Pushkin: The Caucasus in Russian Literary Imagination (part II)

Pushkin’s Invention

There probably is no single work about Russian literature and the Caucasus that does not start with or feature Belinskii’s infamous pronouncement of Pushkin ‘inventing’ the Caucasus. Neither do I want to deny myself the pleasure of quoting it:

The grandiose image of the Caucasus with its bellicose inhabitant was recreated for the first time in Russian poetry – and only in Pushkin’s poem did the Russian public become acquainted for the first time with the Caucasus, known long before to Russia as an arena of war.[1]

Continue reading “Pushkin: The Caucasus in Russian Literary Imagination (part II)”

The Caucasus in Russian Literary Imagination: Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy (part I)

I have been away for a quite some time but now I am back, and so is the ‘The Caucasus Calling’. While away, I suddenly made a surprising shift from looking at contemporary proceedings to diving back into Russia and Caucasus’ nineteenth-century history. What interested me was the way the Caucasus was portrayed in Russian literature, and what place the land occupied in popular imagination. I focused on some best known narratives and was surprised to see how extensively the seemingly familiar narratives talk about things I thought they do not even mention. What was the general attitude to the Caucasus among nineteenth-century Russian public? How did people imagine this land, exotic and foreign yet ‘conquered’ (indeed?) by the empire? What is there in common between the Caucasus, tricksterdom and liminality? Let’s get straight to the point.

Geroi nashego vremeni title page Kavkazskii plennik title page Khadzhi-Murat oblozhka

I will attempt to give new narrative interpretations of the the three texts which largely define the tradition of imaginary Caucasus in Russian literature – Pushkin’s The Prisoner of the Caucasus, Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, and Tolstoy’s Khadzhi-Murat. All three texts have evoked a whole host of literary interpretations, which kept changing over time, and to a large degree, it was the political context these works were placed into that had caused so much interpretative controversy.

I will be looking at the shaping of the narrative of fictionally invented land called ‘the Caucasus’ in Russian cultural imagination, and the way the construction of this narrative is indicative of the gap between the actual political and the imaginary relationship of the Empire and its periphery. Continue reading “The Caucasus in Russian Literary Imagination: Pushkin, Lermontov and Tolstoy (part I)”

Book Review: Georgi M. Derluguian. Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in The Caucasus. A World-System Biography.


I am approaching the review of this book with a lot of excitement and thrill. First of all, this is by far my favorite book about the Caucasus. Second, it is one of the few (and spectacular) examples of applying world-system analysis to post-Soviet material, and perhaps, the first  work doing that for contemporary Caucasus.

I should be honest, I failed all my homeworks and everything else when I came across this book: I could not stop reading until I finished the last line with along with the first rays of morning sun throwing light upon my sleeplessly desolate room. It is an incredibly compelling narrative, and the book is as dynamic as an adventure novel – which, to some extent, it is.

Continue reading “Book Review: Georgi M. Derluguian. Bourdieu’s Secret Admirer in The Caucasus. A World-System Biography.”

Book Review: Michael Khodarkovsky. Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus

We all remember Lev Tolstoi’s ‘Khadzhi-Murat’: a tragic story of double loyalties, love, challenged by fidelity and vice versa. Perhaps that would be no exaggeration to say that every reader of ‘Khadzhi-Murat’ must have gone through the same torturing feeling of curiosity and puzzlement trying to uncover the real incentives for Khadhi-Murat’s actions, and understand what this mysterious character really cared about and longed for.
Miсhael Khodarkovsky’s ‘Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus’ gives one the opportunity to do so. Khodarkovsky’s absolutely compelling read focuses on a character very similar to that of Khadzhi-Murat. Semen Atarschikov, of Chechen/Kumyk and Cossack/Nogai descent, is a mysterious figure in the annals of Russia’s North Caucasus quest. Raised as a Chechen, Atarshikov was rooted both in Russian and Chechen cultures, and it was his knowledge of both languages as well as Arabic and Tatar (think of Khadzhi-Murat again) that brought him quick promotion in the Russian army which he joined at the age of sixteen, in 1823 to serve as an interpreter. We come across Atarschikov’s portrait in v.5 of Vasilij Potto’s ‘Kavkazskaia voina: Vremia Paskevicha, ili Bunt Chechni’: Continue reading “Book Review: Michael Khodarkovsky. Bitter Choices: Loyalty and Betrayal in the Russian Conquest of the North Caucasus”

Web resources on the North Caucasus

For today, a few links to interesting websites related to North Caucasus.

To begin with, a collection of photos from Dagestan, dated 1933. Don’t miss – those are very exciting!


‘Caucasus United’: an e-library holding books, movies, and photographs from various parts of North Caucasus, from Karachayevo-Cherkessiya to Dagestan. Library per se it’s the website’s richest resource: it contains lots of fiction, magazines, newspapers, academic publications, archival materials, literature on culture and arts, Islamic literature, etc.


‘The Cossack Army of Kuban’’. A website dedicated to the Cossacks of Kuban’. Here you can read Cossack newspapers and other media, learn about Kuban’s history and geography, browse the archives or look through the news.


‘Prague Watchdog’ – a Czech website dedicated to ‘reporting on the conflict in the North Caucasus’. Covers topics such as political situation in the North Caucasus and its coverage in international media, as societal, environmental, and military issues – all with a strong focus on human rights. ‘Prague Watchdog’ is a partisan organization: it functioned from 2000 to 2010 through the support of US-based National Endowment for Democracy. The website holds unique materials such as, for example, interviews with Movladi Udugov or Dokka Umarov. Highly recommended for all those interested.


Enjoy the reading!

How It All Began

It was quite an experience in itself to observe everybody’s reaction when I told people I was going to spend my summer in the Northern Caucasus. Everybody around seemed concerned and tried to talk me out of this trip, which I absolutely understood and respected – yet somehow did not want to give in to. Even I myself had some far-fleeting, vague doubts concerning the safety side of the trip. At the same time, I believed, based on what I knew from friends living or coming from the Caucasus, that one should not be misled by the exaggerated stereotypical images in various media, and that the actual situation in the Caucasus is far from incessant fights, gunshots, bombings and all-over violence.

There probably was a mere short moment, as I boarded the plane from Moscow to Grozny, when I suddenly thought: what am I getting myself into? (Which obviously was an act of self-deception since I knew the answer perfectly well, and I knew that nothing on Earth would make me reject the intellectual excitement and, in complete honesty, the adrenaline-filled euphoria of this trip.)

2014-08-10 16.42.27

It turned out, I was getting myself into a wonderful adventure, unprecedented in my life. Continue reading “How It All Began”