Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute

Black & white picture of Gorbachev. Image links to event page.



Defending the Nation: Soviet Writers’ Activism During Glasnost’
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Please join the Harriman Institute for a lecture by Erin Hutchinson. Moderated by Yana Skorobogatov.

During the Gorbachev era, “writer-activists” became key figures in the emerging world of Soviet politics. This talk will analyze the activism of Soviet writers around environmental and language issues during this crucial period in Soviet history. In 1985, Russian Village Prose writers’ public advocacy for environmental issues became the harbinger of Gorbachev’s new policy of glasnost’. Intellectuals in the non-Russian republics, emboldened by activism of Russian writers and galvanized by the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, began to champion their own environmental causes. Events in the republics began to spiral out of control, however, when intellectuals also began advocating for cultural issues like the status of non-Russian languages. The national Writers’ Unions, founded in the Stalin era to channel national sentiment towards the Soviet state, became hotbeds of nationalist political organizing. This talk argues that writers’ Gorbachev-era activism hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union by delegitimizing Communist Party rule and presenting the nation as a morally superior alternative to the crumbling USSR.


Erin Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Russian History at the University of Colorado Boulder. She holds a PhD in History from Harvard University. Her book manuscript focuses on writers and the development of nationalism in the USSR after the death of Stalin.