The different faces and latency of activism2023-09-12
- Propaganda is what media and communication research has focused on in Russia – the discourse that I’m looking at was fairly unexplored before the start of the war, says Svetlana Chuikina.
In her doctoral thesis, “(Re)constructing Russian anti-war movements. From practices of engagement towards frontier infrastructures”, Svetlana Chuikina, doctoral student in Media and Communication Studies at Karlstad University, explores how activism in Russia has been constructed over a ten-year period. Activism that for obvious reasons must operate in the dark.
- I want to look at the different faces and latency of this activism, says Svetlana Chuikina. By doing so, you gain an understanding of this anti-war movement and through that understanding, my view of how to approach this research has changed. Media and communication research has been focused on Russian propaganda – also referred to as “counter-discourse” – whereas my research interest is fairly unexplored.
Many of the participants in the study have been forced to leave Russia over the years and had to relate to their activism both ethically and morally since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. They have had to start their lives over.
- Most of the people that I have interviewed are Russian citizens although not all of them are ethnically Russian. Some are also former Russian citizens who left the country several years ago.
Has it been difficult to find people to interview?
- It has taken time because I’m not an activist myself and don’t have access to their network. I have had an interest in activism for a long time and have friends in the networks, so that has been my way in. The last year has been difficult for a lot of people because of security risks and I have had to build networks to get closer to people. That has been my process.
Svetlana Chuikina is from Kazakstan and grew up during the 90s with the collapse of the Soviet Union. This meant great changes for her family and created an interest in changes that may not be visible in society but nevertheless unique and important.
- For a long time, people in Sweden, for example, did not know much about Russian activism and the people involved in this movement. It was a large cultural and social movement which remained invisible to the public as it had a rather fluid and boundless structure. Today, the movement helps to crystallise the anti-war position of many Russians by articulating and establishing a “we”.
What impact do you think your research will have?
- In this project, there is of course a high degree of security to take into account. It is important for me not to reveal people’s identities and the communication practices of the activists – so my research does not look at the internal communication of the movement, etc. That is the negative aspect, but keeping this balance is very important. My aspiration is to shed light on these activists and tell their story, that many of them are young and how much work they put into this movement. Many of them feel unsafe but at the same time they are very brave to continue. Some of them have left Russia after strong pressure from the state to become informers. I don’t think their voices and stories have been given the attention they deserve.
In what way does geomedia enter into your project?
- Many of the people that I have interviewed did not see themselves as activists before the war broke out, but they have previously spread news and information and by doing so they have lowered the threshold to become activists. In the circles around this movement there are also those who do not engage in direct activism but who assist with technical solutions that enable actions. So the connection to geomedia is that a lot is about making activism mobile by, for example, being able to move it to another country. This transfer includes a geomedia perspective through the social orientation that takes place. In my research, I examine how anti-war movements are connected to media systems and infrastructures, how infrastructures are perceived and negotiated between people and reorganised to keep this movement together.