Friday, June 29, 2012


Pinnick, Kathryn, “When the fighting is over: the soldiers’ mothers and the Afghan madonnas,” In Post-Soviet Women: from the Baltic to Central Asia, edited by Mary Buckley, 143-155. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Pinnick’s article primarily discusses the Pre-Chechnya foundation of SOMO as well as the non-combat roles of women who served in Afghanistan.  What stands out is Pinnick’s discussion of the early years of SOMO when mothers (who had sent sons to Afghanistan) felt significant tension when they participated in anti-war protests. They sought to deliver their message without trivializing the role their sons had played, and also without denying the importance of young men doing their state-obligated duty. This larger thought-provoking question (can one support the troops without supporting the war?) seemed to be lost on the initial SOMO participants. Perhaps they did not see the need to critically interrogate this question.
This article also sheds light on how SOMO initially viewed power relations. It’s really no surprise that SOMO both needed and distrusted the government to make significant changes in the military, but Pinnick doesn’t directly answer whether or not this need/distrust dichotomy is what prevented large-scale uprisings against the wars in Chechnya. I get the feeling that this is the larger issue, as Jagudina’s dissertation indicated.

Vallance, Brenda. “The rule of law and Russian military reform: The role of Soldiers’ Mothers in Russian society.” The Carl Beck Papers in Russian and East European Studies. No. 1407, 2000.

Vallance argues that the unique impact of SOMO on civilians was the promotion of human rights talk. Vallance indicates that wide-spread human rights discourse simply didn’t exist in the immediate post-soviet aftermath due to a prevailing feeling of disempowerment. She also attributes this lack of discourse to the wide-spread assumption that military reform was simply “off the table” in terms of public negotiation. In many ways the military remained a sacred institution beyond public criticism, which largely explains why SOMO seemed such a radical departure. SOMO insisted on pushing issues of national security into the public sphere, and succeeded by capturing media attention. However, Vallance measures this success primarily through the existence of news stories, but doesn’t provide analysis of how those stories were received by Russians.

In a conversation earlier this semester with Prof. Six, I was interested to learn about the nature of information sharing amongst Russians concerning conscription of sons. She informed me that many mothers were aware of SOMO and the information it provided, but that non-SOMO mothers did not speak to each other concerning the details of preventing their sons’ conscription. Six indicated that mothers knew that other mothers engaged in bribing or other acts to get their son out of service, though it was not discussed in conversation. Information spread vertically, but was not shared horizontally. Vallance’s argument that SOMO inspired people to start to talk about their rights is only part of the story. Individuals and families may have started the conversation, but they weren’t willing to share that with others quite yet.

Alexseev, Mikhail A., “Back to hell: civilian-military ‘audience costs’ and Russia’s wars in Chechnia,” In Military and Society in post-Soviet Russia, edited by Stephen L. Webber and Jennifer G. Mathers, 97-113. New York: Manchester University Press, 2006.

Alexseev’s article doesn’t directly address SOMO, but it does analyze various political and security events concerning Chechnya and their public reactions (primarily polling results from VTsIOM). The idea of ‘revenge’ can often play a part in political decision making and even encourage military action, and I wanted to discover the nature of this link concerning Russia and Chechnya. A VTsIOM poll from 1999 found that 85% respondents believed that terroristic acts happened to Russia due to the air strikes on Chechnya. In my research so far I have not found an overwhelming feeling of distaste for Chechens on behalf of Russians, but more of a sense of neutrality toward the ethnicity. Revenge seems to be (at least societally) targeted at Russia, rather than coming from Russians. The fact that 85% attributed Russian military actions as the cause of terrorist attacks seems to largely shift blame on the government. This certainly seems in line with SOMO and their approach that the Russian government, and not Chechens, was the real enemy.
Ultimately, this article caused me to think about 1)the lasting endurance of SOMO influence and 2)lack of pre-existing disdain for Chechens as a facilitator for SOMO.  I’m honestly impressed that there didn’t seem to be wide-spread hatred for Chechens as a result of various terrorist acts (such as the backlash against Muslims post 9/11 in the US), but instead indifference and perhaps some sympathy.
Alexseev also explains the Soviet legacy of Russians conflating personal insecurity with the weakness of the central government and argues that even though the war in Chechnya was not popular, Russians overwhelmingly felt the need for strong decisive leaders. In January 1995, a VTsIOM poll showed that 42% believed failure in Chechnya occurred due to ‘inept military command and operational planning,’ and 27% thought it was due to soldiers engaging in difficult combat operations; both of which stress the strategic, rather than moral, aspects of war. The Russian desire to ‘restore order’ seemed to trump opposition to the war.

