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Passau in the online Encyclopedia Britannica

This month the Future of Russian core team and its active partners crossed borders in more than one respect. From February 3 to 6 they gathered, together with eight invitees, in Germany for the third Future of Russian conference. “The Russian Internet in a Global Context,” as F3 was called, was a truly transnational endeavor: presenters scrutinized new-media developments in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, but also Kazakhstan, the US, and Scandinavia. They did so at the more than aptly located city of Passau. This lovely town lies so close to the Czech and Austrian borders that even mobile phone providers were at a loss: should they welcome their traveling owners to Germany or to Austria? Read the rest of this entry »


In 2010, the Future of Russian project will welcome a younger sibling: yours truly received HERA funding for a three-year project on memory debates in Russian and Ukrainian new media. The project is part of a larger project, led by Dr Alexander Etkind from the U of Cambridge, which will focus on the ongoing “memory war” between Russia, Ukraine, and Poland. Memory at War – as the project is called – explores how, in these countries, political conflicts take the shape of heated debates about the recent past, and especially World War II and Soviet socialism.

As you may understand from the above, the project at large does not focus on new media per se. It is a trans-institutional endeavor in which the Universities of Cambridge, Helsinki, Tartu, Groningen, and Bergen cooperate to scrutinize Eastern Europe’s memory wars from varying angles. The Bergen team focuses on its outlines in new media – and in social media in particular.

In Russian and Ukrainian blogging communities, and in social media such as vkontakte or odnoklassniki, the recent past is as alive and kicking as if it never ended. How, in these media, do new technologies alter public and private commemorative discourse, in other words, the language of memory? That question is central to the Bergen project, titled Web Wars: Digital Diasporas and the Language of Memory. Web Wars will be coordinated by me, but executed by a parttime postdoctoral research assistant. We plan to recruit that assistant next Spring, so spread the word if you know anyone who might be interested in the job. Activities include the organization of an international conference and the production of a documentary film with Dutch filmmaker Maartje Gerretsen.

The findings of the Future of Russian team will naturally be pivotal to this new digital-media project – but possibly the information flow will work the other way as well: after all, Web Wars has language culture as a focus, too.

The structure, taxonomy, function, and significance of social networks on the Russian Internet: that is the topic of the issue 2 of Digital Icons: Studies in Russian, Eurasian and Central European New MediaDigital Icons, previously The Russian Cyberspace Journal, recently changed its name to reflect a widened geographic scope and an increasingly complex media orientation.
Digital Icons it is, then. Titled “From Comrades to Classmates: Social Networks on the Russian Internet,” issue 2 was launched this week and is fully accessible online. A tip of the veil: the contributors consider the role of social media in contemporary Russia, with a special eye for the paradoxical stereotypes of Russian society — as collectivistic on the one hand, and amorphous and apathetic on the other. They determine, too, the role of social networks in maintaining Russia’s regional integrity by binding together the widely dispersed Russian-speaking diaspora. They do so in statistically (Alexanyan) and psychoanalytically (Mikheeva) oriented analyses of the Russian blogosphere, in articles on political and ethnographic identity-building on RuNet (MacLeodSuleymanovaKatsbert), on online Russian libraries (Mjor), and in explorations of the specifities of Russian as opposed to global social networks (Golynko-Volfson).
Together with three reviews of recent RuNet-related publications, the articles make for a lavish discussion of Russian social media. Enjoy.