The Art of Nation-Building: National Culture and Soviet Politics in Stalin-Era Azerbaijan and Other Minority Republics
Kaplan, Isabelle R
This dissertation investigates the role of national cultural production and consumption in Soviet nation-building, focusing on Stalin-era Moscow’s promotion of cultural interaction among Soviet ethnic groups as a strategy to build individual national identities and a unified Soviet multinational identity simultaneously. Through a case study of Azerbaijan, I trace the emergence in the 1930s of formal sites of national self-expression and cross-cultural exchange such as dekada festivals of national art in Moscow and all-Union celebrations of national poets, arguing that these activities provided the presenting group a valuable opportunity for national self-definition and affirmation. At the same time, the state-mandated sharing of one nation’s art with the all-Union audience was part of a Soviet agenda to demonstrate the universally accessible essence of all culture and to narrow cultural difference through cross-cultural familiarization. More concretely, these events were a means of generating a Soviet multiethnic artistic canon to be disseminated as the heritage of all Soviet people, binding them together through a common cultural identity.These cultural celebrations depended on a purposeful and mutually reinforcing entwinement of the national and international that I identify as characteristic of the Soviet approach to nation-building. This interconnection is also informed by Russia’s nineteenth-century experience of developing its own national cultural identity, which emphasized foreign (chiefly European) acknowledgment of Russian artistic output. The imposition of a Russian-derived model of national cultural development on non-Russian Soviet groups wrought profound change in native cultural production, but the required adaptations could be exploited by clever entrepreneurs of national culture to pursue their own nation-building agendas. Using the example of Azerbaijan, I show how narrowness of vision and cultural knowledge in the center created opportunity for a minority nation to accumulate cultural capital, claim a place in the cultural avant-garde, and raise its cultural profile internationally.By tracing cultural themes across the revolutionary divide and identifying through-lines in Bolshevik nationalities policy from the 1910s to the 1940s, this study challenges previously asserted periodizations and contributes to our understanding of the cultural history of Azerbaijan, Russia, and the Soviet Union as well as to the general scholarship on nation-building.
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