Kati Parppei’s abstract

Medieval battles in contemporary contexts: case Kulikovo (1380)

Medieval battles seem to have enduring charm. They have gathered layers of meanings, some of which are related to romantic – and universal – ideas of heroism and sacrifice. Some layers resonate with the contemporary politics of each given time, including ours. In Russian context, a good example of a “usable” medieval military incident has been the Battle of Kulikovo, fought in 1380 between a coalition lead by Muscovite Grand Prince Dmitrii Ivanovich, and a Tatar usurper called Mamai. All the way from the 15th century the imagery concerning the battle, especially perceptions concerning unity and central power, has been interpolated and applied to any given political situation involving external threat.

In the contemporary Russian national narrative, the Battle of Kulikovo is still considered one of the most crucial medieval incidents. Its significance is taught in schools and it is referred to by politicians and churchmen who want to add historical emphasis into their message. Moreover, it is a popular topic for internet discussions. In the lecture, the main focus is on those “unofficial” dimensions of the Kulikovo discourse and imagery; the contemporary internet debates and blogs concerning the battle. Questions to be asked are, for instance, to what extent the popular perceptions concerning the battle are aligned with the official ones, and on the other hand, how do they challenge them. Also, the material is examined in the light of the formation and maintenance of collective identities as well as contemporary ideas of Russia’s geopolitical position.