Kobylin I. I., Nikolai F. V. Soviet-style Orientalism: Combatant’s Memories about Afghanistan War (.pdf)


The article is based on the diaries and semi-formalized interviews of Russian participants of the Afghanistan war of 1979-1989. Two modalities of their attitudes towards local realities are considered. On the one hand, the locals are described as the representatives of the "backward" eastern country, left in the Middle Ages. On the other hand, such "orientalisation" does not hamper a whole network of pragmatic interactions and (semi)capitalist exchange between Afghans and "shuravi". Sometimes, this "business" even causes the effect of "self-orientalisation" of internationalist soldiers who described themselves as "savages" affected by the consumer abundance of Afghan "ducans". As a result, the "self" / "alien" opposition, on the one hand, is proclaimed to be the basis for self-identification of veterans. On the other hand, it proves to be quite mobile and situational, generating numerous paradoxes. The practices of “from the bottom-up” collective survival further complicate this picture. In the everyday reality of military life, the "backward" Afghan Other splits into "useful" and "useless" Other. The first is largely "humanized" and described using an "internationalist" dictionary. Orientalist clichés are preserved here, but the notorious "Eastern specificity" begins to play the role not of the stigma of "savagery", but rather of an aesthetically interesting "ornament". The "useless" Other remains shrouded in a dense veil of orientalist formulas. All these modalities and symbolic meanings do not fit well together, forming zones of some tension - this "hybrid" identity is constantly being revised. In this context, the main task of oral history and war anthropology is to clarify the mechanisms and functions of such an "assemblage".


Key words: oral history, veterans of local conflicts, orientalism, hybrid identities, narratives, practices of commemoration.


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