Zawilski, Valerie, “Saving Russia’s Sons: the Soldiers’ Mothers and the Russian-Chechen Wars,” In Military and Society in post-Soviet Russia, edited by Stephen L. Webber and Jennifer G. Mathers, 228-240. New York: Manchester University Press, 2006.

A lot of authors analyze political motherhood- Zawilski really gets it. Zawilski writes about the dual image of the ‘suffering mother’ and the ‘strong woman’ and argues that political motherhood was more than just a feeling of responsibility toward offspring, but a larger responsibility to a relatively new society. This all serves to explain why it was that SOMO felt so justified in their protests. They were simply performing their pre-existing gender roles, just on a much larger scale.

Several authors (including Zawilski) engage in discussing whether or not SOMO was a feminist movement (broadly defined as the promotion of women’s position in society) by nature of their intended goals, but not so much by their agents or actions. The relevance of the feminist/non-feminist debate is how it was perceived externally. SOMO largely did not want to be associated with western feminism because it was seen as having little to no value to Russian women.

What is unclear, however, is Zawilski’s statement that “it was largely public opinion, guided by Russian media, that forced the Russian Government to end its military campaign in Chechnia.” I’ve seen several authors now make this claim, but it’s generally said as an afterthought rather than the main argument. I’m curious to find a substantive reason behind this claim. I’m also left wondering, did SOMO influence/change public opinion, or did they just voice the dominant opinion already there?

Lebedev, Anna Colin, “From a Mother’s worry to Soldiers’ Mothers action: building collective action on personal concerns,” In Understanding Russianness, edited by Risto Alapuro, Arto Mustajoki and Pekka Pesonen, 84-98. New York: Routledge, 2012.

What struck me most about Lebedev’s research was her statement that during a 5-year long observation of the CSM she only saw one visitor “suggest the organization of a collective protest action.” Lebedev’s article partially addresses this tension between the universal vs. particular concern. Those visiting SOMO offices came in with individual, particular claims and often left just after their claim was (successfully?) resolved. It seems that very few desired to stay on as volunteers after achieving their own goals. Those crossing into the status of ‘activists’ had to let go on their individual claims in order to effectively embrace the larger human rights fight.

Lebedev also wrote about something completely new to me- evidence that some Russians regarded the CSM as a governmental organization/having government level authority. Letters addressed to the CSM often included ‘the Kremlin’, ‘Red Square’ and even ‘The White House’ in their address. Given what I’ve already read (primarily from Oushakine and Jagudina) concerning Russians’ dual dependence/distrust of the government, this suggests perhaps similar feelings for the CSM. People didn’t completely trust the CSM, but didn’t feel there was any other way. Of particular interest is the association of CSM with the US government- I wonder if some people felt the actions of the CSM were far too radical to actually be Russians, but instead US operatives acting on behalf of Russian mothers.

Finally, Lebedev gives her own analysis of the dependence relationship of Russians to the state. Lebedeve argues that the dependence factor may have actually caused Russian mothers to be more receptive to SOMO as a legitimate actor. Since SOMO offices routinely gave direct guidance to mothers seeking their advice, it was easy for mothers to renounce their autonomy. In a sense, Lebedev argues that mothers give up confidence in themselves to solve their problems when they seek advice from SOMO. Yet I’m not sure why Lebedev constructs this in such an austere way. Why is this viewed as a denunciation of rights, and not just collaboration with those who experienced similar situations?

