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Articles in Russia, Ukraine, and Caucasus

Where Is the Caucasus?

By Martin W. Lewis | January 11, 2012 | 41 Comments
Geopolitical Map of the Caucasus

For the next two weeks or so, GeoCurrents will examine the Caucasus. This unusually long focus on a particular place derives from several reasons. The Caucasus is one of the most culturally complex and linguistically diverse parts of the world, noted as well for its geopolitical intricacy and intractable conflicts. The region contains three internationally recognized sovereign states (Georgia, …

What’s in a (Country) Name: The Georgia/Grúziya Controversy

By Martin W. Lewis | December 12, 2011 | 23 Comments
List of YouTube Languages

Names of countries in foreign languages (exonyms) often bear no relationship to the names of the same countries in their own official language or languages (endonyms). Such differences are generally accepted without complaint; the fact that English speakers refer to Deutschland as Germany and Nihon as Japan is not a problem for the governments or the people of those countries.
Occasionally, …

Mapping Language and Race in the Finnic World

By Martin W. Lewis | February 3, 2011 | 9 Comments

In skimming through old atlases, one might be surprised to find Finns racially classified as yellow-skinned Mongolians. Yet until fairly recently, that was the norm. Consider the 1962 map posted above, “Classification of Mankind By Color of Skin,” from the popular Bartholomew’s Advanced Atlas of Modern Geography. Here both Finns and Estonians

The Eastern Finnic Peoples in World History

By Martin W. Lewis | February 1, 2011 |

Geocurrents has focused for a week on the Finnic-speaking* peoples of Russia, and will continue to do so for two additional postings. This prolonged gaze is prompted by two things: my intrinsic interest in peoples who have maintained their languages and cultural practices despite hundreds of years of intense pressure to acculturate; and my conviction

Russian Xenophobia and the History of the Finnic-Speaking Peoples

By Martin W. Lewis | January 31, 2011 | 2 Comments

Hostility toward foreigners is a major problem in Russia today. Xenophobic attitudes are common across a broad segment of the population, and violent assaults by skinheads and self-styled neo-Nazis on individuals perceived as foreign are common. People from the Caucasus region, stereotypically linked with organized crime and Islamic extremism, are often singled out

Actually, The Russian State and Church Did Persecute Pagans

By Martin W. Lewis | January 29, 2011 |
Actually, The Russian State and Church Did Persecute Pagans

The January 26 Geocurrents posting on the historical toleration of animism among the Volga Finns by the Russian church and state needs to be revised. Recent work, mostly by Hungarian, Finnish, and Estonian scholars, indicates that repression was far more severe than had been previously supposed. It is possible, however that such works go too

Threats to Mari Animism

By Martin W. Lewis | January 27, 2011 | 6 Comments

As we saw yesterday, the traditional animism of the Mari people of Russia’s Middle Volga region was historically tolerated by both the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Empire. In Mari El today, animism is officially regarded as one of the republic’s three traditional faiths, along with Orthodox Christianity and Islam. Such has not always

The Survival of Animism in Russia – and Its Destruction in the West

By Martin W. Lewis | January 26, 2011 | One Comment

The continued existence of animist (or “pagan”) religious practices among the Finnic-speaking peoples of the middle Volga region, especially the Mari, is usually considered a curiosity. The Mari, after all, are merely one of a plethora of ethnic groups scattered across the vast reaches of Russia, many of which are noted for their

And the Suicide Capital of the World Is … The Republic of Mari El

By Martin W. Lewis | January 25, 2011 | 7 Comments

Suicide rates vary greatly from one part of the world to another. As the first map indicates, self-killing reaches its peak over most of the former Soviet Union, and is common across Europe north of the Alps as well as in southern and eastern Asia. Suicide rates are low across most of the Muslim

Siberia Is More Russian than European Russia

By Martin W. Lewis | January 24, 2011 | 4 Comments

Just as a state-based vision of the world exaggerates the distinctiveness of small countries, so it masks difference within large countries. When macro-countries like Russia, China, or the United States are mapped as singular units, vast disparities between their constituent areas vanish from view. The public view of massive Russia is especially

Why Russian Jews Are Not Russian

By Martin W. Lewis | January 21, 2011 | 116 Comments

In twenty years of university teaching I have discovered a few features of global geography that consistently flummox students, contradicting their preconceptions about how the world works. Russian nationality is one. How could it be possible for Russian-speaking Jews, born in Russia and descended from the Russian-born, not to be considered Russian by

Scorched Earth: Russia Burns

By Samuel Raphael Franco | August 16, 2010 | 4 Comments

Pictured above are NASA images of the Summer’s temperature anomalies that caused a massive drought, the resulting smoke from forest fires which have caused more than 100 fatalities on the way to blanketing in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine in smoke since the beginning of August.Moscow has been covered in smog, death rates in

Russia’s Changing Demography

By Martin W. Lewis | February 9, 2010 |

In August 2009, Russia recorded 1,000 more births than deaths, the first month of natural population increase in more than 15 years. Russian officials, worried about their country’s declining population, were pleased that their efforts to encourage childbearing were showing signs of success. Overall, however, demography is still a major concern for Russian nationalists

Kaliningrad, Russia’s Restive Exclave

By Martin W. Lewis | February 8, 2010 | 9 Comments

In the last weekend of January, 2010, massive protests erupted in the Russian city of Kaliningrad, unnerving the country’s political establishment. Despite bitter weather, an estimated 10,000 people took to the streets to denounce both the local governor and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, ostensibly for raising utility prices and transport taxes during a time of

Circassia and the 2014 Winter Olympics

By Martin W. Lewis | February 4, 2010 | One Comment

Yesterday’s post referred to the Ossetians as a people of “profound world-historical significance,” a phrase that fits their neighbors, the Circassians, even better. That members of the so-called White race are called “Caucasians” stems largely from the widespread nineteenth-century European notion that the Circassians, natives of the northwestern Caucasus, somehow represented the ideal human form

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