Author: thewestresearchers

My View of the West: Mining the Soviet-era archives to study art exchange

Simo Mikkonen

Last month, I wrote about my key research interest, art in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the West. What follows, is a quick glance at what kind of activities I have been engaged in regarding the topic.  For about ten years, I have been searching through archives, especially in Moscow. Some of the political archives contain reports, decisions and correspondence of Soviet officials between different domestic actors as well as foreign actors. By contrast, the other archives I have been investigating have more cultural content, including materials produced by artists and artistic organisations, and detailing their foreign activities and attempts to interact with their colleagues.

My interests have focused both on the official level, including cultural diplomacy and the use of culture as part of Soviet foreign politics, and on the lower levels of organization. When we look at the interaction of individual artists and artistic organisations, foreign politics play a much smaller role compared to the more official level. The emphasis is more on the transnational networks, the making of art, and attempts to overcome political and ideological divisions in doing so. At the same time, the borderlines of these different layers are far from clear.

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Quite often, my research falls into what is called the study of the cultural Cold War. This concept is elusive; therefore, I found it important to participate in defining it in a volume called Entangled Histories of Cold War Europe I edited for Berghahn in 2015. After editing this volume, I wanted to focus more on Soviet cultural diplomacy, which resulted in Music, Art and Diplomacy (Routledge 2016). Finally, in Entangled East and West (2018), which I edited as part of the Rethinking the Cold War series by De Gruyter, I examined the concept of cultural diplomacy and especially how it can be supported through empirical research.

Today, my research on the topic continues. Through interviews with artists and administrators as well as by examining new archival material, I aim to gain a better understanding of how interactions with the West influenced Soviet art. Furthermore, issues that I feel require further research are the nature of the interaction of artists and how they experienced contacts with the West.

The author is Finnish Academy Research Fellow (2014-19), Docent of Russian History, and Senior Researcher (on leave) in University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.

Soviet Art and the West during the Cold War: A Constant Dilemma?

By Simo Mikkonen

From the Russian Revolution onwards, the West presented a problem for the Soviet Union (“Soviet Russia” until 1922) and its key ideologues. It became an adversary, but also a competitor and a point of reference. The West was something that the Soviet Union strove to not only catch up to, but surpass, with the primary foci being economic and technological development. The Soviet Union tried to stand out from the West in terms of political thought, social order and culture, which caused a dilemma about how to deal with the West.

As per Marxist theories, the West should have been in decline, but it was clear that the West was constantly ahead of the Soviet Union, especially in technological and economic development. Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union was forced—either willingly or unwillingly—to address advances in Western countries. In culture, the situation was not simple. The world of art, which is my key interest, underwent many changes during the Soviet years as connections with the West increased and decreased but never ceased altogether.

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Soviet cultural event in Messuhalli, Helsinki. Artistic program was joined with political speeches supporting communist incumbents for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Behind, pictures of Soviet leaders. (Photo courtesy of Helsinki City Museum, N153651, photographed by Väinö Kannisto, 23.2.1945.)

In my doctoral dissertation (2007), I examined the development of Soviet music policies in the 1930s. I used music as a window to Soviet authorities’ perception of music, and to the demands directed at composers and music professionals by the Soviet power. Notably, the arts were given an important role in the ideological and political education of Soviet citizens. Artists were made a part of the Soviet elite yet were expected to align with the ideological and political demands of the system.

During the Stalin era (c. 1930–1953), the West was portrayed as a clear enemy, and everything Western became ideologically undesirable. In the arts, this meant the rejection of contemporary (post-1918) Western artistic developments. Socialist realism, even if it never was a clearly defined concept, became a template for all areas of the arts. The cornerstones of Stalin-era art were the people (art must be understandable), Soviet ideology (art must support the Party), realism (art must be representational) and anti-Westernism. Conversely, pre-revolutionary classical Western art was warmly embraced. The music of Mozart and Bach and the plays of Shakespeare and other classics became the key building blocks of Soviet art.

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Enter Soviet delegations at the (socialist) Youth Festival arranged in Romania. (Photo courtesy of The People’s Archives, KansA101284, photographed by Yrjö Lintunen, 2.8.1953.) 