Danks, Catherine J., “Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers: mothers challenging the Russian state,” In In the Hands of Women: paradigms of citizenship, edited by Susan Buckingham and Geraldine Lievesley, 163-189. Manchester University Press, 2006.

Danks cites a popular statistic that in a 2004 Levada center survey, 72% of female respondents regarded the CSM as overall good for Russia. This begs the question, however, that what percent of these respondents would demonstrate their allegiance publicly (ie- work as volunteers for SOMO), and which would only do so in private/anonymously? The answer to this question could reveal some interesting observations about the transformation of the public/private dichotomy into the post-soviet period and the broader process of democratization.

What I’m continually surprised by is information that SOMO discouraged public acts of emotion. SOMO wanted speeches delivered “on international solidarity rather than to show their personal pain.” I wonder if they thought public displays of pain would make them seem weak, or otherwise unreliable, thus alienating potential volunteers. Danks claims that this stoic public face acted as a form of liberation for SOMO from traditional conceptions of women. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Impressions from the Field

Judging from media reports, Novi Pazar, Sandžak’s main city, appears unstable, perhaps even dangerous. Reports often connect Novi Pazar with illegal drug trade, increased religious conservatism, high unemployment and interethnic tensions between Serbians and Bosniaks. My reception in the city was extremely warm. People were eager to share information and help find me a place to stay and introduce me to other people. That is not to say there are not problems. All of the above issues do in fact negatively impact the town. But aside from the high unemployment, the other problems are not easily visible. And after spending four weeks in and around the city, I’ve come to understand that tensions also exist among the Bosniaks living there. In fact, tensions seem to run higher between political and religious Bosniak factions compared to Serbs and Bosniaks. This revelation will be the subject of a future blog. For now, I want to briefly explain the interethnic dynamics.

This mural was painted by one of the Urban In projects in an effort to illustrate interethnic

Interviews with locals seemed to downplay the tensions between Serbians and Bosniaks. Instead, the common reaction to questions relating to interethnic relations among the people was pride, particularly in the care paid to neighborly relations among Serbs and Bosniaks. I was told this was the main reason why the war that raged in Bosnia i Herzegovina (BiH) and Kosovo did not reach Novi Pazar. It is this care, or perhaps careful interaction among the nacije (ethnicities) that preceded and endured after the 1990’s. Bosniaks and Serbs told me that they know how far they can go when interacting with one another. They do it out of respect, and they are all tired of war. On this level, relations among Serbs and Bosniaks seem fine. And there are programs aimed at bringing Serb and Bosniak as well as Roma kids together in an effort to foster interethnic cooperation. The local nongovernmental organization (NGO) Urban In, the Red Cross and Dom za Mlade (Center for Youth) are vital supporters in this effort.
There is another side to the story. Serbs and Bosniaks live quite separate lives. Most Serbs live in an enclave that is somewhat removed from the Bosniak-dominated center. One might say that the peace that now exists is built on a shaky foundation. Yet, I would argue the contrary. The peace, I was told, has been preserved for three generations (and perhaps beyond). In the 1920-30’s, respect between Serbs and Bosniaks was the highest form of interethnic relations in Novi Pazar. There might be several reasons why this was the case. In the 1930’s, the Balkan Peninsula was in the progress of becoming a unified land for South-Slavs, or Jugosloveni. In other words, Serbs (as well as Macedonians, Croatians and Slovenes) considered the fall of the Ottoman Empire as a victory worth celebrating – a new era in which Slavs were to be the masters of their own destiny. This is not the case for Bosniaks who have a different interpretation of history. The year 1912 is thus burned in to the popular memory of Novi Pazar as a year when fear dominated the public sphere among Bosniaks, alas Muslimani (Muslims).
The demise of the Ottoman Empire came as a shock to many of the first generation post-Turkic Bosniaks that were part of the Umma (Islamic Community), and led to a large-scale migration of Bosniaks to Turkey.  These circumstances are masterfully described in Ujdurma (Trick, Ruse or Fraud) by the Novi Pazar author Mevluda Melajac who has written several historical novels about the Sandžak. The picture Melajac paints in her novels resonates with sentiments I encountered in Novi Pazar’s streets.

