This book is devoted to a reflection on the genesis of nation and nationalism, and to their evolution during the Communist period in Central Europe (Poland, former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Belarus), in former Soviet Russia as well as in Central Asia and Georgia. Indeed, the book aims at shedding light on links between the national discourse that had emerged in the early 20th century and the Communist rhetoric. The main questions are: How two parallel constructions — national and socialis t— took shape in the 1920s and 1930s? How did national and socialist discourses intertwine? Was national discourse instrumented by state actors, or did nationalist culture absorb Communist ideology (p. 1)? Eventually, one can understand how, in contradiction with the official ‘internationalist discourse’, nationalism along with xenophobia was transmitted during the last Soviet decades, and what were their consequences upon nation and state building.
The book is divided into four parts. The first, entitled “The State, Matrix of the Fusion of Communism and Nationalism?,” begins with an article (chapter 1) by Nikolai Mitrokhin, “La mythologie ethno-nationaliste au sein de l’appareil du Parti et de l’État en Union soviétique [Ethno-Nationalist Mythology within Party and State Apparatus in the Soviet Union,” 23-42], which deals with the supposedly internationalist political education delivered to Soviet state agents, which in fact did not condemn Russian nationalism and eventually contributed to the spread of xenophobia and anti-Semitism in official circles. Throughout the 1930s, professional selection through Russian origin became the norm (p. 26), whilst as for 1934 historiography denied national pasts. Bruno Drweski (“Nation politique ou nation ethnique: les sources de la légitimité dans la Pologne socialiste et leurs évolutions [Political or Ethnic Nation: The Sources for Legitimacy in Socialist Poland and Their Evolutions],” 45-54) deals with national construction in Poland, where till WWII two projects competed with each other, one from the traditional liberal élite, the other from the Catholic clergy. With the war and its consequences on populations and frontiers, the only stable principle on which the Polish national idea was based relied on a mono-ethnic and mono-religious conception. In chapter 3 (“La nation dans la Yougoslavie communiste: aux origines de l’éclatement de la Fédération yougoslave [The Nation in Communist Yugoslavia: The Origins of the Break-Up of the Yugoslavian Federation],” 55-67), Yves Tomic analyses former Yugoslavia, considering the need to distinguish between this state’s political desegregation and the process which lead to the war. Socialism together with ‘yugoslavism’ [iugoslavenstvo] promoted by the Party were the principle which unified the federal state, but tended to recede from the mid-1960s in face of growing national claims.
The second part “National Culture and ‘Culture of the Nation’ (Literature and History)” is made of four chapters focusing on the role of cultural production in the transmission national and nationalist feelings. In “De la construction de la nation à la construction du socialisme dans la dramaturgie biélorussianophone des années 1910-1920” [“From National Construction to Construction of Socialism in Belorussian-Speaking Theatre in the 1920s and 1930s,” 71-88], Virginie Symaniec analyses the transition of dramaturgy form the late imperial period to WWII as well as dilemma and tensions among intellectuals (who tried to nationalise Bolshevism) and the state power (willing to diffuse a newly formed state culture). In “Le nationalisme russe dans l’establishment soviétique: l’Union des écrivrains, 1953-1965” [Russian Nationalism within the Soviet Establishment: The Union of Writers (1953-65), 89-112], Nikolai Mitrokhin deepens the subject-matter of his first article, dealing with Russian writers and their education in the Institute of Literature. His study helps to better understand the sustainability of xenophobic attitudes. In “Le retour des éveilleurs? La renaissance nationale tchèque instrumentalisée autour de 1948” [‘Are the Awakeners Back’? The Instrumentation of the Czech National Renewal, 113-151], Catherine Servant focuses on the revival of literary and cultural heritage of the late nineteenth century by Czech writers in the post-war period, and questions how this heritage was instrumented by intellectuals in general, by Communist writers in particular. The last chapter of this part by Étienne Boisserie (“Le passé national ou la plasticité des stéréotypes nationaux slovaques chez Vladimir Minac” [The National Past or the Plasticity of Slovak National Stereotypes in Works by Vladimir Minac],” 153-86) is dedicated to the works of a central figure of Slovak literature, and their links with the national thought of the nineteenth century.