The world of art is by default international and cosmopolitan. The arts have always shunned national borders, and the mobility of artists has been quite natural. Thus, before the First World War (1914–1918) and the Russian Revolution, artists of the Russian Empire were in close connection with the West through traveling and often living in European metropolises, such as Paris, Rome, London and Berlin. After the Revolution, many artists left Russia. By the 1930s, the Soviet Union had begun to systematically cut its ties between Soviet artists and their Western colleagues. Although these cuts were never completed, a generation of Soviet artists essentially grew up in a void, where Western influences were kept to a minimum.

Stalin’s death in 1953 began a new era of openness towards the West. Most artists embraced the change, but were given few chances to interact with their Western colleagues. When contacts between the Soviet Union and the West were revived, performing artists (versus creative artists) were allowed to travel the most. For example, in the area of music, instead of sending Soviet composers abroad to promote their works, the Soviet Union sent its world-class musicians all around the world. Typically, they would play Western (and Russian) classics rather than Soviet-era works.

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Mikhail Khomizer, Olli Alho, Dmitri Hintze, Igor Bezrodny, Väinö Starck, an unknown woman and Dmitri Bashkirov at Jyväskylän Kesä (“Summer of Jyväskylä”) festival in 1968. Encounters between Soviet and Western artists increased gradually in places like Jyväskylän Kesä. (Photo: Courtesy of Jyväskylän Kesä archives, June 1968, photographer unknown).

The Soviet Union had ideological reasons to engage the West after a quarter-century of voluntary isolation: Soviet leadership wanted to challenge the capitalist West and prove Soviet superiority in culture, economics, the military and technology. By sending its best artists and troupes abroad, it wanted to appeal to Western audiences. By winning over the Western populace—or, at the very least, proving that the Soviet Union was also a cultural superpower—the Soviet Union wanted to increase pro-Soviet sentiments and decrease the appeal and outreach of anti-communist forces.

This approach was not new; rather, the target of the capitalist West was a novelty from the mid-1950s. After the Second World War, the best Soviet artistic forces were sent all over Soviet-occupied Europe to astonish and charm the local populace, which was sometimes quite wary of Soviet objectives. There was also one country that, while not occupied by the Soviet Union, nevertheless received many Soviet artistic visitors throughout the first post-war decade: Finland. From the mid-1950s onwards, this approach was broadened to the rest of the capitalist West and to developing countries. It was also significantly expanded.

The author is Finnish Academy Research Fellow (2014-19), Docent of Russian History, and Senior Researcher (on leave) in University of Jyväskylä, Finland.

The 2nd International Conference by The West Network (5-7 June 2019)

Conference

University of Jyväskylä, Finland

June 5-7, 2019

The West Network, an international and multidisciplinary research network coordinated from the Department of History and Ethnology at the University of Jyväskylä, is organizing its 2nd international conference titled:

The End of Western Hegemonies?

If we look at ‘the West’ as a group of states, we can say it has been globally hegemonic in many areas of life, such as scientific innovation, the economy and consumption, military force, medicine, technological development, press freedom, political regimes and ideology. In addition, there are views according to which the West has imposed its own vision of the world by having hegemony over the production of knowledge in intellectual domains, such as philosophy, political science, and sociology, the West has imposed its own vision of the world. This is how the ‘Western paradigm’ has been built. Adopting this paradigm has long been held as a global criterion of success. However, as long as there have been Western hegemonies, there have been contestations of them.

History did not end in the triumph of Western liberal democracy, and there are societal developments in the US and Europe that are seen as undermining (the unity of) the West. It is feared that the era of Donald Trump will disengage the US from the Western and global political arenas. The imminent separation of Britain from the European Union is raising concerns about the unity of Europe. The overall rise of right-wing populism is seen to jeopardize such core Western values as internationalism, liberalism and solidarity. Increasing individualism and identity politics, racism, toxic masculinity, unemployment or a lost sense of purpose are seen to erode Western society from the inside by dividing people into different sides of cultural wars.

Moreover, the so-called emerging countries, China in their lead, are often seen as a threat to Western geopolitical, economic and cultural hegemonies, if not to the contemporary world order. Western military ventures have been seen as the source of deep fractures, not only between the West and other countries, but also within non-Western societies, since they have helped to cause the rise of militant Islam and the unleashing of wars in these countries. This interventionism, however, has not been without consequences in the West as well, for these wars have caused flows of refugees, and brought crowds of immigrants into Western countries. This situation has fueled further political conflict within Western societies whose people debate about the nature of Western civilization and its role in helping others.

