2006 White Russian Black Russian:
Race and Ethnicity in Russian Cinema
What is race? What is ethnicity? How was that line drawn differently under the 74 years of socialism and what are its consequences for present-day Russia
The impulse for this year's symposium, White Russian—Black Russian: Race and Ethnicity in Russian Cinema, is the explosion of racial and ethnic conflict in the Russian Federation since the Soviet collapse in 1991. Western media have so far concentrated on three aspects of this violence: the second Chechen war in the Caucasus; skinhead attacks on foreign tourists in St. Petersburg; and the growth of anti-Semitism, especially in Moscow. The violence, however, is much more extensive and pervasive, extending to the murders of foreign students from South America in Voronezh and Rostov; the arson in the Moscow dormitory for African students; the constant "document checks" of swarthy people conducted by the police in all Russian cities; the campaign by the mass media in Russia (now firmly back under state control) to characterize all Chechens as terrorists, etc. As much as the first post-Soviet decade can be characterized as a war by organized crime against emerging civil society, this second decade is marked by the state's (both open and concealed) war against ethnic and racial minorities.
Not surprisingly, these conflicts have dominated Russian cultural production as well. Earlier symposia, such as Arrogance & Envy (2003), examined narrative and visual conflict in the cinematic strategies of Russo-Soviet cultural producers (from Stalin's era through Putin's), vilifying Americans as the enemy, as "the other-out-there." This practice, however, was always accompanied by the vilification of "the other-in-here," although the identity of this internal "other" shifted at historical moments: nobility and bourgeoisie (under Lenin); kulaks, NEP-men, saboteurs, "enemies of the people," and suspect ethnic minorities (under Stalin); closet "Stalinists," usually Georgians (under Khrushchev); Chechens (under El'tsin and Putin).
With the exception of the conditions of the Civil War (1918-21), the "other-in-here" has been marked as non-Russian—whether the non-Russian who is nationalist (Ukrainian, Transcaucasian, Balt, Central Asian, etc.) or the non-Russian who is biologically inferior (Gypsies, Ingush, Chukcha, Dagestanis, Kalmyks, Chechens, etc.). Indeed, many of these groups are often referred to casually as "chernye zhopy" in Russian everyday speech, an obscene term best translated into Victorian English as "black behinds," analogous to the infamous "n-word" in English.
White Russian—Black Russian: Race and Ethnicity in Russian Cinema examines this phenomenon in two fora: public screenings at the Melwood Screening Room of Pittsburgh Filmmakers, accompanied by brief introductions and public discussion; and a scholarly component at the University of Pittsburgh, consisting of research presentations, screenings, and debate. This year's films will provide a survey of representational strategies in depicting ethnic and racial minorities in Soviet and Russian cinema, from the silent era—Vsevolod Pudivkin's Heir ofGhengis Khan(1928)—through the Stalinist years—Aleksandr Zarkhi's and Iosif Kheifits'My Motherland (1933), Mikhail Dubson'sThe Border (1935), GrigoriiAleksandrov's Circus (1936), andVladimir Korsh-Sablin's Seekers of Happiness (1936)—the Stagnation era and perestroika—Edmond Keosaian's The Elusive Avengers(1966), Emil' Lotianu's The Gypsy Camp Rolls into the Sky (1976), Aleksandr Mitta'sThe Tale of How Tsar Peter Married off his Negro (1976), Aleksandr Askol'dov's Commissar (1967; released 1987), Nikita Mikhalkov'sClose to Eden (1991)—to the present—Aleksei Balabanov's Dead Man's Bluff (2005), Pavel Lungin's Roots (2005), and Larisa Sadilova'sNeeding a Nanny (2005).