Unlearning the Soviet Tongue

Unlearning the Soviet Tongue : Discursive Practices of a Democratizing Polity

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How do countries democratize? What route does the way out of totalitarianism take? Students of Russian politics have pursued answers to these questions by surveying Russians on a variety of attitudes, beliefs, norms, and practices. This book attends to political discourse to demonstrate how it creates and constraints political opportunities. It examines an important period of Russian political history: from Boris Yeltsin's second presidential election in 1996, when democracy was pronounced victorious, through its gradual slide toward authoritarian practices during Vladimir Putin's initial two terms in office, and to the election of his protege Dmitry Medvedev in 2008. This analysis challenges the assertions of Russian democracy as doomed by the governing rationalities of the elites. Likewise, it refutes the notion of Russians as an apathetic nation in chronic need of a "strong hand." It argues that if we are to understand how Russia lives, how it endures, and how it can change, we need to pay attention to the discourses that shape Russian political identities and the nation's political future.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 256 pages
  • 154.94 x 231.14 x 22.86mm | 539.99g
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • 2 Graphs; 16 Tables, unspecified
  • 0739191934
  • 9780739191934

Table of contents

Chapter One: Discursive Dimensions of Democratization
Chapter Two: Governing and the Press
Chapter Three: Ordinary Voices on the Forum: Letters to the Editor
Chapter Four: Elite Voices on the Forum: Newspaper Editorials
Chapter Five: A Democratic Chorus Yet?
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Review quote

Kovalyova examines the elite (editorialists) and lay voices (ordinary citizens) that contribute to the public conversation in Russia. Premised on the assumption that the Russian public forums represent sites for learning democracy and for turning readers into responsible citizens, the volume argues that the democratic contribution of the printed press is undermined by cynical messages from editorialists who imagine the Russian public as bystanders to politics as a self-interested game of crooks. The focus of this analysis is 1996-2008, the formative years of the new Russian state and a time of general decline. After briefly summarizing the social and political changes in post-Soviet Russia and presenting a history of Soviet newspapers, chapters 3 through 5 detail the voices of ordinary Russians and elites. Kovalyova then ascertains the public concern and cynicism that these voices reflect. By doing so, she identifies the sources of engagement and disengagement through the media. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers, undergraduate students, graduate students, and research faculty. * CHOICE * Natalia Kovalyova's fascinating study of discourse in the Russian press not only challenges established views about the role of the Russian media, but throws new light on the prospects for democracy in Russia. This well-researched and imaginative study comes up with some surprising conclusions that will be of interest to all who are concerned with the future of Russia. -- Graeme Gill, University of Sydney Unlearning the Soviet Tongue is a bold, fascinating, and ground-breaking study of the Russian public sphere. Engagingly written, it offers the first comprehensive view of historical and emerging Russian discursive formations, including editorials and letters to the editor. It convincingly goes against the received wisdom, which views the Russian public as passive, disengaged, and apathetic. Instead, it paints a lively and hopeful picture of an active and vocal citizenry, often at odds with political elites. The book is an indispensable resource for scholars and students who want to know more about political discussion not just in post-Soviet societies, but in emerging democracies more broadly. -- Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Director of Research Development and Environment, School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University Unlearning the Soviet Tongue is an intriguing study that rewards careful attention. Through meticulous analysis of editorials and letters to the editor in the Russian press, Natalia Kovalyova reveals much about the emerging Russian citizen and about the elites who claim to lead them. Her research uncovers ordinary Russians who are interested in the political arena and avid to participate in discussions of the public good, while their presumed betters do not welcome them into the conversation. Both letters to the editor and newspaper editorials describe a political arena with little place for popular action. Carefully leading the reader through the changing relationship between print media and political authorities from perestroika to the present, Kovalyova illuminates the implications of discursive practices to democracy. -- Ellen Carnaghan, Saint Louis University
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About Natalia Kovalyova

Natalia Kovalyova is assistant professor of communication at the University of North Texas at Dallas.
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