Editor’s choice 2023: A round-up of recommendations from the team behind Lossi 366 min read
As the year slowly comes to an end, the team behind Lossi 36 has come together to share their recommendations for insightful books, entertaining podcasts, and captivating movies on Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. The result is a diverse list of hidden gems, high-flying evergreens and obscure rarities, ranging from journeys through the Caucasus mountains over Estonian saunas to nuclear weapons in Ukraine.
Lossi 36 wishes you a happy new year!
Xandie (Alexandra) Kuenning, Editor-in-Chief
In her second book, What Does It Mean to Be Post-Soviet?, decolonial and feminist researcher Madina Tlostanova investigates the power of art in building a decolonial future within the post-Soviet states. Though published in 2018, it is highly relevant today, directly speaking to the current context following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s a moderately quick yet powerful read that will appeal to political researchers and art enthusiasts alike.
The Caucasus Digest by Open Caucasus Media
This weekly podcast by the OC Media team dives into all the issues affecting the greater Caucasus region, bringing greater analysis to lesser-known stories. Each week features a different guest expert — recently, this included our own Newsletter Lead Editor Hannah O’Sullivan, who joined Salome Shubladze and Kakha Asatiani to talk about the implications of hydropower plants in Georgia and why people are protesting their construction.
Lukas Baake, Deputy Editor-in-Chief
In this masterful example of historical scholarship Mariana Budjeryn unearthed the fate of the Soviet nuclear arsenal on Ukrainian territory during and after the Soviet demise. What had the potential for an unparalleled nuclear catastrophe, resulted, after years of domestic debate and diplomatic pressure, in the denuclearisation of Ukraine. Through meticulous archival research and a solid theoretical foundation, Inheriting the Bomb makes for a compelling and captivating treatment of a key moment in recent international history.
Next Year in Moscow by Arkady Ostrovsky
Although a plethora of books and movies have tried to tackle Russia’s trajectory from the early nineties to the present, none can compete with the nuanced and gripping narrative presented in Arkady Ostrovsky’s podcast. Throughout the eight episodes the journalist, who serves as Russia editor for The Economist, interweaves his own biography with political events, cultural phenomena, and the voices of fellow travellers. The result is not only a highly entertaining and educating podcast but also a critical self-reflection of Russia’s liberal elite.
Thijs Korsten, Caucasus Regional Editor
This coming new year, 2024, will mark twenty years since the Beslan hostage crisis in North Ossetia. While High Caucasus is a memoir about the mountain cultures of the North Caucasus and the legacy of trauma and violence in the region, it is also a tribute to the sincerity and resilience of the Abkhaz, Chechens, Dagestanis, Ingush, Ossetians and others Parfitt encountered during his trek from Sochi to Derbent.
Утопленники directed by Nikita Smorkalov
Izhevsk is not only a city where Kalashnikovs are made. It was also the scene of a pioneering electronic music scene in the 80s and 90s. The slightly chaotic nature of Smorkalov’s film Утопленники (En. The Drowned) mirrors the spontaneity and eclecticism of a cultural movement that has become almost unimaginable in today’s provincial Russia. Free to watch online!
Maja Soomägi, Baltics Regional Editor
All This is Your World: Soviet Tourism at Home and Abroad after Stalin by Anne E. Gorsuch
If you don’t have any travel plans this winter, you can still experience the essence of travelling from the comfort of your sofa. In All This is Your World, Gorsuch outlines tourism across the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin. The book focuses on how Soviet citizens experienced tourism within the USSR, and how certain countries, such as Estonia, were perceived as the Soviet “abroad.” It also looks at different Soviet excursions to other socialist countries in Eastern Europe, and even to capitalist countries in the West. The “Thaw” after the death of Stalin in 1953 led to a shift in foreign policy and to a focus on cultural diplomacy, in which travel and tourism became an important aspect.
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood directed by Anna Hints
Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (Savvusanna sõsarad) is perhaps a surprising selection for film of the year, seeing how I am actually yet to watch it. However, it has been the film that I have thought and talked about the most this year (and almost jumped on an eight hour bus ride to Sheffield to see). Estonia’s official selection for the 96th Academy Awards, this documentary follows a group of women who gather in a smoke sauna. The viewer gets to follow the sauna process as well as the topics that are discussed inside it, with discussions ranging from body image to motherhood.
Ariadna Mañé, Central Asia Regional Editor
Azan on the Moon: Entangling Modernity along Tajikistan’s Pamir Highway by Till Mostowlansky
A stunning recollection of interviews and stories from a trip in the Pamir, the poorest and most isolated region of Tajikistan. Mostowlansky gives a voice to the local communities, who explain their customs and daily life, defend beliefs and politics, and narrate family histories. With a distinct culture and traditions, the Pamirians are a community adapted to living above 40 degrees Celsius in the summer and below 40 in the winter, raising yaks, and witnessing history happen below them from a place called ‘the roof of the world.’
“Democracy in Central Asia” by the Red Line Podcast
As the West continues to make inroads and strike deals with Central Asia, and as the Republics continue to attempt to shift from Russia to other business partners, The Red Line gives insight into where the promises and hopes of democracy in the region are. A panel of five experts review the current situation in the five countries, enlightening the evolution, trends, and prospects of the region in the midst of a global rise in authoritarianism. A great summary and analysis for those who are starting to pay attention to the region due to visits such as Macron’s or for those who suspect that 30-year-old independent dictatorships may be difficult to topple.
Amanda Sonesson, Chair of the Board
The Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric
This book is for anyone who wants to submerge themselves in the complicated history of a small town, recognised by a bridge that is both literally and metaphorically its inhabitants and the world in East and West. Andric’s work is classic, stylistically accurate and poetic to the point that I start marking pages just to go back and re-read them again. If you want a beautifully narrated account of 400 years of Balkan history through the eyes of a bunch of lovable and interesting fictional characters, I recommend you to read this book.
“Black in the USSR” by This American Life
This particular episode of This American Life is not new, so there is a chance that you might have already listened to it (though I promise you, it is worth a re-listen). The topic is not only unusual (the life and experience of a black girl born and raised in the Soviet Union and her re-location to the US as an adult) but an interesting account of how race and ethnicity was perceived during the Soviet period — and how the lived experience of growing up as a black person on the other side of the Iron Curtain affected perceptions of colour and race when relocating to the US.