The Battle for (Pre-)Modernity: Medieval Festivals in Contemporary Russia


In May 2016 a medieval Russian “knight” lanced a drone out of the skies above Lipetsk. The assailant was part of the Rusborg Historical Festival, one of hundreds of medieval re‐enactment events that have sprung up across Russia since 2000 and have gained widespread popularity in recent years. This article considers these festivals as part of a larger trend in neo-medievalism that has come to occupy a surprisingly prominent place in contemporary Russian culture. Examining this trend in historical reconstruction, this article demonstrates how it is motivated by contemporary concerns about globalization and modernity and Russia’s place in the modern world. Though these issues are not explicitly discussed at medieval festivals, this article suggests that such events build towards an “affective public sphere,” that is, a space of public experience centered on aesthetics and affect rather than rational discourse. The immersive imaginary environments provided at these festivals encourage participants to explore the anxieties, nostalgias, and hopes evoked by contemporary life through emotional, affective experience, rather than rational political debate.

Keywords: neomedievalism, affect studies, public sphere, festivals, Times and Epochs

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