The Dulles Plan for Russia: Conspiracy Theories and Post-Soviet Culture

Friday, April 1, 2016
4:00 pm
1201 International Affairs Building (420 West 118th St, 12th floor)

Please join us for a talk with Alexander Panchenko, leading research fellow at the Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences; Professor of Anthropology at the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St. Petersburg State University; and director of the Center for Anthropology of Religion, European University at St. Petersburg.

Conspiracy theories are a powerful explanatory model, or way of thinking, that influences many cultural forms and social processes throughout the contemporary world. Generally defined as “the conviction that a secret, omnipotent individual or group covertly controls the political and social order or some part thereof,” conspiracy theories include a number of principal ideas and concepts that make them adaptable to broad variety of discourses and forms of collective imagination. Proceeding from the necessity to explain and localize evil as a social and moral category, conspiracy theories produce ethical models that oppose ‘us’ to ‘them’, ‘victims’ to ‘enemies’, ‘heroes’ to ‘anti-heroes’. At the same time, conspiracy theories are extremely teleological; they do not leave any room for coincidences and accidents and explain all facts and events as related to intentional and purposeful activities of ‘evil actors.’  Quite often, conspiracy theories are grounded in holistic worldviews that lead, in turn, to particular hermeneutic styles. Reality is always considered to be deceptive; ‘simple’, ‘superficial’, and ‘obvious.’ Explanations must give place to more complicated intellectual procedures aimed at a disclosure of ‘concealed truth’. From this perspective, the concept of mystery appears to be the most powerful element of conspiratorial narratives. Conspiracy theories often motivate political action and social praxis, accompany transformation of institutional and informational networks, provoke moral panics, and changes of identities.

This talk will focus on continuity of Soviet conspiratorial ideas and narratives in post-Soviet Russia. What ‘performative shifts’ of late Soviet discourse were adopted and transformed by ‘communities of loss’ in the 1990s and 2000s? Why did conservative nationalism of the 1970s become so significant for Russian popular culture forty years after? What messages are encoded by the symbolic language of moral panics and conspiracy theories related to ‘imaginary West’ in the late Soviet and post-Soviet Russian society? These questions can be at least partly answered by the analysis of the so called Dulles Plan for Russia, a conspiratorial forgery based on borrowings from the novel Vechnyi Zov (the Eternal Call, 1971–76) by the Soviet writer Anatoliy Ivanov. The talk deals with its history, ideological contexts and popular reception in present day Russia.

Alexander Panchenko is leading research fellow at the Institute of Russian Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences, a professor of anthropology at the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences, St. Petersburg State University, and director of the Center for Anthropology of Religion, European University at St. Petersburg. His research interests include anthropology of religion, vernacular religion in Europe, charismatic Christianity, new age religion, conspiratorial narratives, contemporary legend. In 2014–16 he is the principal investigator of the research project “Conspiratorial narratives in Russian culture” supported by the Russian Science Foundation.