Holy Grail and Promised Land: The Balkans and the Black Sea in Russian Identity

It is now commonly acknowledged that the Black Sea region has been an arena of great power rivalry.11 Many references relate to the era of Catherine the Great or the Russian-Turkish War of the nineteenth century. A closer look at history textbooks allows for a more nuanced understanding of the role of these two regions in Russian identity. The Black Sea and the Balkans have a much more complex and thereby a much more significant meaning for Russia’s identity than just a glorious Imperial past. As different as they are, all the textbooks construct a set of unique features for the Balkans and the Black Sea region. First, the two regions are constructed as a source and locus of the Soviet origin myth, as well as the basis of its international persona, a sort of Holy Grail for Russia. In the construction of this Holy Grail the two regions are often fused together. Second, the region is depicted as the final and yet unattainable point of its eternal North-South movement. In this movement, the South is constructed as a sort of Promised Land for Russia—the destination and locus of adventurous freedom of the Russian heroic adventurer. In his journey to the Promised Land, the Russian hero meets and overcomes the gravest challenges and extreme ordeals. In meeting these threats and challenges he displays his unique ability for ultimate self-sacrifice and acquires supernatural features. Third, these two regions are the primary locus of Russian-European interaction and, consequently, relational identity construction. I will now turn to consider all these features.

< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >