Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State

Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State

Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State

Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State

Synopsis

This study examines the process by which the seemingly impossible in 1987--the disintegration of the Soviet state--became the seemingly inevitable by 1991. It provides an original interpretation of not only the Soviet collapse, but also of the phenomenon of nationalism more generally. Probing the role of nationalist action as both cause and effect, Beissinger utilizes extensive event data and detailed case studies from across the U.S.S.R. during its final years to elicit the shifting relationship between pre-existing structural conditions, institutional constraints, and event-generated influences in the massive nationalist explosions that brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Excerpt

…We travel abroad to discover in distant lands something whose presence at home has become unrecognizable.

Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

On May 18, 1991, two Soviet cosmonauts blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome for a routine four-month mission aboard the Mir space station. While aloft in weightlessness, below them one world died and another was born. By the time they returned to Earth, they no longer knew whether the country that had dispatched them still existed and to which state they and their spacecraft belonged.

The shattering of the Soviet state was one of the pivotal transformations of the twentieth century. It fundamentally altered the world in which we live, provoking an end to half a century of communist domination in Eastern Europe, breaching the Cold War division of the planet, and prompting new disorders with which the twenty-first century will long grapple. But the breakup of the ussr also presents us with many paradoxes that challenge our understanding of politics. the Soviet Union was a nuclear superpower with global commitments and a seventy-four-year record of survival – a polity which had endured two devastating wars, several famines involving millions of deaths, the mass annihilation of its own citizens by its rulers, and a social revolution that brought it into the industrial world. It was a state which launched the first human into space, whose founding political ideas inspired millions throughout the world, and which was widely regarded by many social scientists as a model of successful transition to modernity. From 1988 to 1991 that state exploded, largely under the pressure of its ethnic problems.

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