Sunday, January 25, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Economic Crisis Seen Having Dramatic Impact on Russian Culture

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 25 – On the basis of a close study of how economic down turns in the past have affected cultural life, specialists at the Moscow Institute of Globalization and Social Movements (IGSD) are predicting that the current crisis will have a profound impact on Russian culture, likely shattering some currently unified sectors into “a multitude of subcultures.”
According to Boris Kagarlitsky, the institute’s director and a frequently provocative commentator on the transformation of Russia after the collapse of the USSR, most of these changes, if past patterns are any model, will not assume their full extent until sometime in the next decade but a few trends are already obvious (
During the crisis of 1968-73, he and his IGSD colleagues point out, punk rock appeared taking some of the energy away from earlier rock music. In other sectors, equally dramatic changes occurred. In film, musical comedies gave way to films about the man in the street not only in Hollywood but in the Soviet Union as well.
Given that the current crisis is much worse than most of the earlier ones his group has studied, Kagarlitsky says, “the changes in the area of culture [now] will be more global,” with pop culture and its upbeat motifs giving way to “underground” artists and their very different set of attitudes. One likely beneficiary of that change in Russia, he continues, is rap music.
That is because many rappers “really come from the lower depths of society and [use their performances to] protest against social injustice.” And it is entirely possible, Kagarlitsky suggests, that their popularity will force even pop singers to change their tone in order to “correspond to the spirit of the times.”
But even more dramatic may be changes in movies, where an entirely new “language” is likely to develop. In Russia, there is unlikely to be money for expensive spectacles. Instead, those who want to make movies will have to do so with smaller budgets, and they are likely to focus on “man’s intellect rather than his physical strength.”
“It is still unknown,” the IGSD investigators say, whether movie directors “will use Soviet types of movie language,” but the researchers are confident that these changes will have a positive influence on Russia’s present-day film industry, a view which at least some actors like Yevgeny Steblov agree.
But perhaps the most intriguing prediction of these researchers is that new Russian novels will take the form of “credit histories.” Regardless of whether that happens or not, they say, many readers as a result of the crisis are likely to turn away from contemporary modernist and post-modernist writings and read again classical literature.
That is what has happened to culture during earlier crises, Kagarlitsky continues, and he concludes that “the main thing that will unify the coming change in art is this: it will become more individualistic and less commercial. And our intellects [and presumably the entire country] will only benefit from such a change.”

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