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Lev Gumilev: His Pretensions as Founder of Ethnology and his Eurasian Theories

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This paper takes a critical look at the work of the extraordinarily popular historian Lev Gumilev. Writing in late Soviet times, Gumilev has become virtually a cult figure in Russia after his death. He took up the ideas of the Eurasianists of the early twentieth century, according to whom Russia's destiny is to be a Eurasian power, and he reconfigured them as a ‘scientific’ theory of ethnos. The ethnos is supposed to be a ‘biological’ entity determined by its place in the natural environment, but at the same time, inspired by a few innovative leaders, each ‘ethnos’ has its special time of intense flowering (which Gumilev called ‘passionary’). The article examines the contradictions in Gumilev's theories and its methodological flaws. It endswith a discussion of the political implications ofGumilev's popularity in post-Socialist Russia. He is not only admired by semi-educated people but is also legitimised by sections of the academy (a university is named after him in Kazakhstan). It is argued that his work lends a spurious credence to nationalismand anti-semitism.


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