Writing Russianess, Greatness, Europe, and the Balkans in the Late Soviet Discourse in 1980s

In this chapter I conduct one of the first “reality checks” of the discourses identified in the previous chapter. I will consider whether the discourses that prevailed in the 1950s-1960s were still present in the 1980s when Soviet society went through significant economic change and political liberalisation. I want to find out whether and how new texts produced and consumed in that period affected the basic discourses that had been articulated during the previous decades. To determine what kind of change the Soviet mind-set underwent during the 1980s and how, in view of these changes, the late Soviet elites made sense of new developments in Europe, the Balkans, and the Black Sea region, I am going to analyse similar samples of texts: (1) school and university textbooks; (2) historical fiction novels; (3) the most popular newspaper.

While the previous Chapter 1 included textbooks to see what kind of texts Soviet youngsters were obliged to read, this chapter will analyse textbooks to assess what kind of texts Soviet opinion-makers tended to produce or make available for mass consumption. This chapter focuses on two types of textbooks—those with the indicative title The History of the USSR1 and a series titled World History, which was used for the final seventh to tenth grades of schools. Both groups of textbooks were translated into English, French, Spanish, and other European languages. The textbooks on the History of the USSR were prepared by a group of senior academicians from Moscow State University and the Soviet Academy of Sciences led by M. Nechnkina and Y. Kukushkin.2 The second group of © The Author(s) 2017

V. Samokhvalov, Russian-European Relations in the Balkans and Black Sea Region, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-52078-0_4

academics was led by Professors I. M. Krivoguz and V. K. Furaev, prepared textbooks on the Modern period of World History3 and Contemporary World History.4 Despite a certain liberalisation of education in the 1980s, these texts remained charged with ideological interpretations. The key historical actors are ideological systems rather than states, classes rather than personalities. And yet, while these textbooks are overloaded with quotations from Marx and Lenin, through the thick Marxist smokescreen the elements of Russia’s Great Power identity protrude with full force.

These writers also produced university textbooks. And it is in the university textbooks where one could identify a tectonic shift in the discussion of Russia’s greatness. In the 1980s, another authoritative source of information about Russia appeared with a re-published edition of a textbook by one of the founders of Russian historiography—Nikolay Karamzin. His standard voluminous work History of the Russian State, although written in the early nineteenth century, was reprinted in the late 1980s to early 1990s. Unlike Kliuchevskiy’s work analysed in the previous chapter, Karamzin’s book was published in its original form, i.e. without a critical Marxist commentary. It was soon sold out in the USSR and became one of the most popular texts on Russian history.5 Therefore this chapter also uses Karamzin to identify the ways in which this alternative source with its considerable authority could generate an anti-hegemonic discourse. Analysis of this book reveals major tensions that appeared in the Russian great power identity.

The second text sampling is drawn from popular culture. New popular novels by Valentin Pikul became another important potential source of information. Pikul was at the peak of his popularity and authority in the late 1980s. Over the period of 1974-1989, Pikul wrote one major historical novel every year. Almost all of his manuscripts were published and widely read by Soviet audiences. Even though his reputation was quite controversial, Pikul became the most popular novelist in the USSR.6 He had an impact on the Soviet elite because he was decorated with two important Soviet orders and was also awarded a special prize. Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev stressed that he was a passionate reader of Pikul and quoted him on several occasions. On 17 May 1987, the Central Soviet Communist newspaper Pravda ran an interview with Pikul with the eloquent title “I like strong personalities”.7

Another likely reason for Pikul’s standing as an authoritative source among the Russian elite was his own life recalled that of the True Russian hero: early during WWII, the 12-year-old Valentin Pikul, who had already lost his parents in the war, joined the Soviet navy as a junior sailor and served in the navy until the end of the war. In 1989, Pikul published his novel with great elements of fiction and drama, Chest Imeyu (I have the honour...), which became extremely popular historical reading.8 The novel, which claimed to be based on the memoirs of an intelligence officer of Imperial and Soviet Russia, General Oladiev, features major events in the history of Russia and the Balkans.9 Personal trajectories and fates of entire nations are intertwined in the novel, turning it into an almost epic work and representation of Russian identity. I will look in detail at Oladiev’s personality and career, which constitute an important point of reference for Russia’s identity construction.

Finally, this chapter continues to analyse the late Soviet media discourse as articulated in the most popular and, at that point, less ideologised Soviet newspaper Izvestia, which became an outlet for free public debate in the USSR in the late 1980s. Pikul’s novel and Izvestia are the texts that were voluntarily consumed by the Soviet audience and thus help understand which discourses were internalised by the broader Soviet audience. As mentioned previously, the texts under study differ in their style and focus on different issues. However, it is precisely this diversity that will allow me to identify whether the concepts of Russia, Europe, the Balkans, the Black Sea, Greatness, and powerhood drew on the discourse of the 1960s and how they changed in the late 1980s. Identifying reiterated messages in this variety of texts will allow me to detect those concepts and discourses that were internalised by Soviet youngsters. As before, I will try to analyse links between the idea of Europe, the concept of greatness, and the specific context of interaction between Russia and various European powers. In analysing these linkages, I will also try to single out those contexts and modes of interaction that would shape potential predispositions for certain actions and specific policy choices for Russia in its interaction with Europe.

The first section of this chapter will focus on the role of the Black Sea region and the Balkans in Russian identity. In particular, I will show how the special role of these two regions was reproduced in textbooks and media discourse. In the second section, I will examine the process of relational identity construction with various Russian Selves and European Others. I will show how these historical archetypes were reproduced and re-enacted in various descriptions of contemporary Russian- European relations. In the third section, I will demonstrate how Moscow read the emerging structures of the European integration through the web of its main Others. The main goal here is to show that in the later 1980s Moscow did not construe the EU as only one representation of Europe. Things were much more fluid at that point. In the fourth section, I will discuss how various Russian Selves were related to the turbulent events in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union and how various EU policies in the region were read in Moscow. Finally, in the fifth section, I will show two small, but very important changes in the late Soviet discourse. One of them is the emerging tension between Russia’s self-sacrifice and its greatness, while the other will point to the emerging role of practical nonrepresentational element of Russia’s great powerhood.

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