Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize

2015 Citation Recipient

Masha Kirasirova

The Robert C. Tucker/Stephen F. Cohen Dissertation Prize, established in 2006 and sponsored by the KAT Charitable Foundation, is awarded annually (if there is a distinguished submission) for an outstanding English-language doctoral dissertation in Soviet or Post-Soviet politics and history in the tradition practiced by Robert C. Tucker and Stephen F. Cohen. The dissertation must be defended at an American or Canadian university and completed during the calendar year prior to the award.

Winner: Masha Kirasirova, New York University
Title: “The Eastern International: ‘The Domestic East’ and the ‘Foreign East’ in Soviet-Arab Relations, 1917-68”

In this dissertation Kirasirova effectively goes beyond the traditional focus of “Russia and the West” and contributes significantly to opening up a relatively uncharted field of study for the Soviet period: “Russia and the East.” At the centerpiece of this work is the Soviet construct of the East in the realm of ideology and culture, on the one hand, and practices and institutions, on the other. Although both are shown to have drawn on the pre-revolutionary Russian legacy, the concept of an “Eastern International” was coined in 1918 by the Bolshevik intellectual Konstantin Troianovskii, later head of the Near Eastern section of the Comintern, paving the way for Stalin’s 1925 “bifurcation” of the Vostok into domestic (socialist) and foreign (exploited) components. The master theme of Kirasirova’s work is the “longevity and ideological resilience” of this construct, and, above all, the significance it assumed as it became entrenched in an entire range of Soviet agencies and institutions located in Moscow: the Communist University for the Toilers of the East, the All-Union Society for Cultural Ties Abroad, the Moscow Institute for Oriental Studies, and a number of others. Kirasirova’s “Eastern International” affects the ways we look at Soviet nationalities policy, Soviet Orientology (vostokovedenie), and the guiding ideas and practices of the Soviet multinational state—both inside and outside its borders. In addition to the work’s international and transnational dimensions; the study makes an important and innovative contribution to the study of Soviet politics and ideology in the tradition of Tucker and Cohen.

Particularly noteworthy are the wide array of archival sources, including an impressively large number of Russian and Arabic materials never before utilized. The research included documentary sources and interviews in Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Jordan, Israel/Palestine, and the US. The study also takes an ambitious and unusually expansive chronological sweep from the 1920s to the 1960s. In telling the story of how “eastern” cadres, foreign communists, activists, students, artists, and film-makers interacted with Soviet institutions and key politicians, experts, and functionaries, the work is able to capture an important dimension of lived experience in the interaction of the two “easts” with one another and the Soviet center. As it demonstrates the significant, if circumscribed agency of Moscow-based Central Asian “mediators” and a wide range of key players in Soviet-Middle East relations, the work elaborates a Soviet cultural mission that in some ways proved more resilient than the political one. While the evolution of the bifurcated East in Soviet history is shown to have taken many twists and turns, especially in the era of decolonialization, the Cold War, and Thaw, the leitmotiv of “Russia and the East” is explored throughout with sophistication and depth. This dissertation has the makings of a significant book.