PATRYCJA ROZWORA KITCHEN CONVERSATIONS
Kajet 04 author Patrycja Rozwora has launched a podcast series that aims to open up the mysterious and vague Eastern Bloc to a broader audience. Each episode is devoted to one artist/researcher exploring their relation, interest, and urgency to create within the framework of the post-Soviet sphere.
“For us, the kitchen is not just where we cook, it’s a dining room, a guest room, an office, a soapbox. A space for group therapy sessions […] It’s where ideas were whipped up from scratch, fantastical projects concocted.”
Svetlana Alexievich, Secondhand Time—The Last of the Soviets
After spending the past seven years in two Western art institutions, it struck me that the enormous post-Soviet sphere—including the former Soviet Republic and its Satellite States—is rarely discussed in the substantial discourse of postcolonial studies (and in fact any other discourse whatsoever).
It is only after discovering the magnificent work of an Estonian scholar named Epp Annus that I began conceptualising the Soviet rule through a postcolonial lens. The task wasn’t easy. I was afraid that my research doesn’t exactly fit into the established category of postcolonial thought. I was missing the vocabulary in which to operate. I was lacking material to research.
Throughout my studies I constantly wondered: why is the Soviet sphere never addressed? According to Annus,
the question must be addressed from three angles: first from the perspective of the postcolonial critique of Western empires; second, from the perspective of Russia as the former subordinating power in the Soviet Union; third, from the perspective of subordinated national and ethnic groups in the Soviet Union.
Starting from the sixties, the anti-colonial rhetoric among intellectuals like F. Fanon and J.P. Sartre could not reliably be used for a critical model of the Soviet oppression. The discourses of colonialism revealed the dark side of the civilised West. Russia and its colonies were never treated Western enough to fit that rhetoric. What’s more, post-war Marxists thinkers understood colonialism on the axis of capitalism, therefore automatically excluding the Soviet sphere.
Postcolonial studies arose from scholars working in the West focusing on Western colonies, therefore flourishing in departments of English. However, studies of the Soviet sphere remained exclusively part of Sovietology and, later, Slavic and Eastern European studies.
To enter a process of change, the oppressor has to acknowledge the harm done and rejects the coloniser’s value system. Today, the post-Soviet Russia, instead of critically looking at its national past, nostalgically glorifies the imperial past.
The former colonised nationalities and ethnic groups, Eurasia, Central and East Europe, do not come together in a coherent whole. The development of postcolonial discourses done within the local borders is confined within the limits of small national languages never reaching the international readership.
Furthermore, the European nations under former Soviet rule are reluctant to compare themselves with African and Asian colonized cultures. The feeling of superiority and culturally inscribed racism and the will to belong to the “civilised” part of the word, stops us from opening the Soviet experience as a local phenomenon towards wider processes of dominations and resistance in the world.
In her extensive work on the Russian/Soviet Empire, Madina Tlostanova draws our attention to how the tsarist colonialization in Asia was based on imitating the Western European colonisers. She writes: “Although in the Western world it is [colonialism] closely linked to and starts from capitalism, in the case of Russia coloniality of power is borrowed in secular modernity as an already established and naturalised ideological and cognitive system, with racism at its core, which has never been properly conceptualised by the Russian minds.” Tlostanova as well as Annus argue that in order to fully conceptualise Soviet colonialism we need to see it as a continuation of the tsarist mode of colonialization.
In my recent study years in Amsterdam, I have learned about the ways in which Marxist communism can offer an alternative reality to the capitalist world we live it. The utopian idea, no matter how beautiful it sounds, was lacking its inherent history. How can we discuss revolutionary Marxism without mentioning the Soviet regime and all the people it left behind?
My podcast series Kitchen Conversations aims to open up the ‘mysterious’ and ‘vague’ Eastern Bloc to a broader, international audience. Each episode is devoted to one artist/researcher exploring their relation, interest, and urgency to create within the framework of the post-Soviet sphere. I take after Madina Tlostanova that we should delink from the losing battle and from the logic of ‘catching up’ in the sphere of knowledge production. This podcast looks at how we can be aware of other models (especially non-Western ones)—but instead of replicating them, create new models accurately fitting the specificity of our current conditions.
Listen on Spotify
Read more about Patrycja on her web page
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Read Patrycja’s contribution to the latest issue of Kajet here.