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This introduction to the special issue looks back at 30 years of nation-building in the post-Soviet states. Initial hopes that national self-determination would reinforce democratization proved misplaced. While that synergy worked well in the Baltic states, elsewhere authoritarian leaders embraced nationalism, while democracies like Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine lost control of parts of their territory to secessionist movements backed by Russia. Each of the post-Soviet states promoted a national language (except for Belarus) and forged a new historical narrative for their “imagined community,” but in most cases they remained multi-ethnic and multi-lingual communities. In recognition of this persisting ethnic diversity, nation-building was accompanied by policies of ethnicity management. The international economic environment was rapidly changing due to globalization, posing new challenges for nation-builders. The gender dimension is important to the new national identities being forged in the post-Soviet space: the categories of race and class, less so. The article concludes with a review of the salient features of each of the newly-independent states.
This article reviews the current scholarship around racism and nationalism, two of the mostly hotly debated issues in contemporary politics. Both racism and nationalism involve dividing humanity into groups and setting up some groups as innately superior to others. Until recently, racism and nationalism were both widely seen as unpleasant relics of times past, destined to disappear as the principles of equality and human rights become universally embraced. But both concepts have proved their resilience in recent years. Scholars have been devoting new attention to the “racialization” of ethnic and national identities in the former Soviet Union and East Europe, the regions that are the main focus of this journal. The article examines the prevailing approaches to understanding the terms “racism” and “nationalism,” which are distinct but overlapping categories of analysis and vehicles of political mobilization. Developments in genomics have complicated the relationship between perceptions of race as a purely social phenomenon. The essay explores the way racism and nationalism play out in two self-proclaimed “exceptional” political systems – the Soviet Union and the United States – which have played a prominent role in global debates about race and nation. It briefly discusses developments in other regions, such as the debate over multiculturalism in Europe.
The most important of Lenin's writings was, arguably, Imperialism: the Highest Stage of Capitalism. That work shifted the focus from workers’ struggles within one country to the dynamics of capitalism as a global system. The Leninist project thereby inextricably linked the causes of economic justice and national liberation, a fateful step in light of the transformation of the world wrought by decolonization. As capitalism stumbles through yet another global crisis today, what parts of Lenin's fevered vision remain relevant 100 years later?
This article traces the structural roots of the current crisis in US-Russia relations (the weakening of US hegemony and the resurgence of Russian power), and chronicles the series of contingencies that accompanied Donald Trump's rise to the presidency and his chaotic first few months in office. The details of Russia's influence over the results of the election through the release of hacked Democratic Party emails, and over the composition and policy of the new Trump Administration, are still emerging. The chances of a “grand bargain” between Trump and Putin look increasingly remote, however. Russia's efforts to dabble in American politics seem to have blown back, and made rapprochement between Moscow and Washington more difficult. This is unfortunate, since cooperation between the two sides to resolve a number of pressing global problems, from the wars in Ukraine and Syria to climate change, is urgently needed.
‘We are a rich country of poor people. And this is an intolerable situation’.
(Vladimir Putin, 28 February 2000)
This chapter traces the role of economics in intellectual debates over Russian national identity. On one side are the modernisers who believe that the only way to restore Russia's prosperity and standing in the world is to embrace Western market institutions. On the other side are nationalists who believe that economic integration will erode the political institutions and cultural norms that are central to Russian identity. They argue that erecting barriers to Western economic influence, and creating an alternate trading bloc, are necessary to prevent the exploitation of the Russian economy and even the possible destruction of the Russian state. The chapter traces these debates from the chaotic reforms of the 1990s through what appeared to be a winning Putin model in the 2000s, and then the uncertain waters after the 2008 financial crash, culminating with the Western sanctions (and Russian counter-sanctions) imposed after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
It is possible to imagine a middle position, a third way between the modernisers and the nationalists: a distinctively Russian economic model that combines elements of trade openness with measures to ensure Russia's long-term development. However, Russia has by and large failed to come up with its own third way model, and has instead remained trapped between the polarities of integration and autarky.
Vladimir Putin was trying to build a third-way model of state corporatism plus international integration in the period 2000–8, but the model showed its limitations in the stagnation following the 2008 financial crash. He then shifted to an alternative approach in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union: a regional trading bloc that would be under Russia's control and would be to a degree insulated from the global economic institutions dominated by the US and its allies.
Britain is widely regarded as having a political system that is a model for the rest of the world. It is a vigorously competitive democracy in which the rule of law is firmly established and individual freedoms are well protected. The constitutional order has been functioning for centuries, undisturbed by wars or revolutions. The experience of countries in the “third wave” of democratization, during the 1970s and 1980s, seems to confirm that parliamentary systems are more successful than presidential systems in reconciling conflicting interests in society and, hence, promoting less violence and greater stability.
However, the British system entered into a profound crisis in the 1970s, from which it has not yet emerged. Social changes have eroded the class structure that was the foundation of the two-party system. No party won a clear majority in the 2010 general election, resulting in the first coalition government in sixty-five years. Parliamentary sovereignty has been weakened by the need to conform to the laws of the European Union (EU), which Britain joined in 1973. Other important constitutional developments since the 1990s include a stronger role for the judiciary as a check on executive power, and the introduction of parliaments for Scotland and Wales for the first time in three hundred years. However, successive governments have been unable to come up with a viable plan to reform the unelected upper chamber of Parliament, the House of Lords. Britain finds itself headed into the twenty-first century with a system whose basic features were laid down in the nineteenth century.
The Pussy Riot affair was a massive international cause célèbre that ignited a widespread movement of support for the jailed activists around the world. The case tells us a lot about Russian society, the Russian state, and Western perceptions of Russia. It also raises gender as a frame of analysis, something that has been largely overlooked in 20 years of work by mainstream political scientists analyzing Russia's transition to democracy. It has important implications for how Western feminist categories can be applied to the Russian context. This introduction summarizes the main events associated with the trail of the three group members who were accused of staging a “punk prayer” performance in the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in February 2012. It also introduces the findings of the six papers that make up this special section.
Invisible Hands, Russian Experience, and Social Science: Approaches to Understanding Systemic Failure. By Stefan Hedlund. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. 324p. $95.00, cloth, $35.99 paper.
In recent decades the study of social phenomena has been characterized by the increasing specialization of academic subdisciplines. At the same time, social science has had great difficulty in accounting for instances of systemic failure that challenge the artificial typologies often promoted by specialized scholarship. Increasing theoretical sophistication thus arguably has come at the expense of grasping the particular and unique nature of historical events. In Invisible Hands, Russian Experience, and Social Science, Stefan Hedlund examines the postcommunist Russian encounter with capitalism and the global financial crisis as examples of unprecedented events that challenged social scientists' assumptions about the causes of human behavior and the functioning of social and political institutions. In this symposium a group of political scientists have been asked to critically assess the book's account and to comment more broadly on what systemic failure can tell us about social science theorizing.—Jeffrey C. Isaac, Editor