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Old 02-25-2010, 01:47 AM   #1
I of Macedon
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Default Politics and the creation of "Slavic" history

From Kossinna to Bromley: Ethnogenesis in Slavic Archaeology, Florin Curta

N.S. Derzhavin (1877-1953), Professor at Petrograd, later at University of Leningrad, believed that the Slavs were native to the Balkans and that sources began to talk about them only after 500AD because it was only at that time that the Slavs revolted against Roman slavery. According to Derzhavin, “Slavs’ was just a name for the old population exploited by the Roman landowners, not an ethnic label. Because of their frequent riots, the Slavs ended up being depicted as barbarians in late Roman sources.

Derzhavins’s interpretation of early Slavic history was very popular in the early years of Soviet archeology, because he interpreted cultural and linguistic changes as the direct result of socio-economic shifts.

But a new interpretation was abruptly put forward in the late 1930’s. In 1937, Stalin published a booklet asking historians to write not simply history, but histories of the nations belonging to the USSR, of their interactions and relations to the outside world.

Stalin’s recommendations were expected to emphasize that the Slavs were natives to eastern Europe. This was meant to counter German claims linking the origins of the Goths to territories now under Soviet control.

At a meeting at the Academy of Sciences in September 1938 Alexander V. Mishulin put forward a controversial paper on early Byzantine sources concerning the early Slavs. Mishulin boldly spoke of the Slavic migration to the Balkans. In reply Derzhavin argued that the Slavs lived since time immemorial in the Balkans and that Mishulin had taken his early Byzantine sources at their face value, without understanding their true meaning. According to Derzhavin, Marr’s theory could better explain Mishulin’s evidence. During the 500s, the Slavs (i.e. the native inhabitants of the Balkans) had reached a level of development that, according to the laws of historical materialism, required their separation from the empire. Their struggle for independence was therefore depicted by Byzantine sources as a barbarian invasion, but this bias only indicated that the Slavs were viewed as a serious threat to the power of Roman landowners.

As the Soviet war propaganda was searching for means to mobilize soviet society against the Nazi agressor, the Slavic ethnogenesis, now the major, if not the only, research topic of Soviet archaeology and historiography, gradually turned into a symbol of national identity. While Marr’s teachings were abandened in favour of a culture-historical approach, the origin of the Slavs (i.e. Russians) were pushed even further into prehistory. Alexander Udal’tsov saw a continuous ethnic sequence running through history from the bearers of the Tripolye culture of the Neolithic, the Scythians, the Sarmatians, and the Antes, to the Modern Russians.

Soviet archaeologists unanimously embraced Niederle’s influential suggestion that the Slavic Urheimat was located along the Upper Dnieper river. However, as the Red Army was launching a massive offensive along the Vistula, reaching the heart of the Third Reich, Soviet scholars favoured the idea of an enormous Slavic homeland stretching from the Oka and the Volga to the Elbe and the Saale, and from the Aegean and the Black seas to the Baltic. Soviet archaeologists and historians now discovered that the ancestors of the Slavs were the Thracians and the Illyrians. Many accepted Derzhavin’s idea that the Slavs had lived in the Balkans since time immemorial. Others, more prone to reinterpreting history in light of recent Soviet conquests in Eastern Europe, argued that the Slavs came to the Balkans to assist the exploited masses in their struggle against Roman imperialism. The Slavs were now native to the Baltic republics (newly incorporated into the USSR)…

Pavel Dolukhanov begins his recent book on the early Slavs by observing that the succeeding generations of people who lived in the vast spaces of the Russian Plain could hardly be described as belonging to any ethnic entity; they had no common name, whether it was “Slavs” or anything else.

To contemporary eyes, the academic discourse about the Slavs in Eastern Europe appears as strikingly tied more to political than intellectual considerations. This may well be a consequence of the romanticized concept of ethnic identity, which is viewed as rooted in the ineffable, coercive powers of primordial attachments. But the archaeological authoritative discourse was also established on the basis of a specific concept of culture. This concept carried many assumptions, which were central to the nineteenth century classifications of human groups, in particular, an overriding concern that holism, homogeneity, and boundedness. In Soviet Russia, where the discipline of Slavic archaeology began as a propaganda response to Nazi ideology, archaeologists worked within a theoretical framework that would have been easily recognizable to Gustaf Kossinna. Like Kossinna, Soviet archaeologists were guided by the same fundamental principle: ‘sharply defined archaeological culture areas correspond unquestionably with the areas of particular peoples or tribes.’ In Eastern Europe, archaeological culture is still defined in monothetic terms on the basis of the presence or absence of a list of traits or types either derived from assemblages and typical sites, or intuitively considered the most appropriate attributes in the definition of culture. Archaeologists thus regard archaeological cultures as actors on the historical stage, playing the role individuals or groups have in documentary history. Plotted on maps, archaeological cultures become ethnic groups, ready to be used for legitimizing claims of modern nation states to territory and influence.
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Old 02-25-2010, 02:27 AM   #2
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thanks makedon for this wonderful post.
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Old 02-25-2010, 07:40 PM   #3
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Great read!
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