Sankt Petersburg 31.1. – 6.2.

I decided to stay almost a week in my favourite town of Russia – St. Petersburg. Of course, the majority of Russians will tell you that St. Petersburg is not really part of Russia, it looks too European for a Russian town, but I don’t care. It was not so easy to find a place to stay but hospitality is still great and I could stay at a friend of a friends place with a beautiful view over the roofs in the centre.

The days where filled with meetings of colleagues who work with the Nenets too. My first place to go was of course the European University located in the very city centre  in a beautiful old palace.

I met with Elena Liarskaya which I know from the old days in the Max-Planck Institute in Halle/Germany. She did a lot of fieldwork among the Nenets and recorded hundreds of life stories.

One of the most important hints I got from her was not to ask questions about history directly. People will not feel competent in history in front of a scientist. But the will feel competent when I will put questions about their own life and the history of their own family.

We also discussed a joint article about the notion of privacy among Nenets and Khanty people in western Siberia. Our main point is that there is not such think as such like the private but different practices of keeping privacy, of information management, that build up spheres around people and collectives. Secrets are kept, but must also be shared to function and survive, and every culture (and subculture)  is developing different ways to do so.

I had also the chance to meet Nikolai Vakhtin, a professor I remember from old times at Berlin University in the 90ies, when I just started to get interested in indigenous people of the Russian North.

I had the chance to photograph this picturesque fire engine next to the university. Immediately associations appeared with a very dark episode of the European University some years ago, when the existence of the university was endangered by some fire safety regulations that where the pretence to close the university and transfer the prestigious building to some more profitable business. But the University was saved and is still located in the palace at the Gagarin Street.

Nikolai Vakhtin took me to the Institute for Linguistic Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences where I became acquainted with Marina Liublinskaya. She is a teacher of Nenets language at the Institute of Northern People at Herzen University and collected Nenets folklore for her whole life, travelling in the huge region from the Kanin Peninsula to the Taimyr Peninsula in Siberia where Nenets is spoken. Of course everybody here who is dealing with Nenets knows each other and through Marina I got the chance to meet the grand dame of Nenets linguistics Maria Barmich.

Her portrait from earlier years is already at exposition in the corridor of the Institute where she is still working in her old days. It’s the lady on the very left of the photo.

My last evening I spend with Viktor Denisov from Izhevsk who acquainted me with Natalia Svetozarova from St. Petersburg University. We met in Natalia’s flat in the place where by tradition Russia’s most intellectually stimulating conversations took and still take place – the kitchen of the intelligentsia.

I share with Natalia and Victor the interest in the expedition material of Wolfgang Steinitz who had to emigrate from Germany as a communist and Jew and got a chance to make an expedition to the Khanty people in Western Siberia in 1935. It is still an unsolved puzzle, why he left Siberia after several months before the planed end of his expedition. There is the suspicion that he get involved in political troubles.

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About Stephan Dudeck

Anthropologist at the Arctic Centre of the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, the Centre for Arctic Social Studies at the European University at Saint Petersburg and the Centre of Arctic and Siberian Exploration at the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia
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2 Responses to Sankt Petersburg 31.1. – 6.2.

  1. Paul Deans says:

    Hi Stephen
    I am a New Zealand sculptor who has been invited to the V International Wood Sculpture Festival in Yamal. The theme this year in Legends of the North, and while I can find reference to the folklore of the Nenets (as in your blog) I can’t find any of the actual tales, which I really need to read to get inspiration in order to match the theme.
    Do you know if any of these stories available in English on the internet? I am starting to get a little desparate as the festival begins late August and I need to submit a design soon.
    Please reply by email.
    Kind regards
    Paul

    • Stephan Dudeck says:

      I’ll try to find some publications in English with Nenets tales, but I can do that only when I’ll be back in Finland and that will be too late for you unfortunately. But I hope you can find enough visual material on the web to get inspiration for your work. Frankly speaking I’m quite sceptical about an understanding of Nenets folklore detached from it’s social and cultural context.
      Stephan

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