On July 10, the Institute of Modern Russia hosted the launch of a new interactive website titled “Patriotism,” which features the work of photographer Misha Friedman on the meaning of patriotism in today’s Russia. The launch took place at Fridman Gallery, located in New York City, and introductory remarks were made by IMR President Pavel Khodorkovsky.

 

 

The topic of patriotism has become increasingly popular in Russia, especially given the country’s sensitive political environment, in which the Russian authorities actively exploit and propagate patriotic themes in fulfilling the goals of the regime. While the Kremlin tries to “monopolize” the concept of “true patriotism,” the actual views of the Russian public on what constitutes patriotism remain unclear.

To examine how Russians understand patriotism today, IMR commissioned New York photographer Misha Friedman to conduct a visual exploration and cultural study of this concept. Over several months, Friedman traveled throughout Russia and beyond, where he photographed and interviewed over one hundred people from all walks of life, from pensioners and paratroopers to students and businessmen. All of the collected material, including photographs, interview transcripts, and audio excerpts, are featured on this interactive website, providing an intimate look at the concept of patriotism in contemporary Russia.

Introducing the site, IMR President Pavel Khodorkovsky said, “This website, simply titled “Patriotism,” presents these portraits and interviews in a way that allows the readers to explore the idea of patriotism for themselves. As you can see on the front page, the question mark after the word “patriotism” tells you that questions are to be asked about its meaning. This project has shown both unexpected diversity and similarities in what the Russian people think of patriotism.”

Friedman’s questions were designed to gauge attitudes on patriotism in Russia. Participants described patriotism as anything from heroism and self-sacrifice to voting and acts of kindness. Many believed that being patriotic did not necessarily mean loving one’s government. As one man put it, “governments change, the motherland does not.” Notions of being a real Russian were tied to birthplace and citizenship in addition to love for Russia. Interviewees considered emigration to be a path to a better life, an escape from difficult situations, or equal to betrayal of the motherland. Views on migrants ranged from understanding their situation to expressing prejudices or making racist remarks.

Speaking about his newest project, Friedman explained that he interviewed people he happened to meet, asking each of them the same questions. In doing so, Friedman’s “goal was to give them a voice because their voices are lost.” Even though general patterns can be observed while browsing the site, users are encouraged to draw their own conclusions on Russian patriotism based on these portraits and discussions. In fact, Friedman says he wants “the viewer to look for [his or her] own answers and decide what they’re seeing…what’s interesting to them.”

IMR has worked with Friedman on several projects in the past, including “Photo 51: Is Corruption in Russia’s DNA?” which sought to explore the roots of corruption in Russian society, and the HIV/AIDS and TB Awareness Initiative, which documented the inadequate treatment of patients in Russia and other post-Soviet republics.

This website is a part of IMR’s project titled “Faces of Russian Patriotism,” dedicated to analyzing this phenomenon in various contexts. It complements a recent IMR research paper titled “What’s in a Name? Understanding Russian Patriotism” that draws upon data collected in collaboration with the Levada Center, Russia’s leading polling organization.

Visit the site here: patriotism.imrussia.org

See Friedman’s NYT op-ed on the website here.

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