Will the ‘non-West’, the emerging countries, or China surpass the West? If so, in which areas of life? Can the West hold on to its hegemonies in science, liberal democracy, economy, civil liberties, and the military sphere? Or is it bound to become one of many equal players – or a relic – in a new multi-polar world order? At the same time, the West – and all of humankind – is developing further in terms of technology, health, human rights, democracy and peace, and many think there is no reason to believe the West would lose its hegemonies.

If one holds that the West is mainly an imagined community, one can doubt that it ever could have exercised any concrete domination. One can thus easily problematize the basic concepts of ‘the West’ as well as its ‘hegemonies’. In contrast, the very notion of hegemony invites explorations in specific areas in which one can postulate a hegemonic or dominating position of the West, today or in the recent past. If one accepts that the West enjoyed a strong leadership in certain domains, one may ask why and how it occurred. Or one might, enquire about the present and future of this domination. Will it come to a close? If so, why and how – politically, culturally, socially or narratively?

We invite scholars, particularly from social sciences and humanities, to present empirical or theoretical papers on the topic of the conference by focusing on the following sub-themes, issues and/or phenomena or other topics relevant to the theme of the conference (the list is not exclusive):

Brexit, Christianity, civilization, climate change, Cold War, collectivism, democracy, dystopia, economy, energy, environment, ethnicity, emerging countries, ethnicity, fragmentation, freedom, gender, geopolitics, identity, imagined communities, individualism, Islamism, leadership, the Left, liberalism, nationalism, NATO, Occidentalism, Orientalism, popular culture, political ideology, populism, post-WWII, protectionism, race/racialization, regional powers, religiosity, science/scientism, secularism, super powers, technology, terrorism, tribalism, utopia, Whiteness.

Keynote speakers

Roundtable discussion lead by Dr. Marie-Josée Lavallée. Participants will be announced t a later date.

Deadlines

  • Abstract proposals (300-400 words) 6 January 2019
  • Accepted presenters will be notified by 5 February 2019
  • Extended abstracts (800-1200 words) 30 April 2019

Participation fees

  • Basic: 80 euros, including lunch, refreshments, reception buffet
  • Basic + dinner: 115 euros (dinner on 2nd day)
  • Basic + dinner + cruise: 160 euros (lunch cruise on Lake Jyväskylä on third day).

More information on transactions in February 2019. Unfortunately, no travel bursaries can be granted to participants.

Accommodation and travel

More information on the conference hotel and other options for accommodation as well as travel information will be provided at a later date.

Organizing committee

Jukka Jouhki & Marie-Josée Lavallée, Pertti Ahonen, Antero Holmila, Matti Roitto

Abstracts + inquiries: westernhegemonies@gmail.com

Useful links

Cold War Feminism

By Katri Kauhanen

Cold War history is no longer simply history of great powers, diplomacy and war. Women’s and gender history has rapidly paved the way for gendered interpretations of the period that greatly shaped the way the world looks today.

The Cold war era included multiple feminist manifestations and womanly imaginaries. On the one hand, we have the conservative 1950s and the domestic ideal of housewife that Betty Friedan described in her Feminine Mystique (1963), on the other hand the late 1960s witnessed a severe outburst of women’s experiences on gender inequality, sexual harassment and power oppression. The United Nations celebrated 1975 as the International Women’s Year and in the 1980s female figures as different as Madonna and Margaret Thatcher showed what women can be and do. How did the Cold War influence these events and many more?

In my PhD dissertation I study the concept ‘Cold War feminism’ by asking how feminism was interpreted in the context of the Cold War. Cold War feminism refers not only to the idea of gender justice but to the multiple explorations and explanations how feminism could be practiced and how gender equality could be achieved. Cold War feminism is by nature understood as a transnational project. Transnational history of global feminisms complicates the idea of wave feminism and makes visible how feminist projects in different parts of the world emerged and resonated with each other. Furthermore, it challenges the idea that feminisms always originates from the West.

