Putin awards the winners of the “Battle for Respect: Start Today” rap competition on Muz-TV, 2009.

Putin awards the winners of the “Battle for Respect: Start Today” rap competition on Muz-TV, 2009.

Peer-reviewed articles The Janus of Russian modernization. Discussions at the 3rd Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia

The growing sector of heritage industry and creative uses of the past in Russia illustrate that, besides the undeniable existence of restorative nostalgia, there are other, more progressive forms of nostalgia that address social change and the protection of heritage sites.

Published in the printed edition of Baltic Worlds BW 2021:1-2, p 57-68
Published on balticworlds.com on April 21, 2021

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The growing sector of heritage industry and creative uses of the past in Russia illustrate that, besides the undeniable existence of restorative nostalgia, there are other, more progressive forms of nostalgia that address social change and the protection of heritage sites. To analyse these forms of nostalgia, I visited the Third Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia, which opened on September 22, 2017, at the Public Chamber of Russian Federation in Moscow, and analysed discussions that took place. I have chosen to focus on the panels Sviaz’ Pokoleniy (The Link between the Generations) and Delovoy Klub Nasledie i Ekonomika (Business Club Heritage and Economics), as they best represent distinct attitudes towards past and the use of nostalgic sentiments as an impetus for change, and conducted discourse analysis of the discussions that took place at these panels.

Keywords: Modernization, nostalgia, heritage, Russia.

The interaction between the ideas of great power, traditionalism and democratization makes it difficult not to notice the hybrid nature of Russian modernization that simultaneously combines global and local elements, strategies for sustainable development, authoritarianism and traditionalist ideology. Recent empirical studies that specifically focused on Russian foreign policy, welfare regimes, political regimes, economy, technology, and religion show a complex picture of Russian society. Scholars concluded that “a conservative turn and a modernization effort at the same time seems to be a typical Russian paradox”. Given the amount of space that culture, heritage and values occupy in Russian public and political discourse, the study of their role in the process of modernization seems to be important. In order to understand how discourses on culture, values and heritage are articulated and operationalized, it is necessary to study specific practices and the appropriation of these discourses at local levels and question their role in Russian modernization. How are values and cultural heritage articulated on the level of public institutions? Which actors are given agency in the sphere of culture and what do they do with this agency? How is heritage understood and operationalized? In order to answer these questions this article will analyze the discourses at the plenary and panel sessions organized by cultural actors and representatives of regional governments at the 3rd Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia that took place on September 22, 2017 at the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation in Moscow.

The article will start with a brief overview of the modernization projects that were launched after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The following chapter will describe the 3rd Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia and will explain why it is important to study the forum. The subsequent chapters will focus on communication and more notably on themes of discussions, imaginaries, interpretative schemes and, to a lesser extent, on the legislative framework used by the participants to legitimize their actions. The article will conclude with some final remarks that summarize the main findings.

The Janus of Russian modernization

By the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 it became evident that the centrally managed and planned economy and the rule of a single party have reached their limits. Reforms that would modernize the economy, social infrastructure and political institutions to enable the country to become competitive in a globalized world were urgently needed. Despite Gorbachev’s attempts to modernize the Soviet Union by democratizing the political system and introducing perestroika reforms aimed at transforming the planned economy into a market-driven economy, the results were quite the opposite. Political, social and economic tensions led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The first president of independent Russia, Boris Yeltsin, attempted to introduce a capitalist market and democratic values. However, shortly after securing his position, he opted for the revision of a system based on personal power. His successor, Vladimir Putin, in his efforts to consolidate power, has turned to conservative-liberal ideology that “has partly replaced and partly built on Soviet and traditional models”. This synthesis of the imitation of liberal politics and traditionalism was also directed towards “a positive reconfiguration of nostalgia for the Soviet past into new Russian patriotism”. However, even if Putin’s nostalgic modernization, as Il’ya Kalinin has called it, was based on the positive channeling of nostalgia and the “transformation of initially politically charged language of the Soviet symbols to politically neutral language of common cultural heritage […]”, the character of this nostalgic modernization project appeared to inhabit many elements that the opponents of nostalgic sentiments feared all along.

Compared to President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernization project that focused on decreasing Russia’s dependency on gas and oil revenues and creating a diversified economy based on innovation and technology, Putin’s version of modernization appeared to not only include claims about technological innovations and competitiveness in the global market economy, but also a strong ideological element that was supposed to be the driving force behind the proclaimed transformations. Already in 2001, the Russian state launched a series of four state-sponsored programs of patriotic education in which the latter was understood to be a “system of centralized government-approved and sponsored activities aimed at instilling patriotic sentiments for the purpose of mobilizing the population to support official policies”. This campaign came into being because of the government’s need to “bring the population together in a common bond of support for the current regime” and to increase the number of men willing to serve in the military which, in turn, shaped the content of the programs with stark military focus. Some scholars believed that such a model of education was a vivid sign of a re-Sovietization.

