Cultural in Form, Political in Content? Leningrad Monument Protection and Environmental Movement during Perestroika
My doctoral dissertation investigates how the Leningrad youth brought the issues of heritage preservationism into the public realm to influence regional politics during the perestroika period. The political setting of late Soviet Leningrad notorious for its repressions against the intelligentsia and political dissidents actualized preservationism, among other cultural concerns, as one of the few accessible directions of secure public activities in the city. The first years of perestroika encouraged an atmosphere of less severely restricted civil action resulting in the proliferation of grassroots youth groups, firstly those involved in the preservation of pre-revolutionary sites from destruction. Yet, the repressive measures of the local authorities, such as legislative restrictions on freedom of assembly, agency influence (agenturnoe vliianie) and infiltration, taken shortly after the first successful grassroots campaigns, uncovered an unevenness of Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies. At the same time, despite the proclaimed freedoms, the activists adjusted to the shifting setting moving into “big” politics.
Why did youth take the lead with heritage civil activism? Why the political freedoms encouraged from above were accompanied by the repressions against those following these policies from below? Why did the countermeasures against perestroika from below fail and result in massive politicization of the activism? In addressing these questions, I argue with the dominant scholarly perception of perestroika as a primary political campaign brought by Gorbachev. By putting forward new archival sources and oral testimonies, I approach perestroika as a turbulent and complex period of Soviet history that could not be explained simply as an era of reforms from above.