Baltic Worlds on Russia after the USSR

Ninna Mörner,
Editor-in-chief, Baltic Worlds
Centre for Baltic and East European Studies (CBEES), Södertörn University,

Baltic Worlds is a multidisciplinary scientific journal with a focus on the Baltic Sea region and Eastern Europe, including the post-socialistic countries in the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. In this huge area, Russia is in many ways setting the agenda and acting as an important player in the region. Thus, Russia is obviously of interest to Baltic Worlds and its readers.

In 2021, it was 30 years since the dissolution of the USSR. Researchers from various disciplines publishing in Baltic Worlds often refer to Russia of today as post-Soviet Russia: to distinguish it from Russia before the revolution, and to underline the “afterness” – the post-state of mind Russia is still supposedly existing in.

A few years ago in Baltic Worlds, we saw something of a trend in articles on post-Soviet Russia in relation to socio-economic issues. These articles typically presented disturbing findings of severe poverty, drug addiction, corruption, violence against women, high suicide rates, and illegal activities, for instance cooperate raiding and human trafficking. The findings were often based on data collected a few years earlier, that would mean closer to the transition, and the economic crisis. These kinds of scientific articles presented the typical image of “post-Soviet Russia” then, before Krim and the war in Ukraine.

Since 2014, quite a few articles in Baltic Worlds have of course dealt with Russia and the war in Ukraine. This also entails a change of perspective, from looking at the inside of Russian society to looking at Russia’s “outside”, meaning the country’s relations to Europe as well as its liaisons with the authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet republic space.

Simultaneously, numerous articles published in Baltic Worlds express concerns on the democratic situation in Russia: for instance, concerning threats against human rights, academic freedom, and independent media. Several articles have connected the authoritarian turn with a backlash for democracy, for gender equality and resulting in restraints in freedom of speech.

Moreover, the past is seemingly vividly present in post-Soviet Russia, according to a large number of texts published in Baltic Worlds in recent years, covering topics such as memory politics, nostalgia, master narratives, and the persistent legacy and dealing with historical trauma. Living with the shadows of the past is of course not particular to Russia, but characteristic for all the countries in the region that experienced both WWII and communist rule.

After the fall of the wall in 1989, we were many that thought that this is the beginning of a new era, and for a short moment this seemed to be an opening of something better; not only a copycat of the existing values in the “West” nor the empty grey communist blanket we just thrown away in the East European countries. For a short while it seemed like “civilization and mankind” had received a second chance, and leaders like Vaclav Havel proclaimed moral values to be of utter importance and emphasized the ethical issue of political leadership. Gorbachev was during this time slot seen, at least from the outside, as the best guarantee that the clock wasn’t going to be reversed and that the transition was a peaceful one. Then he was removed. People were impatient and wanted reforms more quickly.

When the remainder of the USSR ceased to exist, that window of opportunity to create something totally new seemed to be already closed (or was it in fact ever open?). By then we were already living with the experiment of shock therapy and the mantra that private property rights, once created, would give rise to broader demands for the rule of law etc.  Fukuyama proposed at the time of the fall of the wall that this was the end of history. The “West”, which he equated with the presence of a functioning democracy and market economy, was the winner. He proclaimed that in 1989 that humanity has reached “not just … the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: That is, the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

According to the articles published in Baltic Worlds we have not seen the end of history-point taking place in Russia, nor in the area in large, (or in the “Western” world either). Transition is often discussed as having a direction, indicating that the “post-” era is a period that has a clear beginning, and a priori, also a clear end. But existentially, this “post”-state of mind rather seems to leave men and women disoriented in time and space and left in a void. Baltic Worlds believe that science, knowledge, and free debate can be helpful tools in finding common grounds. Consequently, Baltic Worlds will continue to publish critical area studies on the region including Russia, or rather, (but for how long?) post-Soviet Russia.


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