Putin’s third presidential term, marked by a gradual but persistent assault on political and civic freedoms in Russia, confirmed the fears of the liberal elites and intellectuals. Political tensions between the liberal opposition and the regime have become more severe, while the debates about the legacy of the Soviet past and the instrumentalization of nostalgic discourses and practices have intensified. The attempts to neutralize the Soviet past failed with the restructuring and closing down of the Museum of the History of Political Repression Perm-36 in 2012—2016 and the subsequent assaults on the human rights organization, Memorial, and its activists. It suddenly became clear that memory politics in Russia were taking a dangerous turn, forcing Communist crimes into oblivion and legitimizing authoritarianism.

Meanwhile, the quest had started for the new ideology that would become the basis of the country’s development and Putin’s rule. Starting from the early 2010s, Vladimir Putin promoted culture as an essential element of state building, paying specific attention to the values that would define Russia as a unique civilization. In 2013, in his national address, Putin raised a discussion about so-called traditional values as the very basis of Russian civilization, emphasizing the country’s unique position and mission in the world. These traditional values were solidified two years later in the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation (2015), determining the direction of the ideological and cultural transformation.

Two years later, Vladimir Putin further elaborated on the elements of Russian cultural development by announcing that patriotism was a national idea, stressing its key role for national security and the economic renaissance. This new patriotic ideology was supposed to secure Russia’s economic growth and technological modernization by also capturing aspects of a global agenda for sustainable development, as announced in Putin’s presidential address to the Federal Assembly in 2016.

It quickly became obvious that military games such as Pobeda and Zarnitsa supported by federal funds and presidential grants were hardly enough to mobilize young people who, despite anti-Western propaganda, enjoyed the popular culture imported from the West. In an attempt to win young people, the state started supporting various street culture projects with Mr. Putin leading the way: in November 2009 he congratulated the winner of the rap battle Bitva za Respect — 3 (Battle for Respect — 3) organized by the music channel MUZ-TV and almost ten years later in 2018 even suggested that instead of prohibiting rap concerts in Russia, the state should reach out to rap singers by “leading” popular musicians “in the necessary direction”.

The 3rd Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia

The 1st Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia was organized in 2014 and was meant to function as a communicative platform between federal and regional governments, public organizations and cultural actors. As can be read form the title of the Forum, Education and Culture: The Potential for Cooperation and the Resources of NGOs in the Socio-Cultural Development of the Regions, its work was to be specifically focused on the potential of non-governmental organizations to participate in the socio-cultural development of Russia’s regions. Ideally, the NGOs should help local administration develop and provide social, economic and cultural infrastructures in the provinces, thereby assuming some of the responsibilities of the state.

The delegates from regional public chambers and regional ministries of culture were supposed to discuss the know-how of collaboration with public organizations, investors and NGOs in order to identify solutions to the various problems faced by the Russian regions. These problems were complex — economic and social decay, the destruction of heritage sites, the collapse of communication infrastructures, lack of funding — and demanded immediate and long-term solutions. The discussions focused on a broader set of suggestions ranging from the use of volunteer brigades in clearing garbage from local parks to the role of cultural heritage in the economic and social regeneration and transformation of the provinces into profit-generating tourist attractions. These discussions signaled that material and immaterial cultural heritage was regarded as important sociopolitical and economic capital that could foster collective identities and agencies.

The 3rd Cultural Forum of the Regions of Russia was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Culture and members of the regional public chambers, regional administrators, local museum workers, business people, scholars and cultural heritage activists. Compared to the St. Petersburg International Cultural Forum, which usually includes a number of renowned international guests and speakers, there were no representatives of international or foreign organizations among the delegates. The plenary session was opened by the (then) head of the Public Chamber, Valerij Fadeev, who declared the importance of culture in economic and social development and the urgent need for cooperation with non-governmental and non-commercial organizations in the regions, in which “culture can develop as a branch of industry”. Meanwhile, the panels at the forum focused on a wide range of issues from the ideological functions of libraries to the strategies of cooperation between investors, creative clusters and local administrations.

The Forum is an interesting subject of research from the perspective of the articulation and routinization of discourses, power struggles, agency and resilience. Many delegates and organizers are from regional public chambers and their role is to accommodate the needs and demands of the public, promote the interests of citizens and convert their interests into laws and regulations. Despite this proclaimed aim, the Public Chamber could be criticized for controlling and directing the work of public organizations and active citizens instead of controlling political institutions and the actions of politicians. A further subject of criticism is the systematic difficulties faced by the representatives of independent organizations to become members of the Public Chamber, which makes the Public Chamber more of a decorative institution that imitates democratic procedures.

However, even if independent organizations have little access to this communicative platform and political debate is rather limited, it is still important to study how these organisations routinize the dominant discourses of modernization and culture, which organizations are allowed to voice their position, and what they can do in such compromised situation to achieve social change. In the context of a shrinking public sphere activists, public organizations, NGOs and private foundations do not get to choose which communication channels they could use to reach out to lawmakers and public executives. Instead, they adopt a pragmatic approach, using any public platform that gives them the opportunity to communicate their ideas and needs to the federal and regional administrations.

