Special Edition: Looking East
Reaching from the Baltic to the Pacific, Russia has never narrowed her influence to only one region. Historians, diplomats, and Russophiles alike have often remarked onRussia’s ‘Eurasian’ character which refuses to clearly belong to a single continent or cultural framework. And yet the historical leaders whom Russian society most reveres have frequently paid special attention to Europe and made their name in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). Peter the Great is said to have opened Russia’s ‘window to Europe’ through the founding of St. Petersburg and by importing European customs to the Russian Empire. Catherine the Great is remembered for expanding upon Peter’s legacy, cementing the Russian Empire as a major European player both geographically and culturally. Whilst Russia’s historical leaders often looked west, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe looked east: often with concern, at times with ambition and hope, but in recent decades - primarily with fear and suspicion.
The legacy of the Empire and the USSR casts a long shadow over the relationship between Russia and Central and Eastern Europe. Russia's historical influence in the CEE has fostered considerable cultural crossover but also deep mistrust, leaving the CEE states to grapple with balancing their historical ties with aspirations for sovereignty and independence. Recent geopolitical developments have further fuelled uncertainties, as Central and Eastern European nations seek to assert their autonomy within a broader European context while navigating the pressures and interests emanating from Russia. As these countries chart their paths forward, the intricate dance between historical legacy, present-day ambitions, and external pressures continues to define the region’s relationship with Russia. Among CEE states, the approach has notbeen uniform: some states have drawn closer to Moscow, while others sharply turn and face the West. Escaping Russia’s orbit has often been a bloody and brutal process – asthe ongoing invasion of Ukraine attests to. Alongside evolving political allegiances, CEE relations with Russia are also being reassessed in the arts, trade, and history. With this in mind, our authors in this issue hope to tackle how the CEE states understand their future relationship with Russia, and – by extension – how the region is to make sense of their shared past. Several of our writers explore how the identities of the CEE states have developed both parallel to and in contrast with Russia. Jack Leydiker provides a historical analysis of the divergence of Russian and Ukrainian cultures both in recent history and stretching back centuries. Chloe Henshaw takes a more contemporary approach, examining the depiction of Belarusian identity and the threat of being subsumed into the Russian cultural sphere.
How the Russian language (both propaganda and literature) is interpreted in Central and Eastern Europe is also explored by our authors. Helena Stolnik Trenkić approaches the contorted legalistic language behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the parallels to Yugoslavia, drawing on her own family history as she examines the discourse around great power interventions and self- determination. Fiona Zeka turns instead to the language of Russian literature and delves into the words of Vladimir Nabokov to draw insight into the politics of bilingualism and translation in Kosovo.
Within the artistic sphere, our special edition evaluates the outlook of music and theatre in Russia, in the context of the war in Ukraine. Eleanor Seed analyses a visual case study of the deployment of camp aesthetics in contemporary Russia as a potential tool to combat an oppressive regime and society. Philip Al-Taiee explores the future of Russian opera conductors and their tense relationship with the war – drawing a historical parallel with the conductors of the Third Reich. Two entries assess how Russia’s experiences in the CEE have shaped the current invasion of Ukraine. Justas Kazlauskas illustrates the political and psychological effect of NATO’s intervention in Yugoslavia on Russia, and its role in propaganda today. My own article analyses how Russia’s war in Ukraine has been shaped by previous military reforms and what lessons the Russian armed forces learned in Georgia and Ukraine.
Our Special Edition ‘Looking East’ has been conceived as a platform for delving into these multifaceted interactions between Russia and the countries nestled within the heart of Europe. Our mission is to provide an insightful and balanced perspective that transcends mere headlines, fostering a deeper understanding of the historical, political, economic, and cultural ties that, for better or worse, connect these regions together, leading to periods of sustained cooperation as well as deep contention. The relationship between Russia and Central and Eastern Europe is not without its controversies, and ‘Looking East’ does not intend to shy away from these difficult issues.
This Special Edition is the result of the dedication of our incredible editorial team and the terrific work of our authors. We are grateful to all those who helped make this edition possible, as well as to our readers.
Turner Ruggi (Special Edition Managing Editor)
What's in the issue?