In This Article Comparative Politics of Eurasia

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • The Politics of Post-Soviet Russia
  • From Putin to Medvedev
  • The Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania)
  • Belarus
  • Moldova

Political Science Comparative Politics of Eurasia
by
Peter Rutland
  • LAST REVIEWED: 04 May 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0009

Introduction

The rise and fall of the Soviet Union (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics [USSR]) was one of the seminal events of the 20th century, and the Soviet system continues to attract the attention of scholars and students. The abrupt and unexpected collapse of the Soviet Union cast into doubt many of the core principles of comparative politics and international relations. Existing theories could not explain the sudden disappearance of such a well-institutionalized political system, one with a vast arsenal of military power. The political and economic trajectories of the countries that replaced the Soviet Union have raised a new but no less fascinating set of challenges. The post-Soviet countries faced a triple transition: to replace a multinational “empire” with independent nation-states; to construct a market economy in the wake of a collapsed central planning system; and to make the transition from socialist, one-party rule toward liberal democracy (or not, in most cases). Although some of the post-Soviet states built robust democracies and even won entry into the European Union, others retreated into clan politics or harsh dictatorships. The region presents many puzzles to engage scholars, from how to build rule of law in societies lacking in that tradition to how to solve the secessionist conflicts that fractured Moldova, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The transition has been going on since 1991, but it is only in the early 21st century that doctoral dissertations have been written and more sophisticated analyses of these complex and shifting processes are being published. There is more than enough interesting material to fill a one- or two-semester university course. However, the politics and social dynamics of the region are much more complex and differentiated than was the case back in the USSR, so studying and teaching about the region are more challenging. Many professors have narrowed their scholarly and pedagogic focus to Russia itself, whereas others research and teach separately on Ukraine, the Baltics, Central Asia, or the Caucasus. As of the early 21st century, the full implications of the post-Soviet transition for the broader disciplines of political science, economics, and sociology have not been fully worked through. Scholars still disagree over the extent to which the disappointing results of the transition—ethnic conflict, economic stagnation, and political repression—can be attributed to cultural legacies from the Soviet era, failures of institutional design during the 1990s, or the impact of exogenous forces emanating from the surrounding international system.

Journals

There are a variety of lively journals addressing the post-Soviet region. Some of them date back to the Soviet era, usually changing their name after 1991. The most respected academic journals are Europe-Asia Studies, based at Glasgow University in the United Kingdom, and Post-Soviet Affairs, based at the University of California, Berkeley. The journals listed here are primarily those with a social science focus. There are many more dealing primarily with history and culture; two examples on this list are the Russian Review and Slavic Review.

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