Accepted paper:

The making of 'diasporas' in post-socialist Russia


Hyun-Gwi Park (Chung-Ang University)

Paper short abstract:

Critical examination of the use of 'diaspora' in post-Soviet Russia by examining Russian Koreans' ethnic political activities in the Russian Far East.

Paper long abstract:

My paper intends to contextualise the concept of 'diaspora' as a political term, particularly focusing on the ethnographic case of the Korean diasporas in contemporary Russia. This shall be done by juxtaposing the concepts of diaspora in the public and academic discussions in the West and Russia. Understanding 'diaspora' as a political claim or disclaimer rather than a theoretical concept, I am going to speculate on the political and cultural terrain of diaspora discourse in contemporary Russia. This will lead to an analysis of specific perceptions of central concepts such as 'homeland', 'displacement' and 'alienation' in diasporan discourse amongst the Koreans in the Russian Far East. In diaspora studies in the West, the relationship between 'homeland' and the 'uprooted' people has been the main focus in the construction of ethnic identity and the sense of belonging. Thus, the term 'diaspora' usually presupposes an attachment with 'homeland'. This entails confusion in its usage, as 'diaspora' is often replaceable with 'minority', 'ethnic groups', 'immigrant communities'. As Clifford(1997) rightly pointed out, the more critical aspect of diasporas' historical experience which differentiates them from 'immigrants' or 'minority communities' is not an attachment with homeland per se but their 'sense of identity as centrally defined by collective histories of displacement' from homeland and this 'violent loss which cannot be "cured" by merging into a new national community'. Thus, the self-designation of 'diaspora' or the usage of that term as an analytical tool already presupposes a political claim for past 'loss' and present 'alienation' via the symbolic rhetoric of 'homeland' by both diasporas and diaspora studies scholars alike. However, in contemporary Russia, diaspora discourse seemed to differ from that in the West in the sense it was invoked in order to divert the diasporan claim which is its equivalent in the West. Since the collapse of the USSR, 'the repressed peoples' forcibly deported during the Stalin purge have begun to demand their rights and compensation for past loss and suffering by the introduction of legislation in the early 1990s. This resulted in demands for restitution of 'territorial autonomy' or 'repatriation to homeland' by 'deported peoples' and strong antagonism to this claim by the settlers in the place vacated by the deported peoples, at least in the case of Koreans in the Russian Far East. The emergence and cultivation of 'diaspora' discourse in Russia since the mid-1990s coincides with the resolution of this 'chaotic' state of ethnic politics and mainly intends to reformulate the status of ethnic minorities, aiming to disaggregate 'territory' and 'people'. This can be seen as a departure from earlier Soviet policy, based as it was on the principle of allotment of territory to minor nationalities. This reformulation is enhanced by the encouragement of the trans-national re-connection of diaspora peoples with 'historical homeland'. For Koreans, not only was their historical homeland divided into South and North Korea, but also they were repressed and alienated because of having a 'homeland' outside the USSR. Hence an analysis of Korean diasporas' practice will require a critique of the main concepts in current diaspora discourse.

panel W007
Interrogating diaspora