Russian Media Lab co-organized a workshop on digitalization of memory and politics of e-Heritage

Digital humanities enthusiasts met on 3-4 June at the Herder Institute in Marburg, Germany in the joint workshop “Politics of e-Heritage: Production and regulation of digital memory in Eastern Europe and Russia”. It was the second workshop in the workshop series “Politics of Digital Humanities in Eastern European Studies”, organized by the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe, the Aleksanteri Institute – University of Helsinki and CEES at the  University of Glasgow. Aleksanteri Institute hosted the first workshop in September 2018.

The Workshop in Marburg brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars to present their research and to discuss about the digitalization processes in production and regulation of history, heritage and memory in Eastern Europe and Russia. Multidisciplinary background of participants, working at the intersection of history, media studies, cultural studies, internet security studies and other disciplines allowed to highlight various aspects of aforementioned issues.

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Towards the mediatization of religion normative model in Russia – talk by visiting researcher Victor Khroul (Moscow State University), 10 June 2019

Victor Khroul, visiting researcher from the Moscow State University, will give a talk on “(Re)mapping the sacred and the profane in post-communist Russia: towards the mediatization of religion normative model” during a brown bag lunch.

Time: 12:00 on Monday 10 June. The meeting room is booked up till 13:30.
Location: Aleksanteri Institute 2nd floor meeting room, Unioninkatu 33

Format. Brown bag lunch combines learning and eating, takes place over lunchtime and occurs in an informal setting. Participants are to bring their own packed lunch and/or beverages.

Lunch talk abstract:

Durkheim defined religion as a “unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden” (Durkheim 1915: 47). His sacred-profane dichotomy – widely recognized, criticized and developed – has two contextual challenges in Russia: the enforced atheization during the Communist time and, after it, religious revival in the context of secularization. Social processes in the post-communist countries led to the sacralization of the profane (Communist rituals) on one side and to the profanation of the sacred (reconstruction of Churches into dancing halls, burning icons). Some profane objects and social practices have been sacralized, some traditional religious ceremonies and sacred objects have been profanized. The last two decades became a time for continuous remapping the social space with sacred and profane markers and media became the most powerful driver of the process.

Some recent cases make it more clear.

  1. Sacralization ‘from the grassroots’. The recent debate on ‘Matilda’, a film directed by the Russian film-maker Alexei Uchitel, which tells a story of a romance between the future Nicholas II, canonized by the Russian Orthodox church in 2000, and Mathilde Kschessinska, a teenage prima ballerina at the Mariinsky theatre in St Petersburg, is a good example of the ‘grassroots sacralization’ trend in Russian public sphere. Radical Russian Orthodox movements warned that “cinemas will burn” if Matilda was screened, because the film portrays the “holy tsar” in love scenes. And the largest network of cinemas in Russia in September 2017 has refused to screen it because of safety reasons. In addition, some spontaneous, grassroots public initiatives in Russia (the icons of Stalin painted with the nimbus as a saint, protests against digitalization in order to avoid the “number of devil” in the documents, etc. are not in line neither with Church teaching nor the government intentions, but widely covered by media inspiring the sacralization of Stalin or Ivan IV (Terrible).
  2. Sacralization and profanation by and through media. Every year on the Epiphany (19 January) some Russians are plunged into a blessed section of frozen water three times in remembrance of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. In 2019, almost 460 thousand people in Moscow took part in it (over 2.4 mln in Russia), and these numbers are growing year by year. Epiphany bathing became a huge media event covered by all the major media in Russia and abroad – covered as religious tradition, as something all Russian Orthodox Christians are called to do, as a ritual blessed by the Church. In fact many Russian Orthodox bishops and priests condemned this ritual, called believers not to take part in it and invited them to attend Epiphany liturgy instead. Bishop Evtikhy of Domodedovo put four reasons for this: (1) ice swimming is danger for the health, it contradicts the Gospel and therefore it is a sin; (2) bathing is a profanation of the sacred – blessed water; (3) bathing is not traditional for the Russian Orthodox Church and (4) it strengthens not faith, but superstitions (Evtikhy 2012). This position is low profiled both by media and state authorities and therefore not heard in the public sphere. The ‘enforced sacralization’ of Epiphany bathing by media and commercial agency is an evident challenge for the theoretical framework called “power of religion in the public sphere” (Butler, Habermas et al. 2011).

