European Studies

French Historical Studies Authors Win Two Prizes

The Society for French Historical Studies has awarded two prizes to articles featured in French Historical Studies!

ddfhs_39_4The 2016 William Koren, Jr. Prize is awarded by the Society for French Historical Studies to the most outstanding article on any period of French history published the previous year by a scholar appointed at a college or university in the United States or Canada. The prize committee seeks out contenders from American, Canadian, and European journals and may decide whether articles that have appeared as part of a book or in the published proceedings of a scholarly conference are eligible for consideration. This year’s award goes to Nguyễn Thị Điểu, author of “Ritual, Power, and Pageantry: French Ritual Politics in Monarchical Vietnam.” This article is featured in French Historical Studies, volume 39, issue 4 (October 2016).

ddfhs_39_2The runner up for the 2016 Malcolm Bowie Prize was Dónal Hassett, whose article, “Pupilles de l’Empire: Debating the Provision for Child Victims of the Great War in the French Empire,” was featured in French Historical Studies volume 39, issue 2 (April 2016). The Malcolm Bowie Prize, given by the Society for French Historical Studies, is awarded each year for the best article published in the preceding year by an early-career researcher in the broader discipline of French Studies.

Congratulations to both winners! Read these award-winning articles, made freely available.

Archives in French History

ddfhs_40_2In the most recent issue of French Historical Studies, “Archives in French History,” editors Sarah A. Curtis and Stephen L. Harp examine the role of the archive in the study of French history. “Archives are a subject as well as an object of study, not simple depots for boxes containing unambiguous evidence of the past waiting to be discovered by historians,” they write in the introduction. “This issue reveals not only the breadth of archives now used to write French history but also the depth of thinking about the relationship between archives and history and between archives and historians.”

Contributors to this issue question the nature, origin, or history of the archive in French history to examine its dynamic relationship to the history that is written, rather than treating the archive as static or inert. The archives, therefore, are the historical subjects themselves. They answer questions like what constitutes an archive, what is the role of the state in the archival collection, what is no longer in the archive, who controls access to the archive, and what historians owe to their sources.

From the introduction:

Despite these new questions, our contention is that historians of France, like historians in many other fields today, use a wider array of archives, and we use them more broadly, more deeply, and more self-consciously than ever before. One special issue cannot fully capture that depth or that breadth, but the essays here offer a taste of the richness that characterizes current work on France while also providing thoughtful understandings of the structure and context of archives. We hope they encourage you to reflect—critically or not—on your own archive stories.

Topics in this issue include the ownership of history, sex in the archives, discovering an accidental archive, and the destruction and salvation of the archive. Browse the full table-of-contents.

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

Nazi-Looted Art and Its Legacies

ddngc_44_1_130This special issue of New German Critique, edited by Andreas Huyssen, Anson Rabinbach, and Avinoam Shalem, examines the legacy of Nazi-looted art in light of the 2012 discovery of the famous Hildebrand Gurlitt collection of stolen artwork in Germany. When the German government declassified the case almost two years later, the resulting scandal raised fundamental questions about the role of art dealers in the Third Reich, the mechanics of the Nazi black market for artwork, the shortcomings of postwar denazification, the failure of courts and governments to adjudicate stolen artwork claims, and the unwillingness of museums to determine the provenance of thousands of looted pieces of art.

The contributors to this issue explore the continuities of art dealerships and auction houses from the Nazi period to the Federal Republic and take stock of the present political and cultural debate over the handling of this artwork. Topics include Socialist cultural policy, Gurlitt and his dealings with German museums, German restitution politics since the Gurlitt case, and the political aspects of the “trophy art” problem.

Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

Recent Journal Issues on Gender, Violence, War, and Religion

The intersection between gender, violence, war, religion, and race are featured in several recent special issues of Radical History ReviewSocial Text, and the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. Read more about the issues featured and sample several articles made freely available.

