From Stalin’s inner circle to Soviet dinner menus, the small nation of Georgia had a remarkable influence on the politics and culture of the USSR. Erik Scott
, author of Familiar Strangers: The Georgian Diaspora and the Evolution of Soviet Empire
(Oxford University Press, 2016),
traces how Georgians came to occupy such a central role in Soviet history, as well as how the relationship with Moscow unraveled. Scott argues that the Soviet Union should be seen as an “empire of diasporas”: though assigned to titular republics, Soviet nationalities were mobile, mixed freely, and gained prominence in the center. In a system that elevated national repertoires, performing “otherness” could be a successful integration strategy. Scott argues that Georgians were perhaps the ideal “familiar strangers”—highly educated, densely networked, and fluent in Russian culture, while also boasting a language unintelligible to outsiders and a unique performance tradition.
Scott follows the political networks that elevated Georgian revolutionaries from the Caucasus to the Kremlin, where Stalin presided as “toastmaster-in-chief,” followed by the spread of Georgian food and dining customs to Soviet tables. The book also explores Georgians’ role in Thaw-era song and dance and the informal economy of the Brezhnev era. Ultimately, the Georgian intelligentsia grew disillusioned with the Soviet power that both supported and constricted them, as manifested in the hugely popular perestroika-era film Repentance
. With the collapse, Georgians and other “familiar strangers” transformed from internal diasporas to transnational populations living across state borders; while their numbers in Moscow grew, they faced entirely new sets of challenges.
is the finalist for the Council for European Studies Book Award, the Central Eurasian Studies Society Book Award, and the Joseph Rothschild Prize in Nationalism and Ethnic Studies. It is now out in paperback.
Joy Neumeyer is a journalist and PhD candidate in History at the University of California, Berkeley. Her dissertation project explores the role of death in Soviet culture.