Following Markku Kivinen’s and Terry Cox’s advice about using Anthony Giddens’ theory of structuration , based on the observation that actors not only reproduce the structures but also produce and change them, this article will provide analyses of the discussions that took place in the Public Chamber during the 3rd Cultural Forum as both a constraining and an enabling structure. Adopting Giddens’ perspective will allow an analysis of the discussions as an active constituting process, accomplished by active subjects. The analysis will particularly focus on the rules and resources, i.e. legislative acts that the actors raised as disabling/enabling practices: funding schemes, official and alternative discourses — which will be seen as properties that make it possible for similar and different social practices to co-exist and, as a consequence, create somewhat overlapping and contradictory social structures.

An analysis of agency, albeit limited due to the nature of the material (observations at the forum) will be made. According to Giddens’ there are three characteristic forms of agency: communication, the exercise of power and sanction. The main focus of this article will be on the first form — communication and therefore more specifically on signification and discursive and symbolic order (predominant imaginaries, themes of discussions). Attention will then be paid to legitimization, i.e. legal documents that enable/disable specific cultures, and the dimension of domination, which concerns material and allocative resources, such as institutions and the financial support that enables various activities. Finally, the focus will be on modalities, the means by which structural dimensions are expressed in action (the interpretative schemes linked to structures of signification, organizational positions, and norms of appropriate behavior embedded in structures of legitimization).

Data used as the empirical basis for this article were collected in 2017 during ethnographic fieldwork in Moscow, which included participant observations, recorded presentations and discussions at the Forum. In order to better understand the context of the Forum and the actors who took part in it, participant observations were also made during lectures given by the School Khraniteli Nasledia (School Keepers of Heritage in English), a partner organization of the Business Club Nasledie i Ekonomika (Business Club Heritage and Economics in English).

From many parallel sessions, two panel discussions attracted the most attention, the first being a roundtable discussion: Sviaz’ Pokoleniy (The Link Between the  Generations  in English). Most of the delegates at the roundtable discussion were female cultural workers employed at regional and municipal museums and municipal libraries, as well as several representatives of the regional branches of the Public Chamber. The second panel — a meeting of a Business Club Nasledie i Ekonomika, comprised a number of presentations by the leaders of various creative clusters, architects and scholars, investors and activists who focused on the know-how of urban and rural regeneration, the attraction of investments and the protection of cultural heritage in Russia’s regions. Both sessions were recorded and then transcribed by the author of this article.

Conspiracies and nostalgia for the good old days

The delegates started the roundtable discussion Sviaz’ Pokoleniy by articulating a widespread popular belief “about the complete and irrevocable loss of moral norms” by Russian society and its citizens. In her opening speech, a member of Ryazan’s Public Chamber and professor at Ryazan State University, Olga Voronova, described the collapse of the Soviet Union — using the words of President Putin — as the “major geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”, and by doing so integrated her talk into popular official discourses voiced at the Forum and in its publications:

It is no secret that in the 1990s, our country ended up under colonial rule (kolonial’naia zavisimost’) of the United States of America, of the West (kollektivnyi zapad), and this has already been proved on a serious scientific level […]. When our country is forced to survive in conditions of international isolation, when there was a declared economic, psychological, information and diplomatic war, the existence of a fifth column in the creative environment was the same as during the Great Patriotic War in the country when the enemy was present [on our territory].

Voronova’s words suggest that she mourned the collapse of the Soviet Union: she talked about the devastating outcomes of the economic reforms of perestroika and the difficult transition from a planned to a market economy. Her views echoed common nostalgic discourses highlighting the negative effects of market changes, the persistent assault of the capitalist economy and the detrimental effects of Western values of liberal democracy. Being unable to convincingly explain the individual or collective losses, she described the economic and social hardships of the Russian people as being the meddling of external enemies in the country’s affairs and the presence of an internal enemy — the liberal intelligentsia. She also juxtaposed the collapse of the Soviet Union with the economic crisis of 2014, and the US  and EU sanctions  against the Russian Federation.

In Voronova’s argumentation, historical narratives about the Great Patriotic War (1941—1945) and the current economic hardship merged, forming a conspiracy theory about the long-planned colonization of Russia by the Western democracies and “evil outsiders”. Her remarks suggest that this discursive construction of material and ideological dispossession also feeds into and is a result of conspiracy theories about the existence of internal enemies (the liberal intelligentsia, the fifth column, as she called it), echoing Soviet anti-Western propaganda and the Stalinist campaign against “kinless cosmopolites” (bezrodnye kosmopolity in Russian). As an example of such enemies within, Voronova named Moscow-based stage and film director Kirill Serebrennikov  and writer Anna Kozlova, whose novel F20 was nominated for the national book award Natsionalniy Bestseller 2017. By describing Serebrennikov’s Seventh Studio productions as demoralizing, Voronova anticipated the final ruling of the Moscow District Court, which declared the members of the Seventh Studio guilty, and therefore forever banished independent contemporary theatre. Voronova used a similar rhetoric when describing the novel as being devoid of meaning and morals. Firmly juxtaposing immorality, pervasiveness and abnormality (i.e. mental illness), Voronova shaped the perception of the existing capitalist order, its moral economy and modern culture as a system of demoralization and degradation. While doing so, she nostalgically reminisced about the Soviet Union which, in her opinion: “raised a whole generation of heroes (pobeditelei in Russian) by setting high ideals for its citizens as the norm”, compared to “modern Russian literature that demoralizes people by making psychological anomaly the new norm!” By using a similar rhetoric for war and conspiracy, she announced that “the lack of artist-patriots was a result of the creative elites being united on the barricades of the fifth column”.

