Yuri Slezkine (Russian: Юрий Львович Слёзкин; born February 7, 1956) is a Russian-born American historian, writer, and translator. He is a professor of Russian history and Director of the Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He is best known as the author of the book The Jewish Century (2004). Slezkine holds a PhD from the University of Texas, Austin.
He originally trained as an interpreter in Moscow State University. His first trip outside the Soviet Union was in the late 1970s when he found work as a translator in Mozambique. He returned to Moscow to serve as a translator of Portuguese, and spent 1982 in Lisbon before emigrating to Austin, Texas the next year.
Slezkine's theory of ethnic identity
Slezkine characterizes the Jews (alongside other groups such as the Armenians, overseas Chinese, Gypsies) as a Mercurian people "specializ[ing] exclusively in providing services to the surrounding food-producing societies," which he characterizes as Apollonians. This division is, according to him, recurring in pre-20th century societies. With the exception of the Gypsies, these "Mercurian peoples" have all enjoyed great socioeconomic success relative to the average among their hosts, and have all, without exception, attracted hostility and resentment. A recurring pattern of the relationship between Apollonians and Mercurian people is that the social representation of each group by the other is symmetrical, for instance Mercurians see Apollonians as brutes while Apollonians see Mercurians as effeminate. Mercurians develop a culture of "purity" and "national myths" to cultivate their separation from the Apollonians, which allows them to provide international services (intermediaries, diplomacy) or services that are taboo for the local Apollonian culture (linked to death, magic, sexuality or banking). Slezkine develops this thesis by arguing that the Jews, the most successful of these Mercurian peoples, have increasingly influenced the course and nature of Western societies, particularly during the early and middle periods of Soviet Communism, and that modernity can be seen as a transformation of Apollonians into Mercurians.
- The Jewish Century, Princeton University Press, 2004 (ISBN 0-691-11995-3)
- In the Shadow of the Revolution: Life Stories of Russian Women from 1917 to the Second World War, edited by Sheila Fitzpatrick and Yuri Slezkine, Princeton University Press, 2000
- Arctic Mirrors: Russia and the Small Peoples of the North, Cornell University Press, 1994
- The USSR as a Communal Apartment, or How a Socialist State Promoted Ethnic Particularism, Slavic Review, Vol. 53, No. 2 (Summer 1994), 414-452
- Between Heaven and Hell: The Myth of Siberia in Russian Culture, 1993
- Slezkine's website at Berkeley
- The Jewish Century, Chapter One: MERCURY'S SANDALS: THE JEWS AND OTHER NOMADS
- An interview with Yuri Slezkine discussing the theses of his book The Jewish Century
- The Chosen People: The Nation's review of The Jewish Century by Daniel Lazare, November 30, 2005
- Yuri Slezkine: «I tend to do my own things and expect you to do yours» (an interview, April 4, 2013)