Plaque hanging in Novi Pazar’s old Ottoman Bathhouse in the city center.

One elderly Bosniak told me while sipping Turkish coffee that his family has called Novi Pazar home for seven generations. “You can look it up in the archives if you want,” he said. He was not the only one for whom the Ottoman period does not seem long gone. The older gentlemen, as is the case for many others in Novi Pazar, remembers the Turkish presence on the Peninsula with fondness. In other words, the creation of nation states in the Balkans during the interwar-period cut off Bosniaks from their Turkish Umma that encompassed many nations far beyond the Peninsula.
The ties between Turkey and Bosniaks are accordingly strong and perhaps never fully faded away. According to popular belief in Novi Pazar, there are between three and four million Bosniaks in Turkey. It is this Turkish-Bosniak community that provided Sandžak-Bosniaks with the necessary tools to run and upkeep its famous textile production that saved Novi Pazar – and by extension Serbia – during the economic sanctions of the 1990’s. Turkey is therefore not returning to the Balkan Peninsula, as is claimed in Darko Tanasković’s Neoosmanizam-Povratak Turske na Balkan (Ne-Osmanism, Turkey’s Return to the Balkan Peninsula) as Turkey never left in the first place – at least not in Novi Pazar’s collective memory. It simply faded away a bit with Tito’s “Brotherhood and Unity”.
This may explain the second post-Ottoman period, or first generation Jugoslav population’s near absence of ethnocentricity. Time and again, I was told that for as long as Jugoslavia existed, people were not interested in knowing who was a Bosniak, Serb or Croat, etc. While one may ascribe this notion to melancholia for better times, I would attribute such statements to the fact that “Jugoslavs” recognize the disadvantage of nationalism with clarity. These days, one knows who is a Serb or a Bosniak once again. Intermarriage is rare in Novi Pazar, I was told by a young man I befriended there. He was dating a young Serbian girl for a while, though had to break up the relationship because her parents did not wish for her to date a Bosniak. What we see then is a 360 degree turn in three generations regarding how people perceive ethnicity in Novi Pazar.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

"No words, no language"

Brawl in Ukrainian Parliament (courtesy of The New York Times)

Ukrainian political discussions are currently dominated by the proposed constitutional reforms to raise Russian to a second official language in the regions. According to the Eurasia Daily Monitor Russian speakers make up approximately 10% of the population in each of Ukraine's regions. To call the zakonoproekt divisive is an understatement; albeit the reform is one that political officials believe would improve the lives of millions of citizens in Ukraine's eastern provinces. Ukrainian nationalists believe that the law would remove any incentive for Eastern Ukrainians to learn the state language, and create a voter-base of nearly 37% of the population that does not speak Ukrainian. Put simply, Ukrainian nationalists fear another round of Russification policies that would threaten the existence of the Ukrainian language, a language which fortunately survived its colonial, genocidal, and totalitarian experiences of the 20th century.

President Yanukovych hopes to use the law to improve bilateral trade relations with Russia, which have soured since Moscow joined in the condemnation of ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's imprisonment. The memories of the Orange Revolution and then-president Viktor Yushchenko's plans to strengthen the country and its sense of "Ukrainianness" remain today, but little has changed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Regional identities have perhaps become stronger than ever in the wake of Soviet language policy and the failure of the Orange Revolution to introduce wide-sweeping changes in Ukraine, yet regionalism is doing little to strengthen Ukraine's position in the region or in its geo-political contacts with Europe and other Western states. The language debate taking place in the Ukrainian government creates an arena for highlighting contending issues of regional and national identity in present-day Ukraine. A number of regional protests (photos below) shed light on ordinary citizens' perspectives on identity and its importance in the future of the country.

