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Culture and Literature: Russian Culture and Everyday Life During the Crazy 1990s


Admission requirements

Open to all students from the MA programme Russian and Eurasian Studies. Students from other MA programmes require a Russian language reading level of B1 according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, see CEFR.


Although the breakup of the Soviet Union itself was a relatively peaceful event, the decade that followed it saw plenty of military action both in the Russian Federation and in other former Soviet republics (Georgia, Moldova). Even today the frozen conflicts of Abkhazia, Transnistria and Chechnia are powerful reminders of the chaos of the 1990s when the viability of the Commonwealth of Independent States was often questioned and the Russian Federation nearly qualified as a “failed state.”

For the majority of Russian citizens it wasn’t geopolitics, however, but the struggle for survival that mattered most. Owing to the declining demand for Russian products in the former satellite states (and in Russia itself), factories were closed down leading to skyrocketing unemployment figures. Even those people who did not lose their jobs sometimes had to wait for months before they got their salaries paid. And then there was another scourge of Russian society: ubiquitous crime, a phenomenon that was traditionally associated with the capitalist West, but now turned out to be very much part of the new post-communist Russia.

It’s not surprising that the Putin regime has sought to legitimize itself partly by exploiting the unfavorable reputation of the 1990s as a time of chaos and national humiliation. However, this constant “demonization” of the 1990s cannot obscure the fact that the decade also had a few things going for itself: a national parliament that functioned reasonably well; genuine freedom of expression in the media (in the pre-internet age!) and topless girls presenting the weather forecast. Today a considerable number of Russians who were then in their twenties remember the period with remarkable fondness.

While not completely ignoring the political developments of the first post-Soviet decade, this course is mainly about its cultural expressions and the changes in everyday life. What happened to the moral prestige of the Russian writer (and his income!) after the abolishment of censorship? How did (s)he remain relevant in a media landscape that was increasingly dominated by pulp fiction and investigative journalism? What did the arrival of McDonalds in Russia do to Russian fast food? How enduring were the successes of biznes lanch and russkii bistro? What was the fate of Russian film comedy when the film industry was going through an unprecedented crisis? Finally: how are the 1990s remembered and by whom? These are just a few of the questions we will address in a course that is situated on the crossroads of history, semiotics and cultural studies.

Course Objectives

  • To examine received notions on the 1990s as a time of chaos and destitution

  • To familiarize ourselves with the key players of the 1990ss and their literary and cinematographic texts;

  • To acquire a better understanding of the political and social context in which these texts were produced and received;

  • To become better readers and better viewers


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Assessment method

Assessment and weighing

  • Individual presentation of academic article (15-20 minutes): 20%

  • Group presentation of film (10-15 minutes): 10%

  • Three short papers (each ca. 1000 words): 30%

  • Final paper (5000 words): 40%

Penalty for any late submissions: reduction of 0,5 for each day the (short) paper is overdue.


Students who fail their papers (5,5 or lower), will have to resubmit an improved version and this will count as a resit for the assignment. No resit is possible for the oral presentation. A fail grade can only be compensated by the total average of the other grades.
No written exam, but don’t forget to register (Usis).

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list

Liudmila Petrushevskaia – Vremia: noch’/ The Time: Night

Svetlana Alexievich – Vremia Second-Hand/ Second-Hand Time/ Het Einde van de Rode Mens (excerpts) (Dutch translation available via the library)


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available on the website.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc., contact the Education Administration Office: Reuvensplaats.


Not applicable.