In my work, I examine more closely how Cold War feminism was practiced in South Korea from 1950s to 1980s. To do so, I look at the relationship between a South Korean women’s organization, the Korean National Council of Women, and its international head organization, the International Council of Women. In other words, my approach focuses on the activities of women’s organizations on national and transnational levels. International Council of Women was one of the organizations that received a consultative status at the newly established United Nations and became active participant in the discussions at the Commission on the Status of Women. Through its involvement in the International Council of Women since 1960, the Korean National Council of Women became a mediator between the global movement to improve the status of women and the local conditions in quickly modernizing South Korea.

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The Cold War drove also the women’s organizations into a war with each other. The old organizations, like the International Council of Women, got challenged by a new-comer, the Women’s International Democratic Federation that represented leftist feminism against the liberal one. The women’s organizations rivaled each other in the United Nations but also in competition over the hearts of women in decolonizing Asia and Africa where both organizations rapidly expanded during the Cold War. How South Korean women were affiliated to the International Council of Women is part of this story where not only geographical but ideological leanings played a major role.

The West-East division is an interesting issue in the framework of Cold War feminism.  The West and the East do not match with the conventionally held geographical areas here, yet there are multiple assumptions on the belonging of different actors to either side. For example, South Korea’s position in the Cold War located it to the Western camp along with Japan. The organized women’s activism in South Korea took a strong anti-communist stance while all leftist ideas were regarded as dangerous to the state. Being anti-communist was no problem for the International Council of Women that, on the contrary, was busy criticizing the women part of the Women’s International Democratic Federation for being political, or in other words communist.

It was also believed that communism was located in the East and feminist endeavors there were buried under the state’s agenda.  In other words, it was viewed that the West-East division divided also feminisms into free and unpolitical in the West and state-controlled and political in the East. The recent scholarship on the Cold War feminisms has had to work hard to resolve these assumptions and the task is only at the beginning.

The author is a doctoral candidate in at the Centre for East Asian Studies (CEAS) of University of Turku, Finland.

My View of the West: Russia, Turkey and Western influence

Toni Alaranta

While I was reading Igor Zevelev’s report Russian National Identity and Foreign Policy (2016), I realized how similar is the close association of foreign policy and national identity in my own research topic, Turkey. Only recently, I have started to better understand how profoundly challenging task the combining of Western influences with own traditions has been in Turkey – and, as I can now see, in Russia as well. These observations lead to the question why all this anxiety? Why is the ability to define and then protect the national identity such a fundamental endeavour? Even though the central role and the need for ‘we’ structures is duly acknowledged in scholarly literature, it seems that the collectively upheld anxiety if these ‘we’ structures come under challenge is even stronger than previously thought.

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Thinking about the last 150 years, one can argue that the problem of how to combine one’s own and Western culture has not for a second ceased to occupy the intellectual class in Russia and Turkey. Further, the current national discourses in these countries are overheated due to this anxiety. All this creates profound turmoil in the current international system. At least partly similar processes of redefinition, or renegotiation, of national identity take place in several other countries, including the Western nations, and these have their repercussions in the international level. However, it feels fair to say that in the case of Russia and Turkey, the idea of own, allegedly authentic (civilizational) national identity under threat now results in a foreign policy transformation where stakes are much higher compared to various other state actors.

The author is a Senior Research Fellow at Finnish Institute of International Affairs. 

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.

 

All Quiet on the Western Front? No! Germany’s New Right is fighting for the West

By Ann-Judith Rabenschlag

Berlin, fall 2017. I am standing in front of the Library of Conservatism (Bibliothek des Konservatismus), a conservative think tank founded in 2012 and located in Fasanenstraße, one of the finest addresses in former West-Berlin. In order to get inside I need to ring a bell. The door opens, a young woman welcomes me politely, asks for my name and the reason I am coming for.

Quickly she hands me a paper. Maybe I would like to sign up for a membership in order to support the library financially? I get out of the slightly awkward situation by stating that I was just visiting from Stockholm for a couple of days. However, I had heard a lot about the library, so maybe I could just have a short look…? The woman nods and comes back with the head of the library, a man in his forties dressed like a member of a fraternity. A friendly handshake – so very nice that even researchers from abroad are interested in the ideas of German conservatism.