"No words, no language" (courtesy of

In a recent lecture given by historian Ivan Fedyk, of L'viv National University, the question was raised how post-Soviet Ukraine continues to exist despite regional cleavages concerning identity. Prof. Fedyk contends that the otherwise divided country of Ukraine and nation of Ukrainians is unified by the shared idea of Ukrainian statehood. Is the population actually willing to sacrifice its identity to preserve the state? It's doubtful, but the law could come up for referendum in the near future.

"I'm Russian and I don't ask for protection" (courtesy of

Debates in government and among citizens suggest that neither side is considering backing down. Images from protests, as shown above, also suggest that Russian-speaking or native Russians living in Ukraine do not unanimously support the decisions of Yanukovych's government (it is this observer's intent to find more concrete figures and reporting about the breakdown of Russophone Ukrainian's opinions on the current debate in weeks to come).

The immediate future holds more of the same for Ukraine, perpetually suspended between East and West, as the European Union demands democratic reforms and the release of political prisoners while Russia continues to draw Ukraine closer to membership in its Customs Union. The revitalization of Ukraine's protest culture over language reforms could spread into other spheres as election season draws nearer. Some observers argue that another revolution on par with the 2004 Orange Revolution is necessary to transform the current system of governance in Ukraine, which is dominated by small families or clans. Ukrainians continue to be hugely invested in the dominant discussions in the country so there is no lack of political participation in the country.

Articles referred to in this post:

Zenon Zawada, "A political threat to Ukraine’s language,"

"James Sherr: Ukraine's Relationship with the EU is Destructive",

"Party of Regions Plays Russian Language Trump Card Again," Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 9, Issue 105

"Ukraine's Opposition Program Requires Another Revolution," Eurasia Daily Monitor, Vol. 9, Issue 101,

Tatiana Zhurzhenko. Borderlands into Bordered Lands: Geopolitics of Identity in Post-Soviet Ukraine. Stuttgart: Ibidem-Verlag, 2010 [full review forthcoming]

«Всє на защіту русского язика!»: чому вітчизняні політики ігнорують національні почуття українців? ("All in defense of the Russian Language!": Why do domestic politicians ignore national feelings of Ukrainians?),

"Мовний законопроект – поклони Кремлю за підтримку на виборах," (Language Law: Bowing to the Kremlin for Support in the Elections),


In a declaration reached at a meeting of the Muslim Supreme Council in Mecca, the human rights situation for Muslims of Serbia was declared worrisome. Mufti Muamer Zukorlic was attending the meeting in Saudi Arabia where the council called for greater attention to the Sandzak, Southern Serbia. According to the Islamic Communities’ website, Serbia’s government ought to stop the isolation of Muslilms and Bosniaks in Sandzak. The Supreme Council called on the Islamic Cooperation Organization to pay close attention to events unfolding in Serbia in light of the government’s role in the genocide against Muslim Bosniaks in Bosnia i Herzegovina (BiH) at the end of the 20th century. Serbia’s government was further asked to stop obstructing the process of creating a unified Islamic Community. According to the Islamic Community, Serbia’s Islamic Community was adopted as a member to the Council, the highest representative body for Muslim organizations.
The strategy on the development of culture will be finished by the coming fall, said Aida Corovic, head of the NGO UrbaIn of Novi Pazar. Serious investments from the EU will not reach this area without a strategic plan and documents. The problem, said Corovic, cannot be resolved overnight but must be tackled with a long term plan. It is important that as many people as possible participate in this process, especially those that possess the competency in cultural issues, the young and those that partake in cultural events.
“Corovic: Strategija O Razvoju Kulture NP Do Jeseni”. June 20, 2012.    
“Muslimanska svetska liga zabrinuta za Sandzak”. RTV. June 17, 2012.