The book’s part three, “Nation and Class, Conjugated References,” starts with an article by Frédéric Bertrand (“Discours de rupture, tentations de continuité et pratiques de traduction: aux sources de la légitimité de l’anthropologie (etnografiia) soviétique [Discourse for Rupture, Temptation for Continuity and Uses of Translation: The Sources for the Legitimacy of Soviet Anthropology (Etnografiia)],” 189-99), in which the author analyses the formation of Soviet anthropology. Marlène Laruelle (“Stalinisme et nationalisme: l’introduction du concept d’ethnogenèse dans les historiographies d’Asie Centrale [Stalinism and Nationalism: The Introduction to the Concept of Ethno-Genesis in Central Asian Historiographies],” 201-34) focuses on the 1940s-50s, considering that the 1920s-30s are well known thanks to the works by Francine Hirsch, Terry Martin and Yuri Slezkine. (The present review is based on an updated version of this article: “The Concept of Ethno-Genesis in Central Asia: The Political Context and Institutional Mediators (1940-1950),” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History, 9/1 (2008): 1969-88.) Indeed, M. Laruelle focuses on the Zhdanov period, during which, along with the revival of Russian nationalism and ethno-centrism, the national pasts of various Soviet peoples were also promoted. This trend had started before WWII because of the need to arouse patriotic feelings. The author discusses the concept of ethno-genesis (etnogenetika) considered for the first time a new discipline in 1942 by the journal Sovetskaia etnografiia, and analyses the formation of Central Asian peoples relying on printed sources published in the 1950s in the framework of newly formed Academies of Sciences (A. Iu. Iakubovskii and S. P. Tolstov for Uzbekistan, B. Gafurov for Tadjikistan, the same Iakubovskii for Turmenistan, A. Bernshtam for Kyrgyzstan). To M. Laruelle’s eyes, ethnic crystallisationcorresponds with the realisation of Stalin’s definition of the “nation” in which ethnicity and race tend to become synonyms, whilst states, territory, people tend to unification since immemorial times. Since independences, the works by the founders of Central Asian peoples’ ethno-genesis have remained the basis of history writing and teaching. The case of the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan published with support of the Soros Foundation in 2002 is particularly relevant. However, M. Laruelle’s synthesis does not raise the question of totalitarianism, whence the very nature of the regime tended towards the absorption of state, nation and race. On the question of local instrumentations of the very concept of ethno-genesis in the 1960s-80s, one can also profitably reread Yuri Bregel’s Notes on the Study of Central Asia, Bloomington: Indiana University (Papers on Inner Asia, 28), 1996). The last contribution of this part is “La Maison du Peuple de Ceausescu: sommet architectural contradictoire d’un long parcours idéologique” [Ceausescu’s House of the People: The Paradoxical Architectural Summit of a Long Ideological Path, 235-47] by Magda Carneci, who focuses on the national reconversion of a totalitarian and modern architectural realisation, the People’s House, erected after the 1977’s earthquake in Bucharest.
The fourth and last part, untitled “The Reconstitutions of the 1990s: Rethinking the Soviet Legacy in the Light of Nationalism?” starts with an article by Silvia Serrano “Les minorité face à l’État national, une nouvelle place à négocier: le cas de la Géorgie [Minorities in the National State, a New Place to Negotiate: The Case of Georgia]” (251-85). The author considers the case of the Georgian national construction after independence, the difficulty to build a true Georgian citizenship (recognised by a law taken in March 1993) and to refute the Soviet national construction based on an ethnic principle. Alexandre Verkhovski (“L’orthodoxie politique dans la vie publique russe: l’essor d’un nationalisme antiséculaire [The Political Orthodoxy in Russian Public Life: the Rise of Anti-secular Nationalism],” 287-321) sheds light on the participation of varied religious institutions in political life as well as on the reliance of political élite on Orthodox and other religious beliefs. The last article of the book, by Marlène Laruelle (“Les idéologies alternatives: néo-paganisme, New Age et nationalisme dans l’espace post-soviétique [Alternative Ideologies, Neo-Paganism, New Age and Nationalism in the Post-Soviet Space],” 323-53) deals with the revival of ancient religion as a base of legitimacy for national discourses, with particular interest in Tengrism in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — on this aspect, see Central Eurasian Reader 1 (2008): review No. 743 p. 589-90. If the volume is not entirely dedicated to Central Asia, it provides interesting material for comparison on the issue of nation and socialist construction on the moyenne durée within a wide set of geographical and cultural areas. Still, one can regret that the articles collected in the book, with the aim of renewing our comprehension on nation and communism do not more rely on archival resources. This does not prevent the contributors to provide ideas for a better understanding of the ‘dark-side’ of Soviet internationalism, and of the origins of present-day Russian nationalism in the 1950s and 1960s.
Cloé Drieu, School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences, Paris