Heldt Prize

2015 Heldt Prizes

Best Book in Slavic and East European Women's Studies

Valerie Sperling, Sex, Politics, and Putin: Political Legitimacy in Russia (Oxford University Press, 2015).

It is easy to see that Russian President Vladimir Putin's regime displays a hyper-masculine, sexist, and homophobic form of power. What is remarkable about Valerie Sperling's new book is that she shows us in great detail how gender norms have operated as foundational pillars of the post-1991 Russian state. Drawing on the tools provided by feminist and gender theory, masculinity and sexuality studies, as well as more traditional modes of political analysis, Sperling argues that these practices, although visible to an extreme in Russia, are by no means unique. In case studies on political youth groups, patriotism, military conscription, pro-natalism, feminism, and, of course, Pussy Riot, Sperling demonstrates how both supporters and opponents of the Putin regime remain trapped within the same patriarchal paradigms, unable to break down the symbolic and rhetorical structures that bolster the regime. While resistance to authoritarian rule has not experienced much success, Sperling argues that the case of Pussy Riot constitutes one of the most explicit challenges to Russian patriarchal norms. At the same time, the Putin regime used the controversy and trial to reinforce the "patriarchal church-state nexus" and to mark all feminists as standing outside the acceptable gender boundaries – and thus as enemies of the state. Nevertheless, in Sperling's view feminism remains one of the most powerful tools for recognizing and combatting the injustices of authoritarian states. Gender is thus not simply an essential category of analysis in comparative politics; it is the key to understanding the obstacles to full gender equality and, perhaps more importantly, the dynamics of democratization.

Honorable mention: Kristen Ghodsee, The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe (Duke University Press, 2015).

Written with compassion, conviction, and courage, The Left Side of History tells the story of two communist believers, British officer Frank Thompson who parachuted into Bulgarian-occupied east Serbia to join the Bulgarian partisans and Elena Lagadinova, the 14-year-old Bulgarian girl who was ready to sacrifice her life in the partisan movement fighting the Nazi-allied Bulgarian government. While Frank Thomson perished in Bulgaria during the war, Elena Lagadinova survived the resistance struggles. As a high-ranking leader of the Bulgarian women's movement during socialism, she continued to believe in and work for the betterment of human conditions and especially women's rights. Ghodsee's moving infatuation with the idealism and bravery of these two people, evident in her captivating prose, serves a larger purpose: the author narrates a complex story about the experience, perception, and memory of communism and the disillusionment with the dreams of democracy and free market economy after 1989. After the last page of this compelling tale is closed, the reader is left eagerly anticipating Ghodsee's next chronicle.

Best Book by a Woman in Slavic and East European Studies

Luba Golburt, The First Epoch: The Eighteenth Century and the Russian Cultural Imagination (University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).

Luba Golburt's book The First Epoch, the Eighteenth Century and the Russian Cultural Imagination is a true original. Golburt skillfully unearths the eighteenth-century literature that gave rise to the Pushkin era Golden Age. She argues that the culture of the nineteenth-century's Russian Golden Age emerged while the intellectuals of that era attempted to define their place in history. She shows that the Pushkin-era literary history writing mostly came about because of intellectual inquiry of the past, and despite its relegation to obscurity. This beautifully written book offers a fresh reading of the works of Derzhavin, Pushkin, Lomonosov, Viazemsky and other giants of literature. Golburt proves that the eighteenth century was a testing ground of periodization, belonging, and representation that, unlike Europe, did not abandon the 'ancient' while becoming 'modern.' Finally, Golburt's book succeeds in turning our attention to how Derzhavin, Pushkin and others imagined their literary origins, and desired to be remembered.

Honorable mention: Mary Elise Sarotte, The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall (Basic Books, 2014).

Insightful and compelling, The Collapse offers a fresh reading of the opening of the Berlin Wall. Contrary to more traditional historiography of the fall, which grants agency and power to a handful of world leaders from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher to Mikhail Gorbachev and guided by meticulous archival research and extensive interviews, Mary Elise Sarotte contends that ordinary people -- bureaucrats, dissidents, and journalists -- caused the opening of the Wall. With a sense of suspense, the reader learns about brave East German citizens who took great risks to smuggle the truth to West Germany as well as committed and curious journalists who grabbed the opportunity to trumpet the opening that was perhaps mistakenly announced by the Berlin boss of the Communist Party. An absorbing read, the book pursues its argument of the political chaos in East Germany that accidentally led to the collapse with consistency and conviction.

Honorable mention: Anna Cichopek-Gajraj, Beyond Violence: Jewish Survivors in Poland and Slovakia, 1944-48 (Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Anna Cichopek-Gajraj‘s Beyond Violence: Jewish Survivors in Poland and Slovakia, 1944-48 offers an original, well-researched and stimulating comparative study of the return of Jewish holocaust survivors to Poland and Slovakia. Cichopek-Gajraj details the complex fates of postwar Jews in these contexts with considerable nuance, offering an important corrective to past assumptions about the unmitigated hostility and violence that met these returnees. Instead Beyond Violence explores accommodation, empathy, the shared fates of Jews and non-Jews and their ultimate reintegration into postwar Poland and Slovakia.

Best Article in Slavic and East European Women's Studies

Anika Walke, "Jewish Youth in the Minsk Ghetto: How Age and Gender Mattered," Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 15, 3 (Summer 2014): 535-62.

Anika Walke's article "Jewish Youth in the Minsk Ghetto" sits at the intersection of three important, but under-investigated, dimensions of World War II historiography: the Jewish experience in occupied Soviet territory, the lives of children and youth in the ghetto, and the gendered differences in those experiences. In addition to German and Soviet wartime documents, Walke taps recently produced oral histories, video testimonies, and written memoirs of survivors who were children during the war, to paint a rich picture of life in the Minsk ghetto under German occupation. Having grown up in the 1930s in a secular Soviet culture, these children had little sense of Jewish identity or community to sustain them emotionally or materially through the systematic imprisonment and killing that the German forces perpetrated in Belorussia after 1941. Facing the prospect of almost certain death, they managed to survive by caring for one another and escaping the ghetto when the opportunity arose. Walke highlights the silence surrounding the pervasiveness of sexual violence and the contributions of women to the partisan forces. Moreover, in bringing attention to the particular plight of Soviet Jewish youth and their exclusion from Soviet scholarship on the Great Patriotic War, Walke makes a substantial contribution that adds nuance and complexity to our understanding of the Holocaust and the German occupation of Minsk.

Honorable mention: Nadia Kaneva and Elza Ibroscheva, "Pin-ups, strippers and centerfolds: Gendered mediation and post-socialist political culture" European Journal of Cultural Studies 2015, vol. 18(2) 224-241.

Nadia Kaneva and Elza Ibroscheva's "Pin-ups, strippers, and centerfolds: gendered mediation and post-socialist political culture" published in the European Journal of Cultural Studies, offers a fascinating exploration of the ways that a contingency of female politicians in post-socialist Central and Eastern Europe have packaged and deployed their own sexuality for political ends. As Kaneva and Ibrosheva convincingly argue, such women were not unwittingly "exploited" by the magazines, videos, and other press media that have sought out and "exposed" them in sexualized imagery. Instead these women have participated in and helped form a new post-socialist political culture, in which sex plays an important role.

Best Translation in Slavic/Eastern European/Eurasian Women's Studies

Olga Sedakova/ Caroline Clark, Ksenia Golubovich, Stephanie Sandler, In Praise of Poetry (Open Letter, 2014).

Until 1988 with the publication of her poetry in Russian, Olga Sedakova's work was known in the USSR only in samizdat circles. This belated recognition during Glasnost came two years after the publication of Sedakova's first Russian-language book in Paris. Her talent has since been recognized in Russia, Germany, France, Italy and Vatican. This English-language volume by Caroline Clark, Ksenia Golubovich and Stephanie Sandler offers new translations of the work of this exceptional poet and writer. It helps the readers understand Sedakova's personal development as a spiritual individual, and her process of becoming a poet by providing translations of her poetry, "Old Songs," "Tristan and Isolde," and her memoir-essay, "In Praise of Poetry." The translators enrich this unique project by including an interview with Sedakova, and her 2011 acceptance speech as the winner of the Masters Translation Prize in Moscow. This volume not only provides us with full translation of all the texts in English, but also helps us appreciate Sedakova's brilliance by juxtaposing her wisdom in religious texts and folklore, and her mysterious poetry. Sedakova said in 2011, her task as a translator was to translate foreign-language poems into Russian without "putting them into her own words," or making them sound "more familiar and conventional." These three translators just did that, successfully and beautifully translated Sedakova's work into English by allowing her to say what she wanted to say.

For a list of past recipients click here.