According to analysts, Serbia’s government is most likely to be formed by the Democratic Party (DS) in coalition with Serbia’s Socialist Party (SPS)-the Party of United Pensioners (PUPS)-United Serbia (JS) and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-United Regions of Serbia (URS). Meanwhile, Vesna Pesic, sociologist and critique of Serbia’s government, stated that the government ought to get rid of people such as Ivica Dacic who has become like a “little Slobodan Milosevic”. Ivica Dacic and his party, the SPS, however, gained further strength with the DS’s dwindling political clout. The reason for this is that much time has passed without the DS taking much action to form a new government. Dacic has thus become an important factor that has to be counted with when thinking about the new Serbian Government. In other words, Dacic will get the chance to form his own coalition should the DS not act soon. Dacic too is thought of seeking the Premiership – the Russian government and Mira Markovic, the late president Slobodan Milosevic’s wife, have been reported to support Dacic in his endeavor.
After Tomislav Nikolic’s visit to Brussels and participation in the Rio summit, Serbia’s first official state visit will lead him to Turkey. Nikolic will also need to decide on whom will take the post as head of the cabinet. Vladimir Cvijan is believed to be take on this function. Milan Bacevic and Aleksandar Nikolic are likely to serve as Nikolic’s advisors.
Head of the news portal E-Novine Petar Lukovic critiqued the government after the news agency was cut off from access to electricity. E-Novine, according to SEEbiz, has an outstanding bill of 60.000 Serbian Dinars for which is why the paper was cut off from its access. Luskevic, however, explained that many citizens as well as companies have outstanding bills that surpass the amount owed by E-Novine while only the papers’ electricity was turned off. Not even the Milosevic regime cut newspapers off from electricity, said Luksevic. He sees the incident as a message from the government as E-Novine published a series of articles regarding fraud, manipulation and lies in governmental circles. E-Novine, Luksic added, has already been under pressure for the past three years. The goal of this pressure is to ruin the paper economically, but they will not succeed in this endeavor, so Luksic.
“Lukovic: Ovo ni Milosevic nije radio, shvatio sam to kao pomenu”. June 20, 2012.
“Prva Nikoliceva medudrzavna poseta – Turska”. Novi Magazin. June 18, 2012.
“Vesna Pesic: Treba Skloniti Malog Slobu”. Blic. June 18, 2012.     

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Soldiers' Mothers post #1

Much research has already been completed concerning how effective Soldiers' Mothers groups were at influencing military policy and the political arena in relation to the First Chechen War, but I'm curious to find exactly how they influenced average citizens. A lot of my research already conducted focused on internal identity issues for the organizations- but how were they perceived externally by those not in power? The question I ultimately want to answer: To what extent did Soldiers' Mothers organization demilitarize the hearts and minds of Russians?

Eichler, Maya. Militarizing Men: Gender, Conscription, and War in Post-Soviet Russia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. Chapter 4. “The Soldiers’ Mothers Movement: Contesting and Reproducing Militarized Gender Roles.” pp. 85-107.

This chapter compares the relative level of influence between the CSM, SMSP and two parent-based advocacy groups in Samara.
Eichler’s main point is to differentiate between patriotic and suffering mothers as it related to their external perception, and the spectrum of mothers in between. She argues that the CSMR(Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia) and the SMSP(Soldiers’ Mothers of St. Petersburg) both challenged traditional military conceptions of patriotism and instead promoted an alternative allegiance to the development of civil society and democracy in place of a militarized identity.
Groups in Samara, however, clung to more traditional approaches to mourning. Sons in the war were referred to as “defenders of the fatherland” and their heroic identity was emphasized. Parents of soldiers may have known about problems facing the military, yet they still promoted sons’ civic duty of conscription as a means to teach masculinity. The Samara organizations also managed neutrality toward the Chechen wars. Neither supporting nor condemning the government for the military operation, Samara parents instead stressed the importance of the transition to adulthood that  military experience provided. This strategy seemed to most accurately reflect popular opinion in the region toward military service.

