Q&A with Jade McGlynn

Posted by Rachel South on

Dr Jade McGlynn is a Leverhulme EC Researcher in the Department of War Studies at King’s College London, where she focusses on memory politics, identity construction, the Russian war on Ukraine since 2014, media and propaganda. She published two books last year: Russia’s War, which explores the attitudes of Russia’s population towards the invasion of Ukraine – and which was shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize 2023; and Memory Makers, which explores Russian historical propaganda and its penetration into everyday life.

As well as talking about her favourite books, Jade told us about the writers and organisations we should pay attention to to understand what is happening in Russia and Ukraine; her advice for current students of Russian Studies; and what she’s working on at the moment.

What are your top five recommended books?

What is a book that inspired you as a child or young person?

I read Orlando Figes’ A People’s Tragedy when I was about 11/12, and the role of ideas in shaping Russian history really gripped me. Within a few months I started teaching myself Russian.

What is a book that takes you back to a specific place or time?

Oblomov takes me straight back to the windowsill on Decembrists Street in white nights Saint Petersburg during my first trip to Russia in 2008. It was the European Championships and I only remember reading and watching football.

Which book are you looking forward to reading?

Peter Pomerantsev’s How to Win an Information War.

What is your desert island book?

George Orwell's collected essays (if that isn’t cheating). If it is cheating, then Anna Karenina so I can spend my time rewriting the ending into something I want to happen.

What is a book or poem that cheers you up?

Taras Shevchenko – Caucasus (борітеся  поборете). I am currently sitting in Kharkiv so that might be influencing my choice!

What is a book you wish you’d written?

Shaun Walker’s The Long Hangover.

If you were having a fantasy dinner party, who would you invite?

George Orwell ; Kazimir Malevich ; Boudicca ; Alexander Kerensky ; Petro Bolbochan ; Albert Camus.


What inspired your interest in Russian and Eastern European studies?

Ideas, ideology, how ideas and identities shape human history. What makes ideas stick? How do different cultures interact with them?

And what about your interest in Russian propaganda and memory politics?

In 2014 I was living in Moscow and watching Russian television. I was fascinated by the use of historical analogies to describe Russian aggression against Ukraine and also by the grip that they had on many people I spoke to, how it shaped their interpretation of events. I wanted to understand why  how the state’s propaganda interacted with ordinary Russians’ need for a sense of post-Soviet identity.

What advice would you give to current Russian Studies students who are looking to pursue a professional or academic career related to their degree, given the limitations on travelling to Russia?

Don’t just learn Russian, learn another Slavic language or another Russian language. I learnt Serbian as a student and then Ukrainian in 2017 and both languages helped me to draw parallels and contrasts and understand different perspectives on Russia beyond the Russian and the Western (Anglo-American) ones that naturally predominate. Spend time in other countries, as you can understand a lot about Russia for example in the de-occupied territories or among Russian speakers in Daugavpils. The comparative lens is one sorely lacking and a Russo-centric gaze has inevitably left us unprepared. Don’t only see the Russia you want to see, force yourself to see the bits you don’t want to see, the bits that don’t make sense or don’t fit into a Russia = good or Russia = bad box. Those parts that don’t fit are the interesting bits.

It’s been a year since your book Russia’s War was shortlisted for the Pushkin House Book Prize. What are your thoughts on developments in Russia over the past year?

It is depressing if predictable. The march towards the formalisation of many things I identified during Memory Makers and Russia’s War, the march towards an ideological approach continued and shows no sign of stopping. In some ways, however, the developments are not remarkable so much as the lack of developments: in our understanding, or willingness to understand, Russia, to grasp what this war is about: destroying Ukrainian identity. Ukraine and Russia in their current set-ups cannot co-exist. For centuries Ukraine has been sacrificed to Russian aggression and that has been hideous for Ukrainians but also for Russians. The best thing for future generations of Russians is for Russia to lose this war. The worst thing would be for this current Russian identity to be justified through victory.

One of the few things that gave me any optimism was a long meeting with the Free Russia Legion in Kyiv. We discussed what new identities, less statist and more people-centred,could be developed out of Russian history and culture. It was a great discussion with so many different views. There was a Navalny supporter, a nationalist, and an anarchist debating. These are men and women who are fighting to free Russia from Putin. One of my acquaintances from the Legion sadly died a few weeks ago. I hope one day he is recognised in Russia as a hero who was fighting for Russia’s future.

Which books would you recommend to help us understand what is happening in Russia and Ukraine? Which academics or journalists would you recommend people pay attention to?

Uilleam Blacker ; Sasha Dovzhyk ; Olesya Khromeychuk ; Ada Wordsworth ; Nataliya Kryvda.

The Rise of the Ukrainian Sun by Kateryna Zarembo.

Both of Stanislav Aseyev’s books [In Isolation and The Torture Camp on Paradise Street].

Jack Margolin’s forthcoming book on Wagner [The Wagner Group: Inside Russia’s Mercenary Army] also provides great insights into how Russia works.

I think the best books about what is happening in Russia and Ukraine have yet to be written.

I would also recommend organisations like OPORA, Eastern Variant, and National Centre for Resistance, which document in detail what is happening under Russian occupation in Ukraine. Given the millions of Russians who have moved into the occupied territories, this is a treasure trove of information on Russian society and systems that is underexplored.

What are you working on at the moment?

Unconventional Statecraft: this is a research project and alliance to bring together and coordinate all those involved in providing informal security assistance to the Ukrainian military. Our aim is to provide a model that takes advantage of democracies’ advantages during war: that they give their citizens the freedom and agency to organise and innovate. Plus of course we just want to get more weapons and support to Ukraine’s heroes fighting on the frontline.

I am also working on two other research projects: 1) the Russian destruction of Ukrainian identity in occupied territories and 2) for my postdoctoral research I am examining Russian use of memory in cultural diplomacy around the world, with a particular focus on how it impacts narratives relating to the war and Ukraine.

What are your thoughts on this year’s Book Prize shortlist?

Absolutely fascinating list. I haven’t read them all but of those I have read I loved Tom Parfitt’s book [High Caucasus] very much, it was a much needed and very readable insight into a region that doesn’t get enough nuanced attention.


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