As it can be read from the quote, Voronova shifted the discussion from an analysis of internal political reasons for the collapse of the planned economy to imported ideological reasons and concluded that culture and morality (kultura i nravstvennost’) are the key instruments of Russian modernization, capable of “protecting Russian society from external ideological expansion, destructive information and psychological influence”.  Instead of looking for economic and political solutions for modernization she saw the only option in a change of the legislative framework in order to safeguard the cultural sovereignty of the Russian Federation:

It is often said that our society lacks a national idea. There are many discussions about this. The President was clear that the national idea is indeed patriotism. But, until now, the 13th Article of our Constitution states that any official state ideology in Russia is forbidden. You see that the Strategy of National Security that formulates what should be our ideological foundation breaches the article of our Constitution, which some call a ‘colonial article’, as it was written in the 1990s with the help of American consultants. We proposed the following formulation: to consider amending the 13th article of the Constitution of the Russian Federation prohibiting any state ideology and instead suggest that the basis of national ideology is the idea of Russian patriotism. (Voronova, Transcription, 16: 49)

A similar rhetoric and the intention to influence the attitudes of young adults and children towards the state, culture and education can be found in the presentation of another delegate at the roundtable discussion. Agreeing with Voronova that young people show little interest in national culture and its past, the delegate suggested introducing patriotic values from an early age by enrolling children in various kinds of military and patriotic organizations, such as Yunarmy.  Echoing the military mood of the state program of patriotic education, the delegate called for the reintroduction of recruitment education in schools (prizyvnaia podgotovka in Russian), with military specialization for boys and medical specialization for girls. By arguing for the need of such military-patriotic education, the delegate highlighted young people’s neglect of national culture and their growing fascination with Western popular culture.

This discursive transfer to morality in the discussions of both delegates is hardly surprising, given that economic transformations “inevitably involve a comprehensive reorganization of the moral presumptions necessary for justifying new choices and alternatives”. Such a discursive transfer to morality resonated with the perception of globalization processes as leading to cultural homogenization. In Russia in particular, it is common to talk of so-called Americanization, understood as a global influence of American culture, and the necessity of sustaining and defending own unique identity in response to globalization.

In this particular case, nostalgia for the past and values was revealed in the rhetoric; the transformation of Russian society appeared to be articulated in the language of traditional (patriarchal) values, family, homeland and borders, which resonated in the presidential speeches. This restorative nostalgia of the delegates was an affective resource in stimulating their active participation in cultural production and youth mobilization in the support of the Russian state. The essential premise of their nostalgic longing was in place, as the delegates mourned the loss of the Soviet Union in the face of Western capitalism, as well as the impossibility of using the same ideological and administrative resources that had been employed during the Soviet period.

The issue of available resources as an essential element of agency was raised by the delegates several times during the roundtable discussions. Being fully aware that their positions as members of public chambers and educational workers were not sufficient to drive their agenda, they discussed the need to be in control of financial and administrative resources and were bewildered by the sudden closure of some state-sponsored programs. Being sure about the importance of events such as a regional festival of poetry for the cultural education of young people, Voronova explained the sudden cut in funding as the president’s lack of awareness of the situation, echoing a popular refrain of the Soviet period about the lack of awareness of the country’s leaders in the current state of affairs.

From a Giddensian perspective, the social and hierarchical position of this member of the Public Chamber is a reliable predictor of her actions. Agency is enhanced by the control of resources and is exercised by the complying with or the rejecting of rules. Being aware of the particpants’ political position, Voronova felt comfortable criticizing political opposition and cultural workers who did not fit her picture of the world. At the same time, she was careful about criticising the state and, instead of holding the Ministry of Culture accountable, she justified the budget cuts by the presence of internal forces destabilizing the cultural politics of the state. Voronova’s explanation of the budget cuts can be seen as an example of the enduring structural properties of governance in Russia. Justifying the economic and social hardships using moral degradation and conspiracy theories is part of a social convention about which the cultural and educational workers at this roundtable discussion agreed. Access to resources, be it allocative (involving command of objects and material phenomena), or authoritative (involving command of people), was also explained by the moral right of organisations to promote the right kind of patriotism and the dominance of a patriotic ideology.