Jagudina, Zaira. “Social Movements and Gender in Post-Soviet Russia: The Case of the Soldier’s Mothers NGOs.” PhD Diss., University of Gothenburg, 2009. 309 pp.

The majority of Jagudina’s fieldwork was completed in the fall of 2000, near the start of the Second Chechen War. She primarily interviewed active participant mothers, but also mothers just visiting various SOMO offices seeking help.
Though Jagudina doesn’t focus on the limiting factors of involvement in SOMO(the broader soldier’s mothers social movement in Russia), many of her interviews isolate reasons limiting potential involvement by unaffiliated mothers as well as others not directly affected by the First Chechen War.
-First, SOMO women generally did not perceive their actions as political, but rather as simply community involvement. In fact, it seemed they wished to distance themselves from political conflation in order to emphasize the ability of non-state actors to accomplish goals without assistance from the state. In this way they tried to demonstrate the empowerment of the individual in opposition to state policy. Unfortunately, this occasionally caused hesitation among unaffiliated mothers who assumed state support as absolutely necessary.
-Second, many women who became involved only did so temporarily. These “little mothers” as they are called (often with a bit of disdain and frustration) were only concerned for their own sons, and not the broader human rights movement. As soon as they secured their son they dropped out of the movement. Once women made enough to pay a bribe they had no interest in helping other mothers raise funds.
-Third, acceptance of traditional notions of motherhood provided an easily sympathetic identity. Mothers are mothers, they argued, and thus those who did seek help from SOMO found themselves working with those fighting the same battle. Because the offices and meetings were staffed with fellow mothers, SOMO had a sense of legitimacy that validated their actions in the eyes of other mothers(perhaps with younger sons, fearing their conscription). However, this also served to delegitimize the movement as Post-Soviet Russia reverted to traditional patriarchal conceptions of women. One interviewee expressed their frustration that in a country with 50% women, only 5% voted for a woman’s political party. Motherhood both attracted and repelled those seeking to prevent their sons from being conscripted.
-Fourth, SOMO organizations in the cities were perceived as more elitist for their ties to the west via funding and grants, whereas rural organizations seemed more Russian. This distinction may have prevented some rural women from seeking more organized support.

Jagudina also discusses at length this idea of cognitive-emotive liberation that mother participants experienced. Often crying mothers would come to SOMO offices and be told to pull themselves together. SOMO largely did not promote public displays of grief, but encouraged mothers to show strength in the face of loss. Though I’m not entirely sure the relevance of this yet, I wonder how public strength may have altered the way society thought about SOMO.

Oushakine, Serguei. The Patriotism of Despair: Nation, War and Loss in Russia. Cornell University Press, 2009. 262 pp.

Oushakine seeks to explain the larger societal impact of war and militarism on Post-Socialist Russia. In his fieldwork, he seems to have found that regardless of extensive media coverage of the wars in Chechnya, the loss of life remain somewhat invisible in society.  In interviews, mothers overwhelmingly indicated that the loss of their sons was only felt by themselves and few close friends. But what has caused this indifference and public amnesia? Oushakine argues that the post 9/11 worldwide War on Terror is providing a historical revision on the First Chechen War. He argues that Putin’s conflation of Chechen rebels with Islamic terrorism may be reversing any pre-existing goodwill towards Chechens on behalf of Russians.
Oushakine found that another reason for the invisibility of war is due to the sheer size of the operation in comparison to other wars in the 20th century. Whereas nearly every family experience loss in World War Two, only a small fraction have experienced loss due to Chechnya. In considering this as a limiting factor to larger societal involvement against the war, it makes sense that many mothers had the option to live in denial. An interview with a CSM branch official in Barnaul revealed that many mothers of younger teen sons simply believed the war would be over before their sons came of age. Instead of being preemptively involved, many mothers preferred to believe that it simply wouldn’t happen to them based on statistical odds.
Another serious devising factor between women affected by war was their relative position to the soldier in question. Though mothers, sisters and widows all had right to grief, mothers tended to dominate the collective voice of those in mourning. Mothers regarded sisters as having the ability to marry and create their own families, whereas widows could remarry and betray their loss or live an ascetic lifestyle. Either way, mothers believed themselves to be the rightful recipient of financial compensation, albeit a very small amount. Unfortunately, natural allies of sisters and widows were often not included or even welcome in the SOMO organizations.

