The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia

In This Review

The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War, and Loss in Russia
By Serguei Alex. Oushakine
Cornell University Press, 2009
304 pp. $75.00
Purchase

Clichés that attempt to capture the turbulent sentiments of Russians battered by the collapse of the Soviet Union abound. Oushakine, an anthropologist, avoids these, paradoxically, by taking the obvious -- a sense of loss, a hunger for stability, a testy national pride -- and plumbing it. Drawing on return visits to Barnaul, his boyhood city, near the Chinese and Kazakh borders, he paints a profound psychological tableau of coping. His groupings are diverse: disgruntled leftists, whom he labels "neocoms"; Chechen war veterans; and the mothers of dead soldiers. All, however, find meaning and community in narratives of tragedy fashioned from a "language of trauma," which has created a "patriotism of despair." From Oushakine's keen reading, one gets a sense of how, for a still wider circle of Russians, collapse and disorder led to alienation from the Western values that Russian reformers had tried to sell them, which then for some shaded into anti-Semitism and a crude nationalism.