Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2018, no. 14



Albert Baiburin
European University at St Petersburg
6/1A Gagarinskaya Str., St Petersburg, Russia
Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera), Russian Academy of Sciences
3 Universitetskaya Emb., St Petersburg, Russia

Catriona Kelly
New College, University of Oxford
Holywell Str., OX1 3BN, Oxford, UK

Abstract: This article introduces materials from a conference held at the European University, St Petersburg, in 2016, ‘Period of Stagnation? The Brezhnev Era 35 Years On’. In all of the disciplines represented at the conference (literary and cultural history, sociology, film studies, anthropology), there has been a significant re-evaluation of this historical period in recent years. Rather than ‘stagnation’, it is now understood as characterised by dynamism and by diverse and in many ways contradictory developments. Anthropology has been a relatively late arrival to the scene compared with history, sociology, and political science, but has an important vantage point in terms of the interpretation of many specific features of the culture of the 1960s — early 80s.

One such specific feature was the proliferation of civic initiatives, including the ‘pathfinder’ (sledopyty) movement, local history and ‘local studies’ (kraevedenie), the veterans’ movements and so on. While subject to a significant level of state control, they also gave at least limited autonomy to rank-and-file members. In the case of the ‘pathfinders’, local activists received delegated authority for the shaping of memories of the War from the state, but, as Ekaterina Melnikova shows, over time, their contribution to the memory project moved a significant distance from the norms posited in government instructions.

The activisation of grassroots movements was combined at this period with increasing interest in the principles of market economics, despite their dissonance with the prevailing ideals of Soviet culture as radically distinctive from that of ‘capitalist countries’ (kapstrany). As Sergei Alymov’s article shows, this hiatus calls into question the conventional understanding of marketisation in the early 1990s as a profound departure from late Soviet ideology and practice.

If Alymov’s article is concerned with conflicts within official ideology, and Melnikova’s with the adjustment of top-down instructions in civic organisations, Alfrid Bustanov’s discussion highlights the efforts of individual community groups and subcultures to accommodate official ideology, showing how translators and interpreters of the Qur’an tried to prove that the moral guidance in the text was not anti-Communist and to demonstrate that Islam was compatible with the findings of ‘progressive science’.

The unifying motif of all the articles is their focus on the perception by different strata of Soviet society of their place in the political and social culture of their time and their analysis of views of official politics and ideology at a broad social level.

Keywords: Brezhnev era, grassroots movements, ideology, market economics, religious communities, Soviet society, state control.

To cite: Baiburin A., Kelly C., ‘The Brezhnev Era in Anthropological Retrospective’, Forum for Anthropology and Culture, 2018, no. 14, pp. 99–106.

doi: 10.31250/1815-8927-2018-14-14-99-106

URL: http://anthropologie.kunstkamera.ru/files/pdf/eng014/baiburin_kelly.pdf