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Project Cheauré/Nohejl


On the Popularization of Napoleon, Borodino and the Patriotic War: The Search for National Identity in Russia


The Patriotic War against Napoleonic invasion gave a decisive impulse for the formation of Russian national self-consciousness during the 1800’s. In connection with the war events, the sons of the “Fatherland” (otečestvo), of the empire, at the same time were called “Russia’s sons” (syny Rossii). From then on, the imperial and the national concepts are intertwined in a problematic manner. The image of Napoleon paradigmatically stands for the hybris and for the misguided Western understanding of progress; West, in turn, serves as a contrasting foil for defining Russia’s own identity and its world mission. In the 19th century, this discourse pervades classical literary canon that was very important for the Russian understanding of the self and the other. One of the most famous examples is Lev Tolstoj’s monumental work Vojna i mir (War and Peace, 1868/69).

To a lesser extent are explored the ways in which the Russian Napoleonic myth and the model of identity building closely linked to it were interwoven into the texture of everyday culture/life and how they were anchored on a broader level in the cultural memory of the Russian society. Just as sparse is scholarship exploring the persistency with which the Napoleonic myth/leitmotiv is reactivated and reappropriated in the times of societal crises (e.g. the period of reforms after the Crimean War during the 1850-60’s, the time period preceding World War I which was also coincided with the 100th anniversary of the battle of Borodino, World War II named the Great Patriotic War in direct correlation with the war against Napoleon, and, last but not least, the present crisis).

In this context, the project deals with the exploration of strategies which popularise Napoleon and the Patriotic war of 1812 in various media, while the significance of the topic in the current national identity discourse comes to the foreground. Special attention will be paid to the obvious and indicative usage of gender constructions that is so characteristic to the Russian national discourse.

Main topics

  • Museum and memorial culture and reenactments. An important aspect is the direct observation and participation in the festivities dedicated to the 200th anniversary of Borodino battle (now planned in Russia under governmental supervision).
  • Russian films (starting with 1960s) and TV series. The comparative analysis of different film adaptations of Tolstoj’s Vojna i mir will serve as a departing point.
  • Popular science, especially in the field of new cultural studies (kul’turologija) with texts that are ideologically loaded and which attempt to re-locate Russian culture within the ideological vacuum after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
  • Caricature and anecdotes of today’s Russia.


Project Director: Prof. Dr. Elisabeth Cheauré (Slavic Studies)

Assistants: Regine Nohejl, PhD (Slavic Studies); Konstantin Rapp (Slavic Studies/associated)


« October 2022 »
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