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Urban Intellectuals Preserve Folk Heritage

Even today, ages-old folk culture can serve as a basis for collective identity by bringing together people who share this interest and underlying values, as evidenced by Russia's folk heritage movement. According to Rostislav Kononenko, Senior Lecturer at the HSE's Department of General Sociology, and Evgenia Karpova, Master's student at the HSE, the folk heritage movement in Russia is driven by urban intellectuals working to preserve and promote authentic folk culture.

According to experts, folk heritage movements engage in practices based on cultural memory; many of their members – folklorists – are young urban intellectuals who go on field trips to explore folk art, music, rituals and costumes. Folklorists are also interested in history, but to a lesser extent than, e.g., those who take part in historical re-enactments. And finally, folklorists tend to share traditional values, such as strong family ties, respect for elders, and mutual trust within the community.

These values are in fact very similar to characteristics of traditional communal life, according to Kononenko and Karpova. Their paper 'Folklore Movements as a Space for Social and Cultural Cohesion' presented at the HSE's annual conference ‘Sociology and Science: Interdisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Social Reality’, is based on findings from a qualitative study, including 15 interviews with members of the folk heritage movement in three Russian regions.

Folklorists Share Centuries-old Values

According to Kononenko and Karpova, the folk heritage movement emerged in the USSR some 50 years ago, driven by young people's interest in folk culture and a desire to collect and restore authentic folklore, such as songs, dances, etc., in order to rebuild a shared cultural memory. From the very start, folklorists opposed the official version of folk culture, such as numerous 'folklore' ensembles, composers and performers who were not authentic, but rather were paid by the government to create an illusion of widespread and popular ethnocultural expression.

Today's folklorists, like their predecessors, explore the communal model of Russia's traditional rural culture, based on strong family values, age hierarchy within the family, and interpersonal trust.

Kononenko and Karpova note that folklorists express these values not only as part of their performances at concerts, festivals and other events, but also in everyday life by maintaining close personal friendships and sharing life values as well as professional interests.

According to the interviewed folklorists, many of their colleagues are Orthodox Christian believers – a growing trend in the past 10 to 15 years.

Hierarchies Play a Role

According to Kononenko and Karpova, the geography of Russia's folklore heritage movement is broad and includes many cities.

Folklore groups are often organized as hierarchies, but some are more democratic than others and allow members to choose their repertoire with minimal interference from the group's leaders, while others rely on leaders and 'old-timers' for decisions. Some arrangements include a leading group of performers and a few subordinate groups.

Folklorists Support Multiculturalism, Not Nationalism

According to Kononenko and Karpova, while folklorists focus on ethnocultural aspects, they reject intolerance, unlike nationalist movements, and most contact between folklorists and nationalists ends in disagreement. Likewise, ethnic bias is not acceptable in the folk heritage movement; instead, folklorists support the values of multiculturalism by actively participating in a wide range of ethnographic festivals.

 

Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, February 17, 2015