A full book review is forthcoming.

Oushakine, Serguei Alex, “The Politics of Pity: Domesticating Loss in a Russian Province,” American Anthropologist, 108.2, 2006. <>

Oushakine presents a comparative analysis of how the Moscow based Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers and the Altai branch of the group differ in their public and private process of grieving for lost sons. The majority of his paper provides a philosophical approach to their differences. He indicates that the Moscow branch focuses on turning their private loss into a politicized issue- that is, they politicize their own identity as a mother who has lost so as to form a community of likewise women. This community, then, seeks to make political demands through practicing strategic essentialism. The Altai branch takes the opposite path. Instead of seeking political justification for their loss, they focus on unveiling the individual narratives of loss within their local community as a means of exclusive grieving. Yet both methods, according to Oushakine, rely on a continual performance of death rituals to sustain their respective communities. He utilizes Wendy Brown’s notion of “wounded attachments” to show that these women, in a sense, do not want to get over their loss because it would endanger their identity and place within their symbolic community.  

Данилова, Наталья.  «Право матери солдата:  инстинкт заботы или
гражданский долг?»,  сборнике  «Семейные узы: модели для сборки» Под ред. С. Ушакина,

Danilova’s main point is to highlight the ways in which motherhood can be co-opted by the state to serve militaristic agendas. She indicates that there is widespread societal belief that the military serves as the primary institution to socialize “real” men. This assumption was highly problematic in the 1990s as military problems(primarily extreme hazing) became visible to society. Unfortunately, no alternative institution arose to teach real male gender norms. Danilova argues that mothers who did not find ways to prevent their sons’ conscription tacitly promoted the expectation that the military taught men how to be “real men.”
Danilova also discussed the very public use of dead body representation given by SOMO organizations. She argues that it was precisely this public claim that gave legitimacy of SOMO to make demands on the political apparatus. I wonder, however, if these public representations were emotionally received by larger society. A question I am still searching for: was Russian society numb to these images of dead soldiers?

Zdravomyslova, Elena. “Soldiers’ Mothers Fighting the Military Patriarchy: Re-invention of Responsible Activist Motherhood for Human Rights’ Struggle,” Gender Orders Unbound? Globalisation, Restructuring and Reciprocity. pp. 207-229.

Zdravomyslova seeks to explain objection to the Chechen wars by Russian mothers through the lens of human rights. She explains that the rise in conscientious objectors in Russia is directly related to the campaigning of Russian mothers who verbally opposed the war. As part of the anti-war campaign from the St. Petersburg branch of the Soldiers’ Mothers Organization, pamphlets and literature advocated women literally hide their sons from the military to prevent their forced conscription. This organization put pacifism at the center of their core values and emphasized noncompliance with military service.
Their belief in pacifism extended to consideration and compassion for the Chechens as well. One of the organization’s slogans was “Stop the genocide – the extinction of the courageous Chechen people by fascist methods!” Though Zdravomyslova does not indicate the organization had external goals of Chechen nationalism, perhaps the rhetoric of their slogan was intended to provide a human element of the war. The label of “genocide” has legal context and attracts considerably more attention than “conflict.” At its core, this organization put recognition of humanity above all else. While their main goal was to prevent the deaths of their sons, they recognized that this meant they had to also call for the safety and well-being of other mothers’ sons. I’m curious to find out if this reaching out to the mothers of the “enemy” affected public perception of the organization.