Youth and modernization

Nevertheless, not all the proposed measures had a strong nostalgic and militaristic rhetoric. One of the representatives of the Federal Public Chamber and the head of the Association of Volunteer Centers, Artem Metelev, appealed for a change of heart towards young people in Russia. Instead of endorsing his colleague’s loathing of popular culture, young people and the West, he emphasized the need to create opportunities for activism, which would be distanced from formal political institutions such as party membership, or openly support specific politicians (as was the case of Nashi, an open pro-Kremlin youth organizations — author’s comment). Instead, these activities should be bottom-up and embody alternative forms of participation that had gained prominence throughout the world with regard to young people’s disenchantment with formal politics. Metelev pointed out that volunteer movements play a significant role in social development at an international level and are often seen as an attempt to positively change the surrounding environment through socially useful actions.

Metelev illustrated his opinion with PowerPoint images of book swaps, literature quests, and volunteer brigades organized in the republics of Tatarstan and Crimea (the Crimean peninsula was annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014 as a consequence of the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine — comment of the author) and called these actions examples of civic participation (primery grazhdanskogo uchastiia in Russian), arguing for young people’s need for “self-actualization” and the realization of their potential for society at large.  Echoing the words of sociologist Daria Krivonos, who wrote about the “affective and emotional ties” that young people enact “through embodied and sensory practices of obschenie (‘communication’) and dvizhuha (‘moving around’ or ‘hanging out’)”, he highlighted young people’s need for self-actualization through participation in volunteer activities because “it is fun and gives them something”. Describing such projects as practices of “doing good” and “self-realization”, Metelev presented them as part of a global trend of personalized engagement through lifestyles, consumption and leisure, in other words, self-actualizing citizenship, which is based on the phenomenon of affective solidarity, i.e. solidarity embodied though practices of communication and the pleasure derived from group activities.

Having said that, Metelev saw the modernization of the cultural sector as a two-fold process: 1) reorganization of the cultural sector through the creation of an international platform for self-actualizing and lifestyle citizenship; 2) introduction of technological innovations and social media to recruit young people and provide them with the necessary tools to take action.

The understanding of modernization as a technological innovation was later echoed in another presentation. Speakers from the Victory Museum in Moscow talked about the need to use computer technologies to attract a younger audience. New technologies, the internet, immersive and interactive expositions with the application of virtual reality were seen as a panacea for the low number of visitors to war museums. Arguing for the need for increased interactivity in exhibitions, the presenters proposed several solutions with “picturesque spots for taking selfies and photos in costumes” to inspire a sense of patriotism. Meanwhile, hashtags such as #nashvyborpobeda (#our choice is victory in English) were seen as another interactive element that could attract a young audience. Interestingly, the delegates barely reflected on the ideological content of these narratives. Even though they stressed the importance of the communication of universal values, they predominantly focused on the need to translate ideas of the pride and heroism of the Soviet people, not of the tragedies of war.

Capitalist modernization and creative industries

The discussants at the panel of the Club Nasledie i Ekonomika had a somewhat different understanding of Russian modernization than their counterparts from the roundtable discussion Sviaz’ pokolenii. Firstly, they saw the potential in developing creative industries in Russia and therefore had a broad understanding of culture and heritage not limiting it, as their colleagues did, to commemorations of the Great Patriotic War. Instead, they appeared to understand culture in Raymond William’s terms as a whole way of life, including various forms of crafts, traditions and attitudes, popular culture and technology. Secondly, they argued for the positive effects of cultural industries on regional economies. According to this line of thought, creative clusters, which merge traditional crafts and arts, modern technologies and the bottom-up organization of creative citizens, could become the nodal points of socio-cultural development and be the very solution to the challenges outlined in the Strategy of Economic Security. Thirdly, the delegates had a somewhat different attitude towards young people than some of the delegates at the roundtable discussions and shared Artem Metelev’s view of lifestyle citizenship as a potential driver for change. While also believing in youth as a driving force behind economic and cultural modernization, they saw young people not as passive receivers of information who must be shielded from negative influences, but rather as active participants of economic, social and cultural life with their own agency. They conceptualized young people as a creative class of “socially engaged individuals”, “the basis of cultural development” and “an investment in the future, which will give dividends later”. According to this logic, investments in the cultural sector could provide an infrastructure that would enhance human capital already present in the country and also cultivate new forms of creativity that would contribute to Russia’s competitiveness in the international market of creative products. The presence of many young entrepreneurs and activists in the panel also proved this point.

Having said that, the modernization was understood as the process of overcoming a number of constraints that existed on three levels of societal structure: governance, society and business. According to Nikolay Prianishnikov, a scholar from the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences and an expert in urbanism, on the level of governance modernization of creative processes was primarily countered by the lack of democratic culture in Russian society: “The creative approach is hindered by a lack of freedom [….] which has a long history in Russia”. The centralization of decision-making process and a low degree of freedom given to the regional governments and initiative-taking businesses, he conceptualized as a problem for sustainable development: “For sustainable development to take roots, it is necessary to surrender initiatives <to local governments> instead of trying to control everything by force <from the center>”.

