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Open access

The Baikal-Amur Mainline

Memories and Emotions of a Socialist Construction Project

Olga Povoroznyuk

Abstract

The Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), a railroad in East Siberia and the Russian Far East, became the last large Soviet industrial project. Its construction in the 1970s and 1980s attracted migrants from across the USSR, who formed the bamovtsy, or group of BAM builders. They share a history of working and living along the BAM and constitute the majority population in the region. The article argues that emotionally charged social memory of the BAM construction plays the central role in reproducing and reinforcing the bamovtsy identity in the post-Soviet period. Drawing on in-depth interviews and focus groups, the article examines the dynamics of both individual and collective remembering of the socialist BAM. It forms a vibrant discursive and emotional field, in which memories and identities are reconstructed, relived, and contested. Commemorative ceremonies such as the fortieth anniversary of the BAM serve as forums of public remembering and arenas for the politics of emotions.

Open access

Ambiguous entanglements

Infrastructure, memory and identity in indigenous Evenki communities along the Baikal–Amur Mainline

Olga Povoroznyuk

The Baikal–Amur Mainline (BAM) project has been the embodiment of (post‐)Soviet modernisation with its promises of economic prosperity, mobility and connectivity. It boosted regional development and introduced new forms of mobility, but also accelerated sedentarisation, assimilation and social polarisation among Evenki, an indigenous people who had been living in the region long before the arrival of the megaproject. Complex and often ambiguous entanglements of Evenki with the BAM infrastructure – from participation in construction to the exchange of goods to loss of reindeer and land, shaped indigenous ways of life, memories and identities. The master‐narrative of the BAM seems to have been internalised by many Evenki and to have drowned out critical voices and indigenous identities. In this article, I direct attention to ‘hidden transcripts’, thereby giving voice to underrepresented memories and perspectives on the BAM within Evenki communities. Drawing on ethnographic materials and interviews with indigenous leaders, reindeer herders and village residents, who experienced the arrival of the BAM and have been entangled with the railroad in various ways, I seek to contribute to a critical and comprehensive history of the BAM and to explore the construction and articulation of indigenous identities large‐scale infrastructure and development projects.

Open access

(Re)Constructing the Baikal-Amur Mainline

Continuity and Change of (Post)Socialist Infrastructure

Olga Povoroznyuk

Abstract

The construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM) in East Siberia and the Russian Far East in the 1970s and 1980s was the largest technological and social engineering project of late socialism. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the BAM was dogged by economic bust, decline, and public disillusionment. BAM-2, a recently launched state program of technological modernization, aims to complete a second railway track. The project elicits memories as well as new hopes and expectations, especially among “builders of the BAM.” This article explores continuity and change between BAM-1 and BAM-2. It argues that the reconstruction efforts of the postsocialist state are predetermined by the durability of the infrastructure as a materialization of collective identities, memories, and emotions.

Open access

A right to remoteness? A missing bridge and articulations of indigeneity along an East Siberian railroad

Peter Schweitzer and Olga Povoroznyuk

The Soviet Union and its successor states have been avid supporters of a modernisation paradigm aimed at ‘overcoming remoteness’ and ‘bringing civilisation’ to the periphery and its ‘backward’ indigenous people. The Baikal–Amur Mainline (BAM) railroad, built as a much‐hyped prestige project of late socialism, is a good example of that. The BAM has affected indigenous communities and reconfigured the geographic and social space of East Siberia. Our case study, an Evenki village located fairly close to the BAM, is (in)famous today for its supposed refusal to get connected via a bridge to the nearby railroad town. Some actors portray this disconnection as a sign of backwardness, while others celebrate it as the main reason for native language retention and cultural preservation. Focusing on discourses linking the notions of remoteness and cultural revitalisation, the article argues for conceptualising the story of the missing bridge not as the result of political resistance but rather as an articulation of indigeneity, which foregrounds cultural rights over more contentious political claims. Thus, the article explores constellations of remoteness and indigeneity, posing the question whether there might be a moral right to remoteness to be claimed by those who view spatial distance as a potential resource.

Free access

Introduction

Precarious Connections: On the Promise and Menace of Railroad Projects

Peter Schweitzer and Olga Povoroznyuk

Abstract

This introduction attempts to situate railroads, which have rarely been the object of ethnographic attention, within current debates of anthropology and related disciplines. While mobility is certainly one dimension of human-railroad entanglements, the introduction calls to explore political, social, material, and affective lives of railroads in Europe and Asia as well. Often, connections provided by railroads are precarious at best: enveloped in state and local politics, they appear to some as promise and to others as menace. Planning, construction, decay, and reconstruction constitute the temporal and material life cycle of these infrastructures. Attending to particular ethnographic and historical contexts, the introduction aims to demonstrate how railroads, these potent symbols of modernity, continue to be good to think with.

The version of record is December 2020, though the actual publication date is May/June 202.