ddrhr_126In bringing together a geographically and temporally broad range of interdisciplinary historical scholarship, “Reconsidering Gender, Violence, and the State,” a special issue of Radical History Review, offers an expansive examination of gender, violence, and the state. Through analyses of New York penitentiaries, anarchists in early twentieth-century Japan, and militarism in the 1990s, contributors reconsider how historical conceptions of masculinity and femininity inform the persistence of and punishments for gendered violence. The contributors to a section on violence and activism challenge the efficacy of state solutions to gendered violence in a contemporary US context, highlighting alternatives posited by radical feminist and queer activists. In five case studies drawn from South Africa, India, Ireland, East Asia, and Nigeria, contributors analyze the archive’s role in shaping current attitudes toward gender, violence, and the state, as well as its lasting imprint on future quests for restitution or reconciliation. This issue also features a visual essay on the “false positives” killings in Colombia and an exploration of Zanale Muholi’s postapartheid activist photographyRead the introduction, made freely available.

stx129covprintIn “Race/Religion/War,” a special issue of Social Text edited by Keith P. Feldman and Leerom Medovoi, contributors query long-standing entanglements among the respective epistemologies of race, religion, and war as they organize modern strategies of knowledge and power. They investigate how a logic of permanent warfare underwrites both the international intensification of Islamophobia and the emergence and deployment of an expanding set of security apparatuses whose categorical, geographic, and historical permeability define warfare as radically open-ended. At the same time, the issue seeks to draw attention to long genealogies of race, religion, and war that both contextualize their contemporary braiding and offer political countermemories against which we can make sense of our baleful present.

Drawing on diverse critical traditions, its contributors raise questions such as: What is the relationship of the race/religion/war triad to the modern history of the militarized state? How have certain forms of war-making produced some kinds of race-making or religion-formation, while perhaps unmaking others? Does racial modernity emerge out of the secularization of religious war? How are the religious and racial dimensions of modern colonialism and settler colonialism co-articulated? Read the introduction to the issue, made freely available.

ddmew_12_3In the most recent issue of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, “The Gender and Sexuality of Militarization and War,” contributors focus on the gender and sexuality of militarization, war, and violence. Topics include the gendered representations of violence during and after the 2011 revolutions in Syria and Egypt and how they have impacted men and women, reading Israeli, Iraqi, and Yemeni literature to understand fraught and often violent relationships between Jews and Israelis and Muslims and Arabs, and examining the meanings attached to women’s performance of identity, citizenship, and political agency in Turkey in the early twenty-first century.

From the preface by feminist scholar Cynthia Enloe:

These researchers reveal the diversity of women’s experiences, imaginations, images, and political analyses both within a single country, such as Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, or Syria, and also across the region.Women are not “just women.” These articles also underscore the interactions of diverse women, historically and socially situated women, with the diverse men of their communities, men who have been both perpetrators and targets of sexualized and unsexualized violence and who are trying to make their own sense of their roles in that violence. Reading these articles together helps us all, I think, understand how crucial it is to absorb complexities when plunging into the gendered lives of women and men making their lives in militarized societies. This is what the Syrian women civil society activists are calling on the men in Geneva to do. This is what they, together with the authors of these provocative articles, are calling on each of us to do.

Read Edith Szanto’s article from the issue, “Depicting Victims, Heroines, and Pawns in the Syrian Uprising,” made freely available.

 

Governor Jerry Brown, City Lights Bookstore, and a Bulgarian Adventure

Left Side of HistoryWelcome to the University Press Week blog tour! Today we offer a guest post on the power of indie bookstores by Kristen Ghodsee, author of The Left Side of History: World War II and the Unfulfilled Promise of Communism in Eastern Europe (2015).

On May 23, 2016, I woke up in Helsinki to an email containing a voice to text transcript of a message from someone called “Kathy,” claiming to be based in the office of the governor of California.  I deleted the message.  It was election season and they were probably asking for money, I thought.  No one uses land lines unless they’re asking for money.

But the next message in my inbox was from my administrative coordinator back at Bowdoin College.  She forwarded me a message left on her voice mail from the same Kathy who stated that Jerry Brown “would like to speak with Professor Kristen Ghodsee.”  I did a quick Google search of Kathy’s full name, and found that she indeed worked in Sacramento for the governor’s office.

But why would the governor want to speak with me?  As a Californian and a product of two public universities in the Golden State, I wondered if this had something to do with projected changes to the UC system.  I grew up under Jerry Brown.  I was four years old in San Diego when he was first elected governor at the age of 36 in 1974.  He served as “Governor Moonbeam” until I was 13.  Many years later I was a doctoral student at Berkeley when he became the mayor of neighboring Oakland, but I had already relocated to Maine when he was sworn in for his third term as California governor in 2011, succeeding the “Governator,” Arnold Schwarzenegger.  He was serving his fourth term 2016.

