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Klejn L.S. Varangian debates. The arguments and the history of the controversion (Abstract)

Publ. (2009) in Russian at St. Petersburg by Eurasia

By Leo S. Klejn


The three-centuries long history of the dispute on the ethnic affiliation of Varangians and their role in history of Ancient Russia traced in this book (St. Petersburg, Eurasia, 2009). ‘Varangians’ is the Eastern synonym for Vikings (Normans). The positions of two main trends in Russian historiography are given – of Normanists and Antinormanists, and  (what is more) their arguments are systematised – a task never previously attempted. Arguments are confronted and assessed. Yet the entire battery of arguments on both sides is presented to the reader, in such a way that everyone will be able to make their minds up for themselves.


Three big public debates are described - debates (with intervals approximately in hundred years) that themselves became historical landmarks: the first, Lomonosov vs. Miller; the second Kostomarov vs. Pogodin; and the third, Shaskolsky vs. Klejn. All occurred in Petersburg-Leningrad: the first in the Academy of Sciences, the rest at the University.


The book that became the foundation of this publication was written 45 years ago, but never published. However the state of the discipline is such that the book is far from obsolete.


Normanism and Antinormanism are the strained clichés of ultra-patriotic pre-Revolution and later Soviet propaganda. These clichés were the product of thwarted national ambition and aimed at eradicating everything from history what could be interpreted to the detriment of the national pride. Normans (Vikings), i. e. Scandinavian warriors, had captured lands and towns both in Western Europe (England and France) and Eastern Europe, but only in the East was there a tendency to deny these facts – Antinormanism. Those scholars who admitted these facts were stigmatised as Normanists and unpatriotic – indeed, almost traitors. For the same reason one might deny the invasions of the Tartars, or the Poles or Napoleon, the drawback being that these are nearer to our time, and therefore harder to deny.


So the question of the national destiny was seen to depend upon an essentially chance factor – whether the arguments for the presence or absence of Normans in Ancient Russia were in fact justified or not.


The author, a well-know archaeologist, descried by his adversaries as the leading Russian Normanist, founded 40 years ago the Slavic-Varangian seminar at Leningrad university. Many prominent researchers of the problem were nurtured at this seminar. The seminar existed in a very sensitive and dangerous atmosphere since the political ideologists of the Soviet regime considered Normanism to be anti-patriotic and anti-Marxist. In his book and in the Dispute the author and his pupils not only interpreted a large number of facts, but also defended themselves against ideological and political charges. They developed methods of maintaining the independence of the science even under conditions of totalitarian duress.


By the late 20th century it seemed that Antinormanism had vanished under the pressure of the facts of archaeology. Yet in recent days a small but very aggressive group of Antinormanist historians has sprung up and, appealing to ultra-patriotic politicians and being supported by some blatant and ignorant journalists, restored the old labels. These group revived the practice of attacking serious scholars (historians, linguists and archaeologists) who pursue objective studies. This aggressive group gained power at the Institute of Russian History of Academy of Sciences, from which they drove out all those well known and authoritative scholars who did not share their Antinormanist views. An entire two sectors of the Institute were ousted, and the rest became quiescent.


In these circumstances the present book is timely indeed.


The edition consists of 11 parts. The first (main part) is the afore-mentioned book (written in 1960) that at this date had circulated only in manuscript form; the second is the record of the author's speech during the Dispute of 1965 together with the main lines of his opponent Shaskol’sky’s argument (the synopsis of his paper and his notes on the disputants’ comments); the third is the author's survey, co-authored with his pupils, of the controversy (published as an article in 1970). This is followed by further articles, some of which are previously unpublished. They clarify and substantiate his position in the controversy. All parts are accompanied by extensive contemporary postscripts that make clear the latest contemporary views on the relevant subjects. There are also biographies of two of the most active participants in the debate, Miller and Lebedev.


There then follow several supplements: memoirs of the participants of the Seminar on its pedagogical principles, and also memoirs of its former Moscow opponents, and an updated bibliography of the participants of the Seminar on the Varangian (Norman) theme.


The book is ends with a postscript by Prof. E. N. Nosov who is currently the Director of the Institute for the History of Material Culture (Russian academy of Sciences) and the Head of the Archaeological Department of the St.Petersburg University and who was formerly a participant of Klejn's seminar.


The book is written in fluent language and is intended not only for historians specialising in the period concerned but also for students and all who have an interest in history.

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I. Previously Unpublished book

From the author

The Varangian Controversy

Part I. History of the problem

1. The first battle

2. The second battle

3. A new confrontation

4. The archaeological stage

Part II. Arguments on the scales

1. The essence of Normanism and the corpus delicti

2.  The ladder down to the nether world of Normanism: checking the strength of the footsteps

Position 1. The calling of Ryurik. Arguments 1 – 3. rejoinders by Antinormanists 1 – 9. The counter-position of Antinormanists. Rejoinders by Normanists. Weighing the positions and arguments of both sides.

