Reviewing Voices From the Soviet Edge by Jeff Sahadeo2 min read
Migration to the global cities of the Soviet Union plays an important part in the history of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Exploring the narratives of those moving to these global cities, Jeff Sahadeo, a historian of Central Asia and professor at Carleton University, has made another contribution to the fields of Soviet Studies and Central Asian History.
His book Voices from the Soviet Edge: Southern migrants in Leningrad and Moscow is a masterful study and analysis on Central Asian and Caucasian migration to the cities of Leningrad and Moscow during the last decades of the USSR. This study is based on seventy oral stories and interviews of students, traders, engineers, and professors from the Caucasus and Central Asia who migrated to global cities. For its contribution to the field, the book was been awarded the 2020 Canadian Association of Slavists/Taylor and Francis Book Prize in Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies
Sahadeo principally argues that the development of Leningrad and Moscow is the result of post-imperial networks, alongside post-war urbanization and modernization policies. The author challenges the static characterization of late Soviet society through the insights and experiences of immigrants. The book answers how the old propaganda slogan “friendship of the peoples” was meaningful for immigrants but how they also simultaneously dealt with various forms of racism. These migrants were the predecessors of contemporary Muslims from former Soviet countries who continue to deal with significant discrimination in European Russia. By shedding light on late Soviet history, Sadaheo gives insight to migration in the context of global decolonization.
Chapter 6, “Life on the Margins” was particularly enjoyable. In it, Sadaheo reviews the personal stories of four different migrant traders and shows that these cities offered new opportunities to these four remarkable people. They reported various personal strategies as to how they stabilized their position in the new social and economic environment as well as how they demonstrated their human dignity to those around them as colleagues and neighbours through friendship and hard work. Perhaps more challenging, migrants also described their methods of exemplifying loyalty to the Soviet regime.
Sahadeo’s book is indispensable in understanding the global political dynamics in the ’80s and ’90s. Even so, the text would have been stronger had it focused more on the private sector’s perspective of national and regional economic development platforms where the most Central Asian and Caucasian immigrants were hired.
In sum, Voices from the Soviet Edge is a considerable study giving a voice to migrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia during the late Soviet era, informing our understanding of modern-day racial politics and attitudes in Russia and Eurasia. Moreover, the book makes a significant contribution to the study of Soviet history based on oral narratives.
Book Details: Voices from the Soviet Edge: Southern migrants in Leningrad and Moscow by Jeff Sahadeo, Ithaca & London, Cornell University Press, 2019, 273 pp., US $42.95 (hardback), ISBN 978-1-50-173820-3