Russia since Gorbachev

The Second Russian Revolution

(3 h.p.w. - 3 cr.)

Professor Douglas Clayton

This course is double-coded:

RUS2103 Contemporary Russian Culture

HIS2351 Selected Topics in Contemporary History

The evolution of Russian society and culture since the beginning of the 1980s. The dissolution of the USSR and definition of the succession Russian state. The shift in popular and elite cultural genres - literature, film, music, video – as a reflection of changing societal norms, values, and lifestyles.



Office: 70 Laurier (Arts Building), room 206.
Tel. 562-5800, extension 3765.
Office hours:
Wednesday 3:00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m.; or by appointment.


In Russia culture and history have always been deeply intertwined. This course will examine the changes in Russian society and culture in the late Soviet and post-Soviet periods. We shall analyze the cultural and historical components as expressed in literature, film and the arts, that have contributed to the emergence of the national identity of the new Russian state.The course will cover such events and topics as perestroika, the putsch of 1991, the collapse of the Soviet Union, post-Soviet society, and the role of leaders Gorbachev, Eltsin, Putin and Medvedev.

No knowledge of Russian required. This course will be taught in English with all readings in English.


This is a lecture/discussion type course. Lectures will generally be presented with power-point accompaniment with class discussion and analysis. Students may be called on to give brief class presentations.


  1. Midterm 20%
    Midterm will be based on a list of questions distributed in advance. It will comprise some identification questions, plus two longer questions from a list of questions given in advance.
    Date: February 27th
  2. Term paper procedure
    i. Book report 15%
    Define area and topic of planned term paper: history, literature, politics, culture, etc. Present a book report (750-1000 words) on a book related to the term paper topic. This should be a resume of the contents and critical analysis.
    Due: February 1st.
    ii. Term paper 30%
    Analysis of a specific issue or an aspect of a cultural text (or comparison of several texts) or a research paper on a subject pertaining to the topic of the course (see list of potential topics on website). Length: 2000-2500 words, plus list of works cited.

Your paper must address Russia during the period 1980-2012.
Due: March 22nd.
C. Final exam 30%
This will be based on a list of questions distributed in advance. Some identification questions, plus two or three longer questions.
D. Participation 5%
Based on e-mailed comments to professor on material discussed. Mark may also include quizzes on material under analysis and brief class presentations.


Assignments submitted past their due date lose 5% of the grade each day; work submitted more than four days late will not be accepted and the grade will be zero, unless the student presents a medical certificate along with the paper. If students have another valid reason for submitting late, they must e-mail the professor in advance.


Plagiarism constitutes serious academic fraud, and the penalties vary from grading the assignment as zero to expulsion from the university. To avoid committing plagiarism, please read the University of Ottawa guidelines at


Course attendance is required, and students are responsible for all material and information presented in all the courses. Moreover, you are expected to be familiar with the material under discussion and to participate actively in the class work. Students who do not respect this requirement may be excluded from the final exam.


On sale in University Bookstore.

David Remnick, Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. Vintage Books, 1994.

Sergei Dovlatov, The Suitcase. Counterpoint. 2010.

Other readings are to be found in the course packet on sale at the Laurier Office Mart, 226, Laurier Ave. East. They are (in order of reading):
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, “Matryona’s Home.”In: Patricia Blake and Max Hayward (eds.), Half-way to the Moon (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1964), pp. 51-91.
Tatiana Tolstaya, “Women’s Lives.”In: Tatiana Tolstaya, Pushkin’s Children, pp. 1-13
Andrei Sakharov, “The Democratic Vision.” In: Robert V. Daniels (ed.), Soviet Communism from Reform to Collapse (D.C. Heath, 1995), pp. 17-25.
Mikhail Gorbachev, “The Revolutionary Promise.”Robert V. Daniels (ed.), Soviet Communism from Reform to Collapse (D.C. Heath, 1995), pp. 69-82.
Joseph Brodsky, “Less than One.”In: Joseph Brodsky, Less than One, Selected Essays (Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986), pp. 3-33.

Ludmila Petrushevskaya, “The New Robinson Crusoes.”
In: Ludmila Petrushevskaya. There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill her Neighbour’s Baby (Penguin, 2009): 44-60.

You are also responsible for the readings given in links on the syllabus page of the course website.


Vladimir Menshov, Moscow does not believe in tears
Nikita Mikhalkov, 12.


Wednesday 13:00-14:30 VNR2095
Friday 11:30-13:00 VNR2095

09 Introduction: What is culture? How is Russia different?
Reading: Lieven on Intelligentsia
11 The house that Stalin built. Reading: Solzhenitsyn’s “Matryona’s House.”
16 Khrushchev and the Thaw: Moscowdoes not believe in Tears. Pt.1 Reading: Remnick: Chapters 6-12.
18 Brezhnev and Stagnation. Moscowdoes not believe in Tears. Pt. 2 .Discussion of film.
23 Unofficial culture: Vladimir Vysotsky.*
25 East or West? Solzhenitsyn vs Sakharov.
Readings: Sakharov, “The Democratic Vision.”* Solzhenitsyn: “Harvard Speech.”
30 The Jews and Russia: Irony and emigration. Reading : Dovlatov, The Suitcase.
01 Gorbachev: perestroika, glasnost and democratization
Readings: Gorbachev, “The Revolutionary Promise.”* Remnick: Chapters 13-18
06 The culture of perestroika: chernukha and rock poetry
08 The Influence of the Nobels: Joseph Brodsky.*
13 Postmodernism in painting: SotsArt
15 Nationalism vs Communism: the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Remnick: Chapters 23-27, Parts IV-V.
01 The Eltsin era: Liberal capitalism and the rise of the Oligarchs.
06 Poetry and politics in the FSU.
08 Chechnya
13 Russians, New Russians, and Rossians: Nationality and ethnicity
15 Russian television transformed
20 Vladimir Putin: the vertical of power.
22 Popular culture in the 2000s
27 Nikita Mikhalkov: The Manifestoand The Twelve
03 December 2011: an inflection point.
05 Another twelve years? Putin and the growth of a civil society.

For a more detailed description of the course, visit the course website at: