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The Erosion of Soviet Biopower on the Rock Scene: a case study of Lithuania in 1980s

Jūratė Kavaliauskaitė
Vilnius University
Jūratė Kavaliauskaitė
Vilnius University
Open Panel

Abstract

The claim that rock music stirred winds of freedom in Eastern and Central Europe in late 1980’s became nearly a common sense. However, it is seldom examined how exactly this happened. In what terms rock became a site of contention? What were basic mechanisms of its subversive potential? How the potential was realized? These questions remain important given the argument that rock music and authoritarianism are not incompatible per se (Ramet, 1994; Pekacz, 1994). The paper addresses contentious politics of Lithuanian rock scene that slipped through windows of opportunity offered by “perestroika” and “glasnost”. The paper takes politics of rock beyond music style, discourse or private aesthetic taste to examine implications of semi-legalized mass events, voluntary and uninhibited self-expression on stage and among vibrant rock audiences. The potential of rock is addressed vis-à-vis a disciplinary nature of USSR-bound societies. Rock is held contentious as far as it challenges biopower (Foucault, 1999) that tames private and public body to produce homo sovieticus as a peculiar “species”. Understood in a Butlerian sense (1999), contentious performativity of rock implies alienation with imposed norms, a quest for new sensibility, individual and collective identities via symbolic space of performance. A content analysis of public discourses about rock (press material, 1980-1988) and in-depth interviewing of former rock and political activists in Lithuania (2010) are employed to illuminate the peculiar site and mode of cultural contention, preceding consolidation of nationalist movements of 1980s: what norms of homo sovieticus were challenged around the rock scene, by what means, with what political impacts?