On a societal level, according to Prianishnikov, the repercussions of the Soviet mentality — manifested in the incompetence of legislators and the inadequacy of spent resources and produced outcomes — became another constraint of modernization. “The lack of experts who could act as mediators of the best practices and scientific knowledge about creative industries” was paired with “persistent stereotypes about the impossibility of merging culture and heritage with the economy, industrial production and trade”. In other words, the inability of cultural institutions to reconsider their attitudes towards the market economy and the monetization of cultural heritage, the interactions between the state, citizens and businesses, in order to revise funding schemes that would enable the long-term development of a creative capital and cultural heritage, was a considerate constraint of the present system. For Prianishnikov, it was clearly impossible to follow The Strategy for Economic Security, the main goal of which was to transform Russia into a competitive and highly technological country if “the state was afraid of businesses and NGOs and saw enemies everywhere”. Moreover, the inability and unwillingness to extend the understanding of patriotic action to include self-actualizing citizenship and small-scale entrepreneurship allowed little room for innovation and cooperation with non-governmental organizations and businesses. One of the delegates emphasized that, for the state-run organizations, culture was still regarded as being more of an ideological tool of propaganda than as a resource for economic development and a form of civic action.

On the level of business and economic development, the main constraint was a resource economy that was no longer sustainable in a world driven by information technologies, creative economies and alternative energy resources. The heavy focus on a resource economy was a reason for the dominant modus operandi, which included a focus on short-term solutions instead of long-term planning. This kind of attitude towards planning and problem solving also prevented state officials from entering into public discussions with citizens, which are more time consuming but essential if there is a determination to identify sustainable solutions to existing problems. Similarly, investor and head of the Club, Dmitry Oinas, believed that “orientation to a resource economy required a specific mentality, expectations of support from the state as the only option for development, as well as focus on large-scale businesses, rather than supporting small- and medium-sized businesses. In the meantime, the backbone of the creative industries was small- and medium-sized businesses”.

Prianishnikov suggested that cultural heritage could indeed allow the formation of alternative paths, stating that: “The important role of culture lies in the process of transition from a resource to an innovation economy”. Hence, in order to overcome the above-mentioned constraints and follow an alternative path, as Prianishnikov proposed, internationalization should become part of the modernization process. Learning from the experience of other countries such as Great Britain and Germany, who successfully profited from the development of creative industries, was seen as essential. The delegates admitted that Russia could not and should not be excluded from global developments, and instead of trying to isolate itself from the rest of the world, should accept globalization as a fait accompli and try to maximize its benefits, while simultaneously trying to minimize its drawbacks: “Creative markets are first and foremost global markets. Thus, it is very important to support Russian creative industries in global markets”. Having said that, sustainable social, economic and cultural development, which are types of development that meet the needs of present societies without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, was presented as the best way of counteracting the negative aspects of globalization. By referring to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030 (UNDP), the speakers specifically included Russia in the global community.

Being open to globalization and international experiences, the delegates also believed that the free movement of people across regional and national borders not only encouraged creativity and the acquisition of skills and knowledge, it also led to a new understanding of the home and practices of belonging, adhering to the proposition that place attachment is no longer possible or even necessary. What mattered most was a comfortable socio-economic and cultural infrastructure, which was supposed to be jointly created by the state, businesses and citizens.

The heritage industry

Similar to the panelists in the roundtable discussion, the delegates in the second panel emphasized the inadequacy of current legislation in the cultural sphere. They highlighted the absence of a detailed description of support mechanisms and articles regulating the work of professional associations that represented the interests of investors, non-governmental organizations and activists. Regarding the instruments of support, the delegates also complained about the absence of grants and subsidies for non-commercial organizations working with urban and rural regeneration projects, which have multiplied in recent years.

As an illustration of the current state of affairs in the use of cultural heritage for sustainable regional development, the panelists presented several projects, two of which are shown below: Kolomna Marshmallow Museum (Musei Kolomenskaia Pastila in Russian), a part of a larger creative cluster, Kolomenskii Pasad; and House with Lion (Dom so L’vom in Russian) (Popovka village, Saratov province). The museum and cluster are examples of social entrepreneurship, individual investments and extensive negotiations with local authorities. The House with Lion project is a result of the efforts of a young art historian, Yulia Terekhova, who discovered a decaying timber house decorated from floor to ceiling with wall paintings. Over the last ten years, Terekhova has invested her own money, as well as successfully applied for several grants, started a crowdfunding campaign and restored the house .

Both these projects are good examples of the bottom-up actions of private individuals who pursued multiple goals including: the preservation of both material and immaterial heritage (buildings, industrial heritage); encouragement of local citizens to re-discover local industrial and rural heritage sites; and, finally, making the enterprises commercially viable in order to create jobs and contribute to economic development in otherwise economically distressed regions. Beyond being a sign of growing interest in the past, these acts of volunteerism and social entrepreneurship are also a response to the withdrawal of the state from heritage protection and its inability to address the alarming issue of decay as a result of short-sighted investment and development projects, as well as corruption.

