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Familiar Strangers: The Georgian Diaspora and the Evolution of Soviet Empire

by: Erik R. Scott
published by
: Oxford University Press
pp: 352
ISBN: 9780199396375
price: $74.00

Book's frontpage

A small, non-Slavic country located far from the Soviet capital, Georgia has been more closely linked with the Ottoman and Persian empires than with Russia for most of its history. One of over one hundred officially classified Soviet nationalities, Georgians represented less than 2% of the Soviet population, yet they constituted an extraordinarily successful and powerful minority. Familiar Strangers aims to explain how Georgians gained widespread prominence in the Soviet Union, yet remained a distinctive national community.

Through the history of a remarkably successful group of ethnic outsiders at the heart of Soviet empire, Erik R. Scott reinterprets the course of modern Russian and Soviet history. Scott contests the portrayal of the Soviet Union as a Russian-led empire composed of separate national republics and instead argues that it was an empire of diasporas, forged through the mixing of a diverse array of nationalities behind external Soviet borders. Internal diasporas from the Soviet republics migrated throughout the socialist empire, leaving their mark on its politics, culture, and economics. Arguably the most prominent diasporic group, Georgians were the revolutionaries who accompanied Stalin in his rise to power and helped build the socialist state; culinary specialists who contributed dishes and rituals that defined Soviet dining habits; cultural entrepreneurs who perfected a flamboyant repertoire that spoke for a multiethnic society on stage and screen; traders who thrived in the Soviet Union's burgeoning informal economy; and intellectuals who ultimately called into question the legitimacy of Soviet power.

Looking at the rise and fall of the Soviet Union from a Georgian perspective, Familiar Strangers offers a new way of thinking about the experience of minorities in multiethnic states, with implications far beyond the imperial borders of Russia and Eurasia.


Table of contents

Note on Transliteration and Dating
Chapter 1 - An Empire of Diasporas
Chapter 2 - Between the Caucasus and the Kremlin
Chapter 3 - Edible Ethnicity
Chapter 4 - Dances of Difference
Chapter 5 - Strangeness for Sale
Chapter 6 - Beyond the Ethnic Repertoire


"This book makes an important contribution to the study of nationality in the Soviet Union Recommended."

"Erik Scott's fascinating and groundbreaking study upends the conventional view that the Soviet Union's multiethnic empire possessed an ethnic Russian core, and reshapes how we understand national minorities in the USSR and the nature of the Soviet empire. The book is meticulously researched and beautifully written, with rich details and surprising material. His analysis calls to mind other cases of prominent minorities in revolution, such as the Alawites in Syria and the Sunni minority in Ba'athist Iraq. The book will be of great interest not only to students of Georgia, the Soviet Union, and Stalinism, but also to those interested in revolution and empire."
- Golfo Alexopoulos, University of South Florida

"Familiar Strangers provocatively explores how internally mobile Soviet Georgians successfully performed their otherness for a pan-Soviet audience, without sacrificing the core of their difference. In a superb study that ranges from politics to cuisine to music to market trade to film, Scott challenges conventional notions of the 'Soviet empire,' showing how the view from the periphery provides a unique yardstick to measure the rise and fall of the Soviet project of domestic internationalism."
-Diane P. Koenker, author of Club Red: Vacation Travel and the Soviet Dream

"Familiar Strangers tells us that the Soviet Union made modern Georgia in two ways. First, it gave Georgians a mass of resources to promote and protect their language, food, and culture, in ways that few other modern states would have countenanced. Second, it gave them an enormous space in which to project an identity and participate in global geopolitics. From Stalin to the Moscow restaurant table, from the folkloric stage to the black market, and from the heights of Soviet politics to the center of its break-up, Scott gives us revealing snapshots of one of the country's great internal diasporas. Those seeking a thoughtful and accessible history of Georgians and the question of nationality in the USSR will be deeply satisfied."
-Yanni Kotsonis, New York University


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