Putinology Study

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 9, 2004 | Go to article overview

Putinology Study


Byline: Arnold Beichman, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

In the dear old days of the Soviet Union, there grew up two subdisciplines in Western political science. One was called Kremlinology, the other Sovietology.

These disciplines were developed because the Soviet Union was pledged to the overthrow of democratic countries, it had become a great military power and, as a closed society, it was immune to normal research procedures.

During Josef Stalin's dictatorship, Kremlinologists, usually academic specialists and foreign correspondents in Moscow, tried to determine the Politburo batting order by comparing from one year to the next photos of, for instance, the May Day parade and seeing which Politburo member stood closest to Stalin in he group photo. Another technique was to examine each day's Izvestia or Pravda, the onetime Soviet dailies, to see who was mentioned and who wasn't.

Sovietology, created by three academics, Philip Mosely (Columbia), Merle Fainsod (Harvard), Leonard Schapiro (London School of Economics) in the aftermath of World War II, was the more serious of the disciplines since it sought to breach the secrecy of the Soviet dictatorship through scholarship.

Sovietology reached its full flowering in the 1960s with the publication of Robert Conquest's "The Great Terror," which managed to pierce the Iron Curtain and describe Stalin's genocidal rule in sanguinary detail. Mr. Fainsod's "How Russia Is Ruled" and Mr. Schapiro's "The Origin of the Communist Autocracy" were pioneering works of Sovietology as was Richard Pipes' multivolumed history of the Russian Revolution.

With the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 Kremlinology and Sovietology were diminished in academic importance except, perhaps, to Western historians who for a few years were able to examine Soviet government and Communist Party archives. Institutes devoted to Soviet studies like those at Harvard and Columbia Universities began to assume a secondary status both in student intake and funding.

Well, I think the fortunes of these institutes can be revived and the status of its practitioners restored if they formalize their research as a new subdiscipline. As there was once a Sovietology and Kremlinology, we can now began a course of study called Putinology - that is, trying to understand what the budding dictator of Russia, who will be with us for years to come, is up to with what he calls "managed democracy."

There already are future Putinologists. I think of Glasgow University's Professor Stephen White, Stanford University's Professor Michael McFaul and the Hoover Institution's John Dunlop. …

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