Epp Annus (Estonian Literary Museum): Modernity with a Smiley Face: Soviet modernity, Soviet coloniality

This presentation investigates the interconnected cluster of Soviet modernity and Soviet coloniality. Soviet discourses of modernity supported an effort to enforce value-systems that were progressive by the standards of its ideological system. The geopolitical perspective helps to outline the particularity of a colonial orientation: one part of colonialism is the effort to "civilize" a different culture in a different geographical area, which comes with privileges awarded to the "civilizing" nationality, while those local traditions that might hamper the exercise of colonial rule are discounted. I describe a Soviet modernity that is both an imperial and subaltern modernity, and I articulate the entangled relationship between Soviet and Western modernities.

The second part of the presentation focuses on the functioning of modernity from the specific perspective of national discourses in a colonial situation. From the perspective of the Baltic nations, the Soviet annexation of formerly independent nation-states in 1940 and again in 1944 after the German occupation brought with it a rupture in political and socio-cultural developments. In Estonia and in Latvia, a massive influx of predominantly Russian settlers resulted in dramatic demographic changes. These changes generated a double dialectics of negation in national imaginaries, as first, the colonial split initiated a discourse of national nostalgia in which the past was remembered as beautiful since it was unattainable, and, second, the nostalgic lens further intensified the colonial conflict, as the contrast between the imaginary beauty of the past and the horror of the Stalinist era made the latter seem especially horrible. The colonial split separated the recent past into an imaginary sphere of authentic existence, something now violently displaced by the establishment of the new social order.

Colonial supervision by the central regime fluctuated from intensely oppressive to almost non-existent; it sometimes merged and sometimes clashed with different national discourses, thus initiating complex entangled ideological networks and complicated power struggles.


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