Indigenous Turn and Environmentalism in the last decades of the USSR: Rethinking Colonial Amnesia

Linda Kaljundi (Estonian Academy of Arts / Fulbright Visting Professor at MIT Programme for Science, Technology, and Society)

The 1970s and 1980s witnessed a boom of interest in indigenous peoples living in the territories of the erstwhile Russian Empire and the Soviet Union. This rediscovery of the indigenous took various forms ranging from expeditions and (artistic) research to various forms of cultural representation. In analyzing the practices and works of late Soviet Estonian writers, filmmakers, artists, conservationists, etc., I will focus on two sets of questions. On the one hand, why did they take such a serious, scientific interest in the indigenous people, and why did their works have such a great appeal to a wider audience? On the other hand, what was left unsaid? How much did these more privileged authors reflect on the environmental problems faced by indigenous communities? How did their projects relate to the legacies of Russian colonial expansion? Today, when the invisibility of Russian colonial history has become particularly acute, the borderlands of the former empire offer perspectives for thinking through the roots of this colonial amnesia as well as the strategies of unlearning.


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