• Founded
  • Seminar Number

The major areas of concern for this seminar are the history, literature, and arts of the Slavic peoples. These topics are taken broadly enough to include such subjects as economic development and religious and philosophic thought. Since 1987, the seminar has proceeded beyond its previous focus on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to include the twentieth century.

Professor Catherine Evtuhov

Professor Mark Lipovetsky

Tomi Haxhi

Meeting dates and locations are subject to change. Please confirm details with the seminar rapporteur.

Meeting Schedule

10/04/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Specters of the Future: Space and Time in Post-Soviet Cinema
Daria Ezerova, Columbia University


Joan Didion writes that the Hoover Dam, that immense engineering project of 1930s America, “derives some of its emotional effect from precisely […] that sense of being a monument to a faith since misplaced.” “The place,” she continues, “is perfectly frozen in time.” Endowed with a sense of time that cannot easily be erased, space gives enduring form to projects that never materialized, to futures long since past.

Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, time has hardly stood still in Russia; rather, it has seemed to speed up, with the new replacing the old in an ever outward spread. And yet, within this postmodern flux, the mind still catches upon the material traces of the past. Like a radio signal from a deserted station, the Soviet ideal of progress towards a utopian “bright future” (svetloe buduschee) still emanates from the monuments of the metropolis, the industrial parks, and the struggling peripheries. Like the proverbial specter of communism, that future haunts the spaces of post-Soviet Russia.

My presentation will focus on the ways Russian cinema appropriates Soviet spatial representations, formerly tasked with foretelling endless progress, to articulate anxieties about the future after the end of communism. Keeping a keen eye on the transition to capitalism in the 1990s and the rise of authoritarian populism in the 2000s, I will demonstrate how spatial expression of the idea of progress reveals cultural and political complexities obscured by the umbrella category of the “post-Soviet.” In presenting a long-range crisis in thinking about the future as one of the key determinants of the post-Communist experience, the presentation will speak to broader questions of how pollical regimes shape our perception of space, time, and the subjective experience of history.

11/01/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
A Fishing Expedition in Sochi: Soviet Writers and Their Readers in Late Soviet Anti-Corruption Campaigns
Rhiannon Dowling, Columbia University


The Krasnodar (Medunov) affair was a corruption scandal that reached from Moscow to the Caucuses and shocked many by exposing high-level bribery, money laundering, and misappropriation of state fish. This case is typically discussed as an example of the elite political intrigues provoked by the ailing Brezhnev’s lack of a clear successor. The state (in the form of the KGB) selectively prosecuted the enemies of its highest agents while turning a blind eye to the rampant corruption in the ranks of officials from top to bottom. Except in this case, the state did not act alone, but was assisted by workers from Krasnodar who, fed up with their local officials and bosses, exposed the corruption schemes (with documentation) to journalists and writers.

This talk offers a look into the grassroots efforts that lay underneath the anti-corruption campaigns of the 1980s, and ultimately prepared citizens to demand reform during perestroika, arguing that popular engagement with Soviet literature and film genres created by the state as part of the War on Crime in the 1960s gave ordinary people the language and the connections to wage these battles.

11/21/2019 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Poetry and Performance: The Eastern European Perspective
Tomáš Glanc, University of Zurich (Switzerland)

Sabine Hänsgen, University of Zurich (Switzerland)


Since the second half of the twentieth century, poets and artists in Eastern Europe have taken up the challenge of reflecting on and investigating the instrumentalization of language for communicative and political-ideological purposes. Alongside historical examples from subcultures in socialist states, we will discuss contemporary positions that continue the legacy of combining poetry and performance, showing the efforts of poets and artists, then and now, to break free from controlled language and normative communication.

“Poetry & Performance: The Eastern European Perspective” is both the subject of our research and at the same time the title of a series of exhibitions we have organized at different locations in various European countries. In our talk, we will present text scores, interactive objects, sound and video recordings, as well as films and performance documentation.

Our comparative approach focuses on several thematic groups:

Writing-Reading Performance in Moscow and Slovak conceptualism;
Audio Gestures in Czech experimental radio broadcasting and the Latvian artistic collectives NSRD (Workshop for the Restoration of Unfelt Feelings) and Orbita;
Interventions in Public Space – Ewa Partum, Akademia Ruchu, and Orange Alternative (in Poland) and Laboratory of Poetic Actionism (in Russia);
Cinematographic Poetry – East German Super-8 subculture, film experiments by the Slovenian OHO group;
Body Poetry – Katalin Ladik (Serbia/Hungary), Raša Todosijević (Serbia), Jiří Valoch (Czech Republic), Gabriele Stötzer (Germany);
Language Games – Vlado Martek, Mladen Stilinović: Group of Six Authors (Croatia) and Babi Badalov (Azerbaijan/France).

02/14/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Faces of Piatiletka, Portraits of Things, and Flowerbeds of Ethnicities: Training Mental Eyes of Young Soviet Spectators
Serguei Oushakine, Princeton University


In 1928, Gleb Krizhizhanovsky, the head of the Soviet Planning Agency presented a speech for an unusual crowd in Moscow – a group of young pioneers who came to the capital for their first National Conference. In his speech, the Bolshevik explained the situation in the country: “We have divided our whole country into economic regions, and now we are carefully exploring how the faces (litso) of these regions might look.” Of course, the “faces” that he referred to should not be taken literally. He was primarily concerned with the differentiation of economic profiles of Soviet provinces. Their distinctiveness was supposed to result in a more precise division of labor and, correspondingly, in a stronger cooperation and mutual dependency of the Soviet Union’s regions.

Yet, I find his choice of the facial metaphor rather symptomatic. In a peculiar way, the emphasis on faciality in Krzhizhanovskii’s speech exposes the early Soviet obsession with the visual dimension of economic development. Economic status in general and the labor process in particular had to be translated into graspable – and, preferably, anthropomorphic – visual forms. Using illustrated children’s books, the talk will explore how precisely these faces of regions, industries, and classes looked in the late 1920s-early 1930s.

03/06/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Faces of Russia’s Empire: Early 18th Ethnographic Drawings and Oils in Stockholm
Nathaniel Knight, Seton Hall University

Edward Kasinec, Stanford University and Columbia University


Visual images depicting the inhabitants of the Russian Empire in the first half of the 18th century are few and far between. A large collection of unpublished and largely unknown images showing the costumes, dwellings, occupations and everyday life of various peoples throughout the Empire dating from no later than the 1740s is therefore a significant discovery. The collection in question is housed in the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm and is associated with the name of Friedrich Wilhelm Bergholz, one time tutor to the Grand Duke Petr Fedorovich, the future Peter III. In this presentation, Edward Kasinec and Nathaniel Knight will describe the collection, recount what can be surmised about its origin, and consider its broader significance.

04/03/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
meeting cancelled

04/27/2020 Faculty House, Columbia University
6:00 PM
Title TBD
Alexei Kraikovsky, European University of St. Petersburg