The image of Genghis Khan and ethnic identities in Post-Soviet Russia

By | 2014年10月23日 | 931 views
Original Paper

The image of Genghis Khan and ethnic identities in Post-Soviet Russia

Dmitry Shlapentokh 
(1)

Department of History, Indiana University, P.O. Box 7111, South Bend, Indiana, 46634-7111, USA
Dmitry Shlapentokh
Published online: 18 September 2009
Abstract
The recent rise of Asia as a global geopolitical center has led to renewed interest in Asian history, not just by Asians but by Europeans as well. Genghis Khan is one of those figures who attracts attention, and several movies on him have recently been created. One of them was made in Russia and has led to broad public response. These responses have made it possible to gauge the views of the Russian public on the role of Russia in the global community and the relationship between Russians and ethnic minorities of the Russian Federation.

The proponents of postmodernism, Foucault for example, usually relate power with what they call “discourse,” ideology in the broad sense. They argue that those who control “discourse” hold the power. Actually, the opposite is usually true. Those who are in control, those who hold power, control the “discourse.” Power is attractive, and the image of power is “sexy” in the public mind. The same can be said about historical images: images of this or that civilization emerge or disappear in their connection to power—the geopolitical importance of the country or regime. This theory applies to Genghis Khan, who has been a subject of recent movies in several countries.
A movie about Genghis Khan in Mongolia has an easy explanation. He is seen as the founder of the Mongolian nation, builder of the biggest continental empire in history. The 800th anniversary of the foundation of the empire was celebrated in 2006 with great pomp. In China and Japan, movies on Genghis Khan are made for a different reason. China was conquered by the successors of the great Khan, and its approach to Mongol domination is ambivalent. For some Chinese intellectuals, the Mongols, creators of their own idiosyncratic dynasty, are positive figures. For others, they were barbarians from the North against whom the Chinese fought for millennia. Even less would the Japanese praise Genghis Khan. They were about to be conquered by the Mongol armada and were saved by a hurricane known as the “divine wind”—kamikaze. It is no accident that the suicide pilots of the Japanese planes in World War II had the same name; they tried to prevent the Americans from landing in Japan. Yet, movies on Genghis Khan have recently been produced in China and Japan. A major reason is that Genghis Khan and his empire have emerged as a symbol of Asia, the rising new global center.
Interest in the Mongols and other nomadic peoples of the past can also be seen in the former USSR. An article in Izvestia—a leading Russian newspaper—noted that interest in Genghis Khan can be seen in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, whose leaders dream of Kazakhstan as a major influence in post-Soviet space. The movie, by Kazakh cinematographers and introduced by president Nursultan Nazarbaev, deals with an ambitious Kazakh leader who unified his people and drove out their enemies. It has a direct relationship to the glory of the nomadic leaders of the past, but also indicates Kazakhstan’s ambition to be a leader in post-Soviet space.
In Russia, interest in Khan and the Mongol empire is strong and incorporated in the past, as seen in two current movies. As elsewhere, this interest is related in many ways to Asia’s rise. But the movies relate not so much to dominion over Eurasian space as to the interethnic/intercultural relationship inside the Russian Federation and the ethnic Russian role in global arrangements.