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BASEES highlights

I was only able to visit a small number of panels at BASEES last weekend, and the ones I chose were a bit of a departure from my usual interests, but there were some very good papers.

I was sorry to miss the first half of Hubert Bergmann’s paper on Russophilia in the German youth movement in the 1920s and 30s (committee duties…), because the bit I did catch was really interesting, especially on the Russian-influenced songbooks and the great illustrations of members of these groups dressed in Russian shirts, soft boots and cossack-style hats. That really struck a chord with one of the other papers on the panel, Djurdja Bartlett talking about ‘Proletarian Post-war Dandies’ (on stiliagi in the Soviet Union and their equivalents in Eastern bloc countries). I’ve heard Djurdja Bartlett speak before and it’s always a pleasure – I never thought I’d be particularly interested in Soviet fashion, but she shows what a fascinating subject it is. I’m very much looking forward to reading her book Fashion East. Her new research is equally rich, and in particular the wonderful illustrations she used to structure her discussion – mainly cartoons – gave a good insight into both the styles and attitudes towards them.

I also went to a really good panel on underground activities in the post-Stalinist era. Robert Hornsby’s paper on clandestine political groups in the Khrushchev-era Soviet Union was interesting not only because it challenged the usual narrative of an initial liberalization followed by a crack-down in the early sixties, but also because he was talking about such tiny numbers – probably a couple of thousand people in all, over a period of 7-8 years – who made no impact whatsoever. There has been a tendency to privilege the literary products of dissidence from that era, so the study of other traces, such as KGB reports, and the groups’ leaflets, is very welcome. I particularly enjoyed Kelly Hignett’s paper on criminal subculture, which focused on Eastern Europe. It addressed with the normalization of petty criminality through the necessity of bribery and participation in the illegal economy, and touched on some of the moral questions that raised. Miriam Dobson’s paper on the Soviet baptist movement emphasized the discourse of legality and the attempts of this group to work within the framework of Soviet law, confirming the regime’s legitimacy in a way that seems at odds with some of the baptists’ beliefs. Some of the activities described, such as the occasion on which 400-600 baptists congregated to present a petition to the central committee, were quite remarkable, and again the paper showed that the reality of the situation was somewhat different to what we usually assume. It also made me realize that I need to think about the image of baptists in Gulag narratives, particularly Shalamov.

I will touch on my own paper in my next post.


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1 Comment

  1. Hi Sarah,

    Thanks for your mention here. I’m glad you enjoyed my paper on criminal subculture and our ‘underground’ themed panel at BASEES. I’ve just been having a look at your blog and your own research sounds really interesting.

    Best wishes,

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