and Backlash”, Workshop October 1–2, 2018. The workshop was organized by CBEES, Centre for […]

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2019:1. Vol. XII. pp 48-49
Published on on March 7, 2019

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 “Postsocialist Revolutions of Intimacy: Sexuality, Rights and Backlash”, Workshop October 1–2, 2018. The workshop was organized by CBEES, Centre for Baltic and East European Studies, Södertörn University, in cooperation with the Nordic Museum and the Gorbachev Foundation (Moscow).

Contemporary anti-gender and anti-feminist campaigns are, unfortunately, advancing. And while it can be argued how much this should be seen as a special phenomenon just in countries of the former “Eastern bloc”,1 the Russian law against “propaganda of homosexuality” (2013) and the recent decision of the Hungarian government to stop the licensing for teaching gender in the universities are among the most infamous examples. The workshop titled “Sexuality, Rights and Backlash” at Södertörn University was an important and timely academic discussion about historical developments and contemporary threats in the sphere of sexual rights. The workshop attracted participants from different countries, including Sweden, Poland, Finland, Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Kazakhstan, the UK, and the US. This workshop was preceded by another conference — a roundtable discussion titled “Post-Soviet sexual revolution in contemporary and historical perspectives” that was organized in Moscow on March 30, 2018.2 That conference started an important discussion on changes in the sphere of intimacy, sexuality, and sexual rights after the end of the Soviet system, and it was this particular discussion that was the set-up for the workshop at Södertörn University, and here the continued discussion took a broader perspective both thematically and geographically.

The workshop in Stockholm further explored the idea of the “sexual revolution” in connection to the events of the 1990s. Indeed, the political space was quickly transformed from a space where “there was no sex” into a space obsessed with sexual symbols and discussions on sexual identities. In that period in Russia, popular culture representations of sex and desire became a part of the everyday media stream, talk shows openly discussed hetero and homosexual stories, commercial sex was openly advertised, and NGOs defending sexual minority rights became publicly visible. The workshop participants were expected to think about parallels to — but also important differences with — the 1968 revolution in the “West”, where new intimacies became part of a broader social protest movement. The questions at the center of the workshop dealt with the processes of overcoming, transforming, and negotiating the Communist/Soviet sexuality regimes in Eastern Europe and the post-Soviet space in terms of both similarities and differences. How is the memory of these changes preserved in the context of new repressive sexuality regimes? To what extent is it possible to speak about sexual revolution(s) as a part of broader emancipatory social transformations in the space of postsocialism? What are the current developments with respect to sexuality in the Baltic States, Russia, Eurasia, and Eastern Europe?

Two keynote speakers at the workshop — Lena Lennerhed, professor in History of Ideas at the Department for History and Contemporary Studies, Södertörn University, and Dr. Alexander Kondakov, research fellow from the University of Helsinki — contributed with their talks focusing on discussion about the events of 1968 in Sweden and the applicability of the term “sexual revolution” (Lena Lennerhed) and on sexual counter-revolutions (Alexander Kondakov). Together with the special “morning talk” by Anna Temkina, professor at the European University in St. Petersburg, they provided numerous insights and inspirations for discussions.

The workshop confirmed the importance of comparative research with respect to both “revolutionary changes” in practices and discourses of intimacy and moves in the opposite direction (the strengthening of “traditional values” and the adoption of discriminatory legislation). Discussions on sexual practices under the Communist regime underlined the need for continuing the historical perspective. For example, the discussion showed that developments with respect to sexual education in Poland were more advanced than in many other countries of the “Eastern bloc”. This comparative perspective was particularly productive for research on the backlash of the 2010s. The need for further investigation of common developments with respect to discriminative legislations, anti-LGBTQ movements, and “traditional values” discourses in different countries were emphasized.

There were also elements in the workshop suitable for outreach activities. University students as well as high school pupils were invited to listen to the keynote speeches and to visit the installation by Lusine Djanian and Alexei Knedlyakovsky (members of “Pussy Riot”) on homosexual rights in Russia that was shown on the CBEES premises during the workshop. ≈



1 See Sabine Hark, “Gender — Merely a “Social Fact” the Construction of Neo-Authoritarian Us/Them Dichotomies”, Baltic Worlds, no. 3 (2017), 18—25.

2 The main organizer was Olga Zdravomyslova of the Gorbachev Foundation.

  • by Yulia Gradskova

    Associate professor at the Institute of Contemporary History, Södertörn University. Research interest: decolonial approach, gender studies, particularly “women of the East”, postsocialist culture studies.

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