Workshop "1991: Year of Perelom"

23 – 25 October 2019, European University Institute, Florence, Italy

Workshop organised by The Leonid Nevzlin Center for Russian and East European Jewry / European University Institute, Department of History and Civilization / Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History, Potsdam (ZZF)



1991 is the much ignored step-brother of 1989, especially in Western historiography. 1989, which is just now loudly remembered for its 30-year anniversary, saw the rapid, and partly unexpected, collapse of communist Eastern Europe. It is often forgotten that the big brother of these collapsing regimes, the Soviet Union, survived that year intact, precisely because it chose not to interfere in the dissolution of its outer empire. Indeed, in the first two years of 1990 the Soviet Union was busy reforming itself, drew up new rules of engagement with its constituent republics and had its first free elections. On 1 January 1991 the Soviet Union looked troubled but not dead. On 31 December 1991 Gorbachev emptied his office, leaving the Kremlin without even receiving a formal farewell. Clearly, while long-term factors played a significant role and have found ample attention by social scientists and historians, something happened in 1991 – and that something was more than the August Putsch. We know surprisingly little about what this something was.
This conference wants to collect historical knowledge about what 1991 was about. We are interested in all aspects of life, taking a quasi-snapshot of a country in its last days, yet which was bustling with activity both on the ground as well as in the upper echelons of power, where life was accelerating rapidly in the spaces outside the official economy, while it was slowing down to minimum in the state enterprises, where people debated new parties and policies, while struggling to find their daily bread. It was the year of euphoric discovery of new freedoms for some, while the very same forces terrified others who feared chaos, anti-Semitism and hyper-nationalism. It happened not only in Moscow but in every corner of the vast Soviet empire. 1991 was the year that set the stage for the post-Soviet world. We should know what this world was built upon, and for that we should know what happened just before its birth."




Wednesday 23 October


17.30 – 18.00         Jan C. Behrends, Alexander Etkind, Juliane Fürst, Semion Goldin, Eli Lederhendler


18.00 – 20.00         Kathleen Smith

                                Keynote Speech

                                Turning Point Years in Memory and History


Thursday 24 October


Session 1

Moderator:             Juliane Fürst (ZZF Potsdam)

9.30 – 10.15            Semion Goldin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

                                 The Russian/Soviet "prison of nations" and its double desintegration: a comparison between 1917 and 1991

10.15 – 11.00          Jan C. Behrends (ZZF Potsdam)

                                 Inside vlast‘: the Kremlin’s view of 1991.

                                 Anatoly Chernayev's subjectivities

11.00 – 11.15         Coffee break


Session 2

Moderator:           Corinna Kuhr-Korolev (ZZF Potsdam)

11.15 – 12.00        Juliane Fürst (ZZF Potsdam)

                               The Eye of the Photographer: Igor Palmin and the August 1991 Putsch

12.00 – 12.45        Uku Lember (Tallinn University)

                                Appearances of "1991" in the life-story interviews with members of Estonian-Russian families in Estonia

12.45 – 14.15         Lunch break


Session 3

Moderator:            Jan C. Behrends (ZZF Potsdam)

14.15 – 15.00        Boris Morozov (The Cummings Center for Russian and East European Studies, Tel Aviv University)

                               Soviet-Israeli Relations in 1991: the Year of Crucial Decisions.

15.00 – 15.45        Alexander Etkind (EUI)

                               Oral history of the Ukrainian workers in Siberian oilfields in the late 1980s

15.45 – 16.00        Coffee break


Moderator:           Alexander Etkind (EUI)

16.00 – 16.45        Kateryna Chernii (ZZF Potsdam)

                               Declaration of independence and the birth of Ukrainian Football Association

16.45 - 17.30        Katharina Kucher & Klaus Gestwa (University of Tübingen)

                               Left behind? Pensioners and the Collapse of the Soviet State in 1991


Friday 25 October


Session 4

Moderator:           Semion Goldin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

9.30 – 10.15          Vera Michlin-Shapir (INSS, Tel Aviv University)

                               The Rumors and Reality: the Rise of Anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union in 1991

10.15 – 11.00        Samuel Barnai (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

                               Courageous Itzik vs. stinking Izya: attitudes towards Jews and Israel by the end of the Soviet Union

11.00 – 11.15        Coffee break


Session 5

Moderator:             Stefano Bottoni (University of Florence)

11.15 – 12.00          Corinna Kuhr-Korolev (ZZF Potsdam)

                                 Leningrad 1991

12.00 – 12.45          Artem Magun (Eur. Uni. St. Petersburg)

                                 Dialectic of Soviet history: the Self-Annulment of the Communist Project

12.45 – 13.30          Anastasia De La Fortelle (Université de Lausanne)

                                 Literature and History: 1991 as (post)apocalypse