Location: Bowdoin / Gender and Women's Studies / Redefining the Common Good After Communism / Abstracts / Olga Shevchenko

Gender and Women's Studies

Olga Shevchenko

Olga Shevchenko, Williams College
 
"The state owes me nothing, and I owe nothing to the state": the lived experience of postsocialism and neoliberal rhetoric in Russia.
 
Ever since the collapse of socialism in Russia and Eastern Europe in 1989-1991, the most frequent criticism of the post-socialist political
subjects, both from within and from without, has been of their supposedly entrenched paternalism. Barely reconstructed Homo Sovieticus, so the
criticism went, was all-too ready to entrust the state with solutions to all of the major social problems, all the while having no aptitude or desire to take the responsibility for one¹s own life. Drawing on almost a decade-long ethnographic fieldwork in several Russian cities and towns, this paper suggests that this criticism is inaccuarte on several planes. First of all, even in the last decades of socialism, paternalistic rhetoric went hand in hand not only with frequent cases of de-facto self-reliance, but also with the tendency to assign value to examples of independence and freedom from state intervention. Second, and more importantly, the cultural shifts that occurred after the fall of socialism further contributed to the attractions of autonomy and personal independence as the new ideology of citizenship. The logic of post-Soviet autonomy had little in common with the intellectual tradition of (neo)liberalism; its roots were both more local and more pragmatic. Yet it had the unintended consequence of making many neoliberal reforms subjectively more palatable by equating competence and safety with distance ­ almost autarky ­ from the Russian stat