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When the vast, multinational Soviet empire collapsed in 1991, the geopolitical structure it had struggled to maintain for most of the 20111 century - often by means of brutal repression and forced remobilization of entire populations - proved itself in the eyes of many to be fatally out of sync with the epochal norm of the nation-state. By the end of the 18th century, people in many parts of the world had begun to "imagine themselves" as nations and to organize politically into states whose primary function would be to protect, nurture, and (in a kind of Romantic feedback loop) vindicate the existence of the "people" as a "nation." In Eastern Europe, movements towards national self-determination began somewhat later - towards the end of the 19th century - and were notoriously aborted or suppressed by violent redistribution of power and territory in the aftermath of World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution. As is well known, as the world's first self-proclaimed communist state, the Soviet Union was ideologically committed to uniting the "workers of the world" on the basis of class interests rather than narrow ethnic or national identity; in practice, the USSR pursued different strategies in different periods to accommodate and/or manipulate the tension within its far-flung borders between national self-awareness and self-expression versus a collective, Soviet, supranational notion of belonging. It is axiomatic to Slavic Studies that throughout the 20th century, fictional literature and even academic histories of literature played a crucial role in articulating the contours of national and "Soviet" identity.

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Copyright © Japanese Society for Slavic and East European Studies. This article first appeared in Japanese Slavic and East European Studies 37 (2016), 1-16.

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