We are delighted to report that the Russian Studies Workshop (RSW) has persisted in its efforts to provide a vibrant environment for research on and discussion of contemporary Russia. Whether hosting discussion panels and film screenings, awarding research grants, launching a new interview series, or maintaining a vibrant writing group for doctoral students, our activity has opened up some fruitful and exciting opportunities for research, networking, and discussion in Russian Studies despite the constraints of the pandemic.
We kicked off the spring semester with Critical Conversations in Russian Studies, a series of three panels (so far!) in which IU professors brought together leading experts to discuss human rights in Russia, Russian foreign policy during the Cold War, and disability and inclusion in Russia. At the inaugural panel, Associate Professor Emma Gilligan (International Studies) oversaw a lively conversation with scholars and practitioners on the current state of human rights in Russia today, a timely issue in the light of opposition leader Aleksey Navalny’s recent arrest and the ensuing protests across Russia. In the second panel, Assistant Professor Michael De Groot (International Studies) gathered four scholars from across the U.S. to discuss new views and understandings of Russian foreign policy during the Cold War in light of newly emergent archival materials. Lastly, Professor Sarah Phillips (Anthropology and REEI) convened members of RSW’s Disability Studies Working Group to consider the meaning and application of inclusion and diversity in Russia today. For this last discussion we provided American Sign Language interpretation, a first for us—but hopefully not the last—in our effort to broaden accessibility to an ever growing number of potentially interested audience members. Importantly, for each event in the series, we arranged for an IU student to interview one of the panelists. You can read those interviews on our website to learn about the panelist’s career trajectories and reflections on the challenges and rewards of work in these different areas of study.
Concurrently with the panel discussion series and in partnership with Professor Josh Malitsky of IU's Center for Documentary Research & Practice, RSW launched the documentary film series “Power, Poetics, & Play: Documenting Soviet Legacies.” Each film screening was followed by thoughtful discussions among scholars, filmmakers, and the audience. Associate Professor Ben Nathans of the University of Pennsylvania discussed “Operation Wedding” with Israeli filmmaker Anat Zalmonson-Kuznetsov, who shared the research behind the film, a personal search into understanding her family’s daring and much-publicized attempted escape from the Soviet Union in 1970. Associate Professor Gardner Bovingdon (International Studies and CEUS) discussed “Budynok” with filmmakers Matilda Mester and Tetyana Kononenko, who mixed archival footage with their own footage to reflect on the famous Derzhprom building in Kharkiv, a landmark of constructivist architecture and the embodiment of Communism in the 1920s, not just as a symbolic piece of Soviet architecture, but as a living and breathing community in modern-day Ukraine. Lastly, Professor Sarah Phillips (Anthropology and REEI) spoke with Siberian filmmaker Maxim Arbugaev about his film, “VOY,” a documentary about a Russian blind soccer team’s path to the European championship. Iain Viraj Cunningham, a doctoral student in Slavic and East European Languages and Cultures, shared reflections on each of these films for the RSW blog.
RSW continued to work behind the scenes as well. With the support of RSW, two early-career IU scholars resumed work on projects that had been interrupted by the restrictions of the pandemic: Diana Sokolova, who received her PhD in Mass Communications in 2020, investigated the effect of social welfare policy on social and political engagement in Moscow, and Andrey Yushkov, a doctoral student in Public Affairs, conducted research on fiscal federalism and public debt in Russia. We were also gratified to witness the fruits of last summer’s special RSW-funded project that addressed the high number of deaths in police and military custody in Russia. Professor Emma Gilligan (International Studies) supervised REEI MA/JD student Rachel Julia Myers and REEI MA alumna Clare Angeroth Franks in their research and drafting of a legal memo for the Moscow Helsinki Group (MHG), which is using it in its investigations. In an RSW blog post, Angeroth Franks described the work behind this memo, which involved analyzing Russian, US, and international laws and gathering data from nonprofit organizations, Russian media sites, and international court databases.
RSW’s research clusters were especially active this semester. In addition to hosting the film and panel described above, the Disability Studies Working Group co-sponsored and participated in four other important events this spring: the St. Petersburg State University conference on "Inequality and body politics: New approaches to researching exclusion and disability;” REEI’s Russian-language talk by Anna Komarova (Galina Zaitseva Centre for Deaf Studies and Bilingual Education) on “Russian Sign Language and American Sign Language” (for which we provided translation into Russian Sign Language), Professor Sarah Phillips’ bilingual workshop on bringing inclusiveness and diversity to a forthcoming Advanced Russian language textbook; and a panel organized by the group Feminist Solidarities (under direction of Berlin-based artist, curator and advocate Kira Shmyrewa) “Inclusion today: Body Think Tank in support of Yulia Tsvetkova and ‘Merak’” to discuss the pressing case of that persecuted intersectional neurodivergent feminist Russian activist and artist. The Siberian Studies Working Group co-hosted REEI’s Russian language talk by Professor Elena Gladun (University of Tyumen) on “Sustainable Development in the Russian Arctic and Far North;” hosted a writing workshop on finishing their multi-disciplinary book project, "Promising Siberia: Imagination, Infrastructure, and Environment;" and collaborated with the Eurasian Regions Study Group, a working group affiliated with BASEES (the British Association for Slavonic and East European Studies), on the upcoming forum, “Siberia in the Late Tsarist and Early Soviet Era.”
Last but not least, RSW’s Postdoctoral Scholars Stanislav Budnitsky and Nataliya Savelyeva continued to lead the Kruzhok, the writing group for RSW doctoral students. The Kruzhok brings together doctoral students from across the social sciences for monthly meetings which facilitate research in progress and build relationships across the disciplines. Members review each others’ work and provide valuable feedback. Kruzhok members also receive guidance and encouragement in preparing and submitting articles for publication in academic journals.
At each of this semester’s online events we were able to connect with scholars, students, and practitioners from IU and all across Russia, Europe, and the United States. That said, we eagerly anticipate the return to in-person events again this fall. Visit our website to catch news of our continuing film and discussion series, competitions for student research funding, and much more.
Sarah Fogleman (REEI MA/MLS, 2007) is Project Coordinator for the Russian Studies Workshop, an interdisciplinary research incubator and training center that integrates scholars from Indiana University and across the U.S. and Russia at various stages of their careers into an international network based on a shared commitment to research on Russia. The Russian Studies Workshop was founded in 2016 and has continued to flourish with the support of generous grants from the Carnegie Corporation of New York.