While some urban and rural cultural centres became museums through sufficient financial funding from the state and sponsors, as well as profited from tourism and corresponding commercial activities, other heritage sites were not as lucky. Alarming news coming from the members of the Club and heritage activists about illegal demolitions of historical buildings confirm that private development interests win over the intentions to safeguard historical sites. As the result heritage sites all across Russia disappear leaving little hope for the remaining one to be turned into profitable art clusters where memory and culture is preserved.

Three visions of modernization

The analysis of the discussions of the two panels arranged at the 3rd Cultural Forum of Regions showed that there are three distinct visions of modernization.

The first vision, a vision of conservative modernization, is based on conservative ideology, restorative nostalgia for the Soviet Union and is dependent on the creation of a technological infrastructure that would ease the one-way communication between the state and young people. The proponents of this vision of modernization expressed a sense of nostalgia for lost values — collectiveness, heroism, altruism and active civic positions, as well as a sense of nostalgia for the modus operandi of the communist regime, its rigidness regarding the oppression of opposing opinions. Henceforth, culture was discursively constructed vis-à-vis the commemoration of the Great Patriotic War with the help of references to heroism and sacrifice, memory of the war victory, while everything that fell outside this framework, i.e. modern art and popular culture, was described as unworthy. Having said that, culture was given the role of indoctrinating and raising young people as heroes capable of sacrifice, as well as providing an ideological basis to support the state and existing political structure.

The second vision of modernization is based on ideas of lifestyle citizenship and an information society, in which young people can produce content and communicate with each other. According to this vision, the state should nurture the creative and altruistic potential of young people in order to solve the ongoing socio-economic problems with minimum investment.
A strong focus on volunteer movements, some internationalization and the use of global experience in solving important societal issues, as well as little remaining scope for criticizing the state, suggest that this type of modernization might be narrowed down to neoliberal modernization, which would not solve deeply entrenched problems but would create a kind of façade.

The third vision of modernization means introducing political democratization first of all, a change in the relationship between state, businesses and activists in order to create a new modus operandi based on trust, transparency, equality and respect between partners, i.e. the state, businesses and society. Sustainable development goals are seen as a call for action, while creative clusters are understood and presented as a potential form of management, which allows a number of issues to be simultaneously resolved: the protection of historical sites, the regeneration of depressed areas through activism and socially responsible businesses.

Having said that, these three different visions of modernization provide different discursive constructions of heritage and culture. In the first vision, heritage is narrowed down to the monuments that commemorate the Great Patriotic War and culture that is traditionally understood as highbrow: literature, theatre and classical dance, and includes forms of communication that imply a respect of authority. In the second vision, heritage and culture become instrumental and understood in much broader terms, including popular culture. In the third vision, the term heritage includes all forms of material and immaterial culture that could help people understand the history of their region or country.

The proponents of the first vision are school and university teachers, employees of state war museums, as well as members of public chambers. They legitimize their actions and choice of rhetoric by referring to the Strategy of National Security, state programs of patriotic upbringing, and Vladimir Putin’s national address. University lecturers can be also found among the proponents of the third vision, alongside activists and businessmen. The proponents of the third vision build their arguments by referring to the Strategy of Economic Security and the Global Development Goals set by the UN. The second vision is mainly presented by the members of public chambers and the leaders of volunteer organizations that have been sanctioned by the V. Putin’s initiative and therefore refer to his official statements.

When it comes to the question of resources, all actors agreed that more resources are needed, but disagreed on the issue of state-private partnership and the role of businesses and activists in the modernization process. While the first group supported the state and the legitimacy of its actions, but was firmly against businesses and activists, the third group insisted on an open dialogue between all actors and the merging of resources to achieve a common goal. The second group, which is largely funded by the state and received generous funding in recent years through the system of direct support and president grants, found itself in a privileged position having obtained full support of the President and funding.


