Literature and Power in the Post-Soviet Space

Project coordinaton: Dr. Nina Frieß

To this day, the former capital Almaty is the literary centre of Kazakhstan. © Dagmar Schreiber.

In her project, Nina Frieß – a scholar of Slavic literatures and cultures – is investigating the role of Russian and Russophone literature in the contemporary post-Soviet space. She starts from the premise that relevant discourses in society continue to be reflected in its literature. The question of which function these literatures perform today is of particular interest, bearing in mind that literature has lost its status as a key form of societal communication – a role which, it is hypothesised, would allow it, particularly in non-democratic regimes, certain freedoms which are absent in film, TV and, increasingly, the Internet.

Taking three countries – Kazakhstan, Latvia and Belarus – as examples, the project begins by taking stock. What literature exists? Who is writing? What are the circulation figures? This is followed by an analysis of the topics and functions of selected texts, based on more detailed study of their content and social dimension. The first of these processes is performed using text analysis; the second involves a study of the discourses around the texts and, for better categorisation, interviews with experts and writers. As there is very little research on Kazakhstan’s Russophone literature, in contrast to Latvia and Belarus, Nina Frieß’s project currently focuses on this Central Asian country.

Looking at the extant literary and cultural research on post-Soviet literatures, it is striking that it focuses primarily on developments in Russia. This Russia-centrism can be seen both in the theoretical discourses (e.g. on the topic of post-colonialism) and in the literature itself. Russian or Russophone literature produced outside Russia since the demise of the Soviet Union is rarely studied. By exploring this under-researched area, the project attempts to close this gap. As her own research can merely make a contribution to this process, Nina Frieß attaches great importance to international networking with other scholars working in this field.