The Good Russian Prisoner: Naturalizing Violence in the Caucasus Mountains

Abstract

Beginning with a fabled narrative poem by Aleksandr Pushkin from 1822 entitled “Prisoner of the Caucasus,” this article is an exploration of how the idiom of kidnapping in the ritual seizure, taking, and most importantly, giving of bodies across perceived cultural lines has been central to Russians understanding of their troubled relations with the mountainous land holdings to their south for over 200 years. By juxtaposing classic ethnographic sources on Caucasian bride-kidnapping and the hostage taking of military figures as proxies in ritualized violence, alongside multiple renderings of Pushkin's “good prisoner” story in poetry, prose, opera, ballet, and film, these seemingly apolitical artifacts of Russian popular culture work to generate a powerful symbolic economy of Russian belonging in the Caucasus Mountains.

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