Position 2. Varingians=Normans. Arguments 1 – 6. Rejoinders of Antinormanists 1 – 4. The counter-position and arguments of the Antinormanists. Weighing.

Position 3. The ethnonym Rus’. Arguments 1 – 9. Rejoinders by Antinormanists 1 – 6. The counter-position by Antinormanists. Arguments. Rejoinders by Normanists. Weighing.

Position 4. Colonisers and Kulturträger. Arguments 1 – 5. Rejoinders by Antinormanists 1 – 8. Contre-position of Antinormanists The counter-position by. Arguments 1 – 4. Rejoinders by Normanists. Weighing.

Position 5. Creators of the state. Arguments 1 – 5. Rejoinders by Antinormanists 1 – 8. The counter-position of Antinormanists. Arguments 1 – 4. Rejoinders by Normanists. Weighing.

3. The outcomes of the debate

2005 Postscript

II. Paper delivered as a contribution to a discussion on the contemporary state of the ‘Norman problem’ on the 24th of December 1965

Preliminary remarks on the publication

The record of L. S. Klejn’s speech

I.         The newest work on the ‘Norman problem’

II.        Its relation to the Normanist theory

III.       Its relation to the Antinormanism

IV.       The interplay of social forces behind both positions  

V.        What is Normanism

VI.       Archaeology on the scales

VII.      A question about the origin of the state

VIII.     The remainder of Normanism

2005 Postscript

III. The survey of archaeological materials

Norman antiquities of the Kievan Rus’ on the contemporary stage of archaeological study (co-authored with G.S. Lebedev and V.A. Nazarenko)

1. The extent of the investigation. A. Cemeteries. B. Settlements. C.Summaries

2. Comparative materials

3. Distinguishing Norman antiquities in the territory of the Kievan Rus’.

A. Ethnic determination of objects

D. Ethnic determination of rituals

C. ‘Hybrid’ objects

D. Chronology

4. Quantitative estimation of the Norman component

5. The Social composition of the newcomers

6. The Prospects for historical assessment

2005 Postscript

IV. Asymmetrical response

V. The Problem of objectivity in Scandinavian archaeology

1. The fate of Normanism. The first stage. The second stage. The third stage.

2. Typology. The first steps. Modernisation

3. Logical guarantees. Rationalism. Definitions. Biases

VI. The end of the discussion?

Preliminary remarks

The end of the discussion

2005 Postscript

VII. Modern Antinormanism – the three principal volumes

Kuz’min’s anthology

Antinormanism   in the collection of the Russian Archaeological Society

The resulting volume by Fomin

VIII. The Migration of the Varangians

Preliminary remarks

‘The Call of the Varangians’ and the archaeological traits of migration

1. The problem

2. The reliability of migration and its type

3. Archaeological data in favour of migration

4. Archaeological data and the type of migration

IX. Biography of G.F. Miller

Preliminary remarks

The Lomonosov’s opponent

1. The German Fedor Ivanovich

2. Into Russia for luck … and for vocation

3. Ten years in Siberia

4. Results of the journey and the reception

5. Fights and persecutions

6. Late recognition

X. Gleb Lebedev

Preliminary remarks

Scholar, citizen and knight (Viking) [ footnote in Russian, knight = Viking]

XI. Supplements: The Slavic-Varangian seminar. Recollections of participants and the selected bibliography

A. Recollections of participants and co-participants

L.S. Klejn. The Problemic Slavic-Varangian...

G.S. Lebedev. Thirty years ago

Notes by L.S. Klejn

S.V. Beletsky. The Slavic-Varangian seminar in the first half and the middle of the 70s

Yu.M. Lesman. In the seminar since youth

N.I Platonova. From historians to archaeologists

O.I. Boguslavsky. Slavic-Varangian seminar of 1980s

L.Tikhonov. The vestige of the Varangian seminar in the years of standstill

A.Ya. Petrukhin and T.A. Pushkina. The Smolensk archaeological seminar of Moscow University and the Norman problem

B. The list of printed works (on the Varangian themes) by the participants of the Slavic-Varangian seminar: S.V. Beletsky, V.A. Bulkin, I.S. Dubov, L.S. Klejn, G.S. Lebedev, Yu.M. Lesman, A.D. Machinskaya, V.A. Nazarenko, E.N. Nosov, V.P. Petrenko, N.I. Platonova, E.A. Ryabinin

Postscript by E.N. Nosov


Indices (subject and names)

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