These cases make evident two problematic areas: low level of ‘religious literacy’ in media and low level of ‘media literacy’ among faith communities. Both areas could be optimized by certain activity, based on normative principles of mediatization of religion and certain expectations from religions and media professionals.

Speaker bio: Victor Khroul, Ph.D., Dr. habil., an associate professor at the Department of sociology of mass communications, Journalism Faculty, Lomonosov Moscow State University and a co-chair of the Religion, Communication & Culture working group in the International Association for Media & Communication Research.

He has served for five years as a Member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Vatican (1996-2001), was a visiting professor at Central European University (Budapest, Hungary, 2011), Linnaeus University (Kalmar, Sweden, spring 2014) and Rooney International Scholar at Robert Morris University (Pittsburgh, USA, fall 2014).

Author of “Media and Religion in Russia” monograph book and over 90 publications in Russian and English, the founding co-editor of “Discovering Grushin” book series on public opinion and historical commemorations studies (published since 2010) and founding editor of “Media and Religion” book series (published since 2011).

Russian Media Lab at ICA conference

Russian Media Lab researcher Marielle Wijermars will be presenting her research on news aggregators and the perception of algorithms in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine at the International Communication Association conference in Washington (24-28 May).

‘News recommendation and source diversity on Russian news aggregators: Google News as the better alternative?’ M. Wijermars, C. Puschmann & J. Zeng

‘Can echo chambers protect information freedom? Algorithmic news recommenders and the public sphere in Eastern Europe’ M. Makhortykh & M. Wijermars

Saara Ratilainen to co-organize a Master Class Course on gender and media at Tampere University

Russian Media Lab researcher Saara Ratilainen will co-organize Master Class Course: Gender, Media, Leadership: Women in Chinese and Russian Media at Tampere University in Autumn 2019.

The course is aimed at those who are interested in the representation of gender in Chinese and Russian media and the status of women in these cultural industries. Participants will know more about media activism related to gender issues in Russia and China. They will learn from the experiences and expertise of acclaimed media professionals and scholars of gender and Russian and Chinese media.

For more information and the enrollment instructions,
please visit

Instagram is a new tool for activism in Russia – Interview with Ekaterina Kalinina

by Janne Suutarinen & Olga Dovbysh

Ekaterina Kalinina, PhD, is a lecturer at Södertörn University, Department of Media and Communication. Kalinina has recently been studying the protection of cultural heritage sites in Russia and more specifically the use of social media for the promotion of heritage protection activities. She has analysed how the highly popular photo-sharing application Instagram has proven to be handy in raising awareness about the alarming state of historical buildings across the country. In 2018-2019 Ekaterina was Visiting fellow in the Aleksanteri Visiting Fellows Programme.

Kalinina has been analysing Instagram accounts of a community of citizen historians, individual activists and non-profit organisations working towards preserving cultural heritage sites in Russia.

What kind of platform does Instagram provide for activism?

There has been lots of research done on activism on Facebook, Twitter and Vkontakte, but currently not so much on Instagram as a tool for civic engagement. While, it is actually a very interesting tool to be used for activism, because it is so much focused on image culture and allows for sharing visuals within a community as well as across communities of users. Captions, hashtags and links help to spread messages and increase visibility.

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HSS awards grant for ‘Sustainable Journalism for the Algorithmic Future’

Helsingin Sanomat Foundation has awarded a €130,000 grant to Russian Media Lab researcher Mariëlle Wijermars for the project ‘Sustainable Journalism for the Algorithmic Future’ (2020-2022).

The project, that in addition to Mariëlle involves RML researcher Olga Dovbysh, will be launched next January and run for three years (short summary below). If you are interested in getting involved or would like to know more, get in touch!

‘Sustainable Journalism for the Algorithmic Future’ (2020-2022)

The project investigates how data-driven media practices and the increased influence of IT industries on media business affect journalism and its role in the public sphere. Integrating new evidence from a hybrid media system (Russia) into a comparative study, it helps understand the context-specificity of this impact and will formulate a vision on making journalism societally, economically and ethically sustainable for the algorithmic future.

