At the Edge of the Nation: The Southern Kurils and the Search for Russia’s National Identity

Lecture | April 12 | 4-6 p.m. | 270 Stephens Hall

 Paul Richardson, Lecturer, School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham

 Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies (ISEEES), Center for Japanese Studies (CJS)

This paper takes up the issue of the remote and beguiling Southern Kuril Islands in order to explore divergent and contradictory ideas, convictions, and beliefs on what constitutes “national” identity in post-Soviet Russia. These islands – which are administered by Russia but claimed by Japan – present us with unique insights into the ways in which competing territorial visions of the nation are articulated, refracted, inverted, and remade in a myriad of different ways, at a variety of geographical scales.

With the end of the Soviet Union, these islands became a site of critical importance for various coalitions of political and intellectual elites in Moscow, who became locked in a bitter struggle to define a new Russia, in a new world. At the same time, under conditions of extreme socio-economic hardship, and the sudden absence of a functioning state, radically different understandings of identity emerged amongst the islanders themselves, who came to privilege the idea of an alternate future, which was not necessarily within the Russian state. On this “hyper-border,” a community moved in certain ways beyond state-space, and this study attempts to capture the instrumental nature of identity at the extreme edge of the nation.