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  37. EU restrictive measures against the Russian Federation were adopted in response to the illegal annexation of Crimea and the deliberate destabilisation of Ukraine in 2014 (EU restrictive measures in response to the crisis in Ukraine, last reviewed on October 5, 2020, European Council and Council of the European Union, accessed November 3, 2020 https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/policies/sanctions/ukraine-crisis/).
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  39. On August 22, 2017, Krill Serebrennikov was detained by the Investigative Committee of Russia, suspected of directing a fraud scheme involving a state subsidy of the Seventh Studio received from the Ministry of Culture from 2011 to 2014. The Moscow Court reached a guilty verdict on June 26, 2020, despite convincing evidence from the defense team proving the groundlessness of the accusations (see Anastasia Koria, “Vynesennyi Kirillu Serebrennikovu Prigovor udivil ekspertov, ” Vedomosti, June 26, 2020, accessed Novermber 3, 2020 https://www.vedomosti.ru/society/articles/2020/06/26/833507-prigovor-udivil).
  40. The novel tells a story from the point of view of a girl diagnosed with schizophrenia. Encountering the novel, the reader understands that the main protagonist is perhaps the only sane person to ask important questions about societal practices and norms, bringing up issues raised by Foucault in his Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (London and New York; Routledge, 1961/2006).
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  51. Metelev, Transcription, 25:15.
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  53. Bennett, 2012; Micheletti and Stolle, 2008; See Krivonos, 2016; Jeffrey S. Juris, “Performing Politics: Image, Embodiment, and Affective Solidarity during Anti-Corporate Globalization Protests,’” Ethnography 9(1), (2008), 61—97; Hilary Pilkington and Elena Omelchenko, “Regrounding Youth Cultural Theory (in Post-Socialist Youth Cultural Practice)”, Sociology Compass 7(3), (2013), 208—24; At the same time, taking into consideration previous pro-Kremlin movements such as Nashi (Julie Hemment, “Nashi, Youth Voluntarism, and Potemkin NGOs: Making Sense of Civil Society in Post-Soviet Russia”, Slavic Review 71(2), (2012), 234—60; Jussi Lassila,”Making Sense of Nashi’s Political Style: The Bronze Soldier and the Counter-Orange Community”, Demokratizatsiia 19(3), (2011), 253—76; Jussi Lassila, The Quest for an Ideal Youth in Putin’s Russia II: The search for Distinctive Conformism in the Political Communication of Nashi, 2005—2009, (Stuttgart: ibidem Verlag, 2012)), such volunteer activities could be used to recruit young people for pro-Kremlin activities without providing a real platform for political debate and civic engagement. For example, during the national constitutional plebiscite in 2020, volunteers were tasked to collect information about potential voters among pensioners (see: Vladislav Chirin, “Peterburgskikh Biudzhetnikov Massovo Prinuzhdaiut Idti na Golosovanie o Konstitutsii, a Volonterov Prosiat Rasskazyvat’o Popravkakh”, Bumaga, June 16, 2020, accessed November 1, 2020 https://paperpaper.ru/peterburgskih-byudzhetnikov-massovo-p/). Some news media even wrote that state employees were forced to “volunteer” (Alexandra Korilova, “V Petersburge Obiazyvaiut Pensionerov Nakanune Golosovaniia po Popravkam v Konstitutsiiu. Voloneteram Dali Dostup k ikh Personalnym Dannym, June 23, 2020, accessed November 1, 2020 https://paperpaper.ru/v-peterburge-obzvanivayut-pensionero/).
  54. Worth mentioning is that in 2017 the association became the only Russian organization to sign a collaboration agreement with UN VolunteersVolunteers. Two years later the association together with UNDP UNV started to develop a volunteer movement to promote dialogue and civic engagement in the Commonwealth of Independent States.
  55. See the official website of the Victory Museum in Moscow https://victorymuseum.ru/projects/territory-of-victory/, last accessed November 5, 2020.
  56. See the official website at https://victorymuseum.ru/for-visitors/selfiemap/selfiemap.php. Last accessed November 5, 2020.
  57. Raymond Williams, Culture and Society 1780—1950 (London: Penguin Books, 1963).
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  59. Delegate L, Transcription, 07:56.
  60. Prianishnikov, 23:48.
  61. Prianishnikov, 26:50.
  62. Oinas, Transcription, 02:09.
  63. Prianishnikov, 27:30.
  64. Oinas, Transcription, 03:38.
  65. Prianishnikov, 08:16.
  66. Delegate K 13:00.
  67. Jan Duyvendak, Politics of Home: Belonging and Nostalgia in Western Europe and the United States (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
  68. Nadezhda Andreeva, “L’vinaia Dol’ia. Kak Narisovannii Sto Let Nazad Tzar Zverei Meniaet Sud’bu Derevni” Novaia Gazeta. 91, August, 22, 2018, accessed 1 September, 2020 https://novayagazeta.ru/articles/2018/08/22/77567-lvinaya-dolya. “Bizness-Tzentr i Obeschepit Vmesto Istorii i Tvorcheskogo Kvartala”, City4People, August 8, 2020, accessed November 3, 2020: https://city4people.ru/post/biznes-centr-i-obshchepit-vmesto-istorii-i-tvorcheskogo-kvartala.html.
  69. Roman Chernianskii, “Badaevskii Zachischaiut Radi Elitnogo Doma na Nozhkakh. Arendatory i Moskvichi Protiv,” The Village, November 8, 2019, accessed September 1, 2020 https://www.the-village.ru/village/city/situation/365031-badaevskiy.
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  • by Ekaterina Kalinina

    An Assistant Professor at Institute for Media Studies at Stockholm University, working with the questions the uses of communication and media tools by civil society activists. She is also interested in memory studies and published extensively on post-Soviet nostalgia. She runs the NGO Nordkonst, which aim is to contribute to a stronger international cooperation in the Baltic and the Nordic regions.

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