Internet diversity in Russia and weather diversity in Helsinki – interview with RML’s visiting researcher Polina Kolozaridi

In March 2019 RML hosted visiting researcher Polina Kolozaridi, lecturer at Higher School of Economics and founder of club for internet and society enthusiasts. Russian Media Lab asked Kolozaridi several questions about her research and visit Aleksanteri Institute.       

What is your current research about?

My central research now is about the diversity of internet in Russia and internet policies. Together with the club for internet and society enthusiasts we did several studies on internet history and bloggers in Russian regions, but in here Helsinki I focused mostly on the topic of Internet policies.

During my lecture at Aleksanteri Institute I talked about the role of government in regulating internet and the challenge of diversity and fragmentation. In 1996 John Perry Barlow had written the Declaration of the independence of the Cyberspace. This is an important document of the era of global internet. However, 23 years after it cannot be treated as a program document, as far as internet became ubiquitous: it is not a separate space anymore. Internet is flexible, therefore each social group or subculture uses and understands it in their own specific way. For instance, it was demonstrated in “Why We Post” project. Often we continue to treat the internet as something universal and global, as the epistemological approaches are rather rigid. Together with my colleagues we try to rise this problem and find some empirical and theoretical solutions for alternative understanding of internet as locally determined and diversified entity.

One of the empirical solutions is to investigate the variety of what internet might be in different places. In order to do it, we organized research expeditions to the Russian cities: Voronezh, Kazan, Tomsk, Arzamas, Pereslavl-Zalessky, Tyumen. Another solution is to analyse official government documents to understand how they conceptualize internet, its present and future. We still have plenty of field data to analyze, but it is already clear that internet should be understood as an interconnection of infrastructure, use and policies (as William Dutton stated) and also as media and content space. Moreover, the state or business are not homogeneous actors, but consist of very differently-minded groups.

How do you assess the freedom of speech in Russian-language segment of Internet?

I have quite unpopular position here. From my point of view, there are two reductions of this topic: metaphor of cyberspace and State as an extremely important actor.

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Doubly precarious labour of journalists in Russia – Interview with Alexandra Barmina

by Janne Suutarinen & Olga Dovbysh

Young scholars and early career researchers have less opportunities than more experienced ones to talk about their research to general public. Our blog aims to improve this inequality: today we present new format “Interview with young scholar” where we give voice to BA, MA and PhD students. They will talk about their research and ponder about media freedom and independence in Russia.

Alexandra Barmina a sociologist, holding an MA degree from the Central European University. Her work is placed on the intersection of such research fields as labor studies, political sociology, economic sociology, state theory and cultural studies.

In October 2018, Barmina presented her study “Labor of Independent Journalists in Russia: Doubly Precarious Employment?” in the annual Aleksanteri Conference.

What are the main findings of your research?

Basically, the finding of this research is that the labour of independent journalists in Russia is precarious – not only in terms of the formal foundations of their employment as it is usually discussed in theory but also because of the political system and regime that exists in Russia, which puts some constraints on their work.

The political dimension of precarity, which I introduce, is identified by journalists as the dominant kind of insecurity they face during their daily work. Whereas the economic dimension of precarity, which in theory is generally considered the most important one, tends to be acknowledge and the political precarity neglected. It is possible that I’m not aware of this theory.

The thing is that labour relations are mostly investigated by Marxist scholars who aim to see how the neoliberal economic regime impacts employment and workers. As far as I know, in labour studies there are not many voices taking into consideration the political dimension and the regime’s impact on individual workers. Journalists as cultural or creative workers are in the Western academia largely investigated in the material perspective.

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CfP – ‘Media Control as a Source of Political Power in Central and Eastern Europe’


Workshop at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki organized by the Russian Media Lab in collaboration with the Research Centre for East European Studies at the University of Bremen

Helsinki, 02 – 03 September 2019

We invite proposals for papers to be discussed at an intensive two-day workshop on “Media control as source of political power in Central and Eastern Europe” at the Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki on 02 – 03 September 2019. The workshop will involve around 15 scholars, and early-career researchers are especially encouraged to apply. Travel expenses and accommodation costs of invited participants will be covered by the organisers.

The workshop aims to bring together approaches from political science, media studies and other relevant academic disciplines to get a more comprehensive picture of the role of media control in consolidating and expanding political power in authoritarian regimes and in “backsliding” democracies. The focus of the workshop will equally be on the interplay of media and political actors and on the effect of this relationship on regime dynamics.

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