My love story with Russia began in the summer of 2013 when I was working at a remotely situated baroque castle outside of Stockholm. Everyday I had to commute for at least five hours between work and home. I spent most of the time chatting with my colleagues – and when I didn’t feel like talking, I would read. I read a lot of books that summer and it was in Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly face of War (1985) that I discovered Russia.
Basically an oral testimony by Soviet women of their time in World War Two, the Unwomanly Face of War is the opposite of a glorious and heroic account of war, rather it is gritty and violent, while at the same time sensitive and emotional. I had never read anything like it before.
My main realisation while reading this book, however, was not about the war or the women participating in it, but about something else. I realized that I knew virtually nothing about Russia, and this book caught my attention. In fact, I was so intrigued by what I read about Russians and Russia that I bought a plane ticket to go to Saint Petersburg only a couple of weeks later. I immediately fell in love.
For a while, I felt quite lonely in this position. One of the most common questions that I get when I tell people about my passion for Russia is “So, is Russia going to attack Sweden?”. Not only an impossible question to answer straightforwardly (though I’m convinced that “no” is correct), it is a question that tells me that people still don’t know or care too much about Russia. Furthermore, what they actually do think about Russia is riddled with prejudices and fear.
I was born in April 1991. I belong to the generation that neither experienced the Soviet Union, nor the Cold War. If I ever heard adults talk about Russia, it was about Russia’s status as a fallen empire, and their lack of certainty on what to expect from it. In school we barely talked about it and even less so about Eastern and Central Europe, not to mention Eurasia. Yet Russia is less than an hour away from Stockholm by plane. You could be in Warsaw in an hour and a half or reach Kyiv and Budapest in two.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the whole region has gone through massive political and societal transformations – and events continue to unfold. For me personally, I realised that I could turn the passion that I felt for the post-communist sphere into something professional, something that I could dedicate my life to. On the path leading towards this goal, I’ve had the fortune to meet great people from all over the world, who share the same interest and passion as I.
Therefore I’m proud to present Lossi 36 – a student led initiative aiming at spreading regular and accessible articles about the politics, culture and societies of the post-communist sphere. Originally the brainchild of our President Laura Royer, this project has been developed and discussed by around 15 graduate students from different backgrounds since February 2018.
In a world of increased tension between world powers, where what is true and false can easily be put into question (most recently – and remarkably by the fake death of Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko) our aim is to fight prejudices and fear between the East and the West. Knowledge should be the basis on which we rest our curiosity, opinions and ideas. By creating a platform for spreading and sharing our knowledge, we hope to build bridges rather than walls.
From now on, we will post one article per week on different themes connected to politics, society and culture. First we have our launching weekend. Tomorrow you will be able to read a piece written by Alexandra Wishart about how Belarusian internet users used the Zapad military exercise of 2017 to poke fun at the Belarusian regime. On Sunday we will publish Sasha Mishcheriakova’s article about Ukrainian attempts to create an independent Orthodox church. We hope that you will enjoy it, keep reading and spread the word!
Amanda Sonesson holds a BA in Economic History at Stockholm University and has previously lived, studied and worked in Russia and Kyrgyzstan. Currently she is studying in the CEERES program hosted by University of Glasgow, Scotland, focusing on gender issues, democracy, politics and society in Russia and Central Asia. Additionally she owns a secret collection of Putin memorabilia and loves everything (post) Soviet.