Would I like to see any specific part of the collection?  Anything related to the concept of the West, I respond. We start our tour along the bookshelves. There is a lot on military history. But also plenty of books by and on Carl Schmitt, Oswald Spengler, Ernst Jünger, Arthur Moeller van den Bruck – key figures of Germany’s Conservative Revolution during the 1920s and 1930s.

– How is the library financed? I ask.

 Exclusively by private donations. Luckily there are enough people who have realized how important it is that German conservative thoughts are not forgotten.

Does the library have any political affiliations?

No, we are politically neutral. I know there are people considering us to be part of Germany’s New Right. But we are only making the writings of conservative intellectuals accessible.

We continue the tour. Eventually we stop and the chief librarian points at a couple of books. “Those might be interesting for you”, he states. “They all deal with the Abendland.”

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Here it is again – the antique concept Abendland, roughly to be translated with Occident. Oswald Spengler published his bestseller Untergang des Abendlandes about a century ago. In the English translation the book received the title The Decline of the West. The conservative-catholic Abendländische Bewegung (Occidential Movement) influenced public discourse in West Germany during the 1950s. After that, the term Abendland disappeared from public debates until it was revived only a couple of years ago.

In 2014, the xenophobic and islamophobic movement PEGIDA was founded in Dresden, claiming to represent “Patriotic Europeans fighting against the Islamisation of the Occident” (Patriotische Europäer Gegen die Islamisierung Des Abendlandes). Also the right wing populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), since 2017 represented in Germany’s national Parliament, uses the term Abendland as a synonym for the West. In its party program AfD talks about “the struggle of cultures between Occident and Islam already taking place in Europe.” It furthermore expresses the ambition to preserve “our occidental Christian culture”. (AfD-Party program 2017). Leading AfD-politicians have called Muslim immigration to be a threat to “our Western values” and to “our liberal Western system of values.”

So, is it “all quiet on the Western Front”? No, it is not. Germany’s New Right is trying to take over the concept of the West and to fill it with new meaning. At the beginning of the 20th century, German right wing intellectuals considered the West to be the enemy, presented by France, Great Britain and the detested ideas of 1789. Today right wing populists present themselves as defenders of the West – and as defenders of the Abendland, standing in clear opposition to foreign cultural influences, above all to Islam.

The author is a researcher and lecturer at the history department of the University of Stockholm, Sweden. She is currently conducting research on the concept of the West in postwar German debate.

                     

My View of the West: Gender, Religion, and Francis Bacon

Reeta Frosti

I have spent over ten years with Francis Bacon’s (1561–1626) thoughts of nature, science and human life. Bacon was an English philosopher, lawyer, politician and writer. In his last years he was also Lord Chancellor (1618–1621) and Viscount St Alban (1621–). Today, there are many who call him one of the fathers of modern science or the father of empiricism. Bacon’s ideas have certainly had an impact on the Western philosophical tradition.

My interest in Bacon and his philosophy has revolved around his use of language. In my master’s thesis (2007), I looked at what kind of metaphors Bacon used for nature and women. I analysed his ‘sexual metaphors’ and biblical citations. Later I became interested in Bacon’s idea of masculinity that I think is really behind his natural philosophy.

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Francis Bacon by Drebbel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In my PhD thesis, I examine how Bacon’s writings construct an example of early modern European masculinity, and how they link with Christianity. It seems to me that Bacon used the Bible as the foundation to construct his natural philosophy. The Book of Genesis in the Old Testament is of special important to Bacon. Moreover, Adam – the central figure of the Genesis – is also a central figure to Bacon. According to the Bible, Adam is the first human, and for Bacon and his contemporaries, the first philosopher as well as the model of human and the ‘imago Dei’ (image of God).

It is not only Adam but also the whole history of the creation in the Book of Genesis that is crucial to Bacon’s thought. However, there is one exception: Bacon never mentions Eve when he talks about the creation. Is this a sign of the one-sex model which was still in use in Bacon’s time? Or is it merely a sign of Bacon’s misogynistic thinking? After so many studies written about Bacon’s natural philosophy, there are still many questions to ask.

The author is a PhD student of Theology and Religious Studies at University of Helsinki, Finland.

My View of the West is a series of short posts by members of The West Network about their research or perspectives of ‘the West’.