Soon after, I received a direct email from Kathy.  I told her I was on leave in Finland, (ten hours ahead of Pacific Standard time), and asked what this was about.  She wrote: “Hello and thank you for your reply. I believe he was hoping to chat with you about “To the Left of History.” Would a phone call be possible? And if yes, could you please provide some possible times when you might be available?”

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It turns out that Governor Brown hangs around the City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco and stumbled upon a copy of my book, The Left Side of History on a shelf there.  Intrigued by the title, he bought and read it and wanted to discuss the book with me.  Thus ensued a series of conversations that lasted for the next six weeks as Governor Brown and I corresponded by phone and email.  Once on a intercity train between Tampere and Helsinki, my mobile phone rang and I ended up having to sit in a cramped sound proof booth for an hour while the Governor and I discussed East European politics and his upcoming trip to Bulgaria.

Governor Brown would be traveling to the small Balkan country in early July with his wife and two friends.  He asked me to help arrange meetings for him in Sofia, but also if it would be possible for he and his wife to meet Elena Lagadinova, the 86-year-old protagonist of my book.  Lagadinova had been the youngest female partisan fighting against the Nazi-allied monarchy in Bulgaria during World War II.  My book was an attempt to recuperate the heroism of those who fought on the “left side of history:” mostly communist idealists who risked their lives to defeat fascism.

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And so it was on July 8th, that the sitting governor of California shared tea and cakes with Elena Lagadinova in Sofia, a meeting made possible through a healthy does of serendipity and the astounding power of university press books and independent bookstores to bring stories and people together despite the decades and oceans between them.

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Now that you’ve read this post, please continue on the University Press Week blog tour. Head to University of Texas Press for Q&A with their sales manager about visiting indie bookstores along the West Coast  this fall. The University of Chicago Press blog features a day in the life of sales rep Mical Moser. Cornell University Press spotlights Buffalo Street Books, Ithaca’s cooperatively owned community bookstore. University Press of Colorado looks back on the past year’s author events at their two local indies, Tattered Cover and Boulder Bookstore. NYU Press features a re-cap of the Brooklyn Book Festival. McGill Queens University Press offers an appreciation of Canada’s independent bookstores. University Press of Kentucky will be featuring fun, revealing Q&As with indie booksellers across the state. University Press of Kansas showcases  The Raven Bookstore and KU Bookstore, two local, independent shops that carry and promote their titles. And don’t miss a post from one of the U.S.’s best indie bookstores, the Seminary Co-op, where they’ll highlight what’s on their front table right now.

TV Socialism by Anikó Imre

imreToday’s guest post is by  Anikó Imre, author of TV Socialism, which provides an innovative history of television in socialist Europe during and after the Cold War, finding a variety of programming and economic practices that exceed state propaganda and challenge conventional understandings of culture and politics under socialism. Imre is Associate Professor and Chair of the Division of Cinema and Media Studies in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California.

tv-socialismSocialism gets a bad rap. It’s true that Bernie Sanders recently resurrected the term to mobilize a large base of youngish people fed up with the futures that neoliberal capitalism has to offer. But Sanders’s version of socialism cautiously evoked only select features of Western European social democracies, which, in the popular imagination, remain fairly distinct from that other socialism, the actually existing, Soviet type. That other kind, more commonly referenced outside of the post-Soviet region as communism, is assumed to have died along with the Cold War. Only it hasn’t. In the frenzied rearrangement of ideas that marked the end of the bipolar world order in the early 1990s, much of the information about really existing socialism became frozen in simplistic or distorted images inherited from the Cold War. Under pressure to shore up the legitimacy of the winning and only remaining political-economic system, these images quickly became fossilized into stereotypes of a joyless, oppressed bloc uniformly yearning for freedom, democracy and consumer goods, whose only hope were brave, West-looking intellectual heroes resisting the regime.

The most audacious point I am making in my book TV Socialism is that real-life socialism is well worth uncovering from under the rubble of the Cold War.  It is worth doing not just to correct the historical record sealed by the victorious world order but also to imagine more hopeful correctives to the increasingly dire perspectives afforded by global capitalism. To get to the hidden layers of socialism, however, we need to bypass the usual sources that shape common perceptions of socialism, such as Hollywood films about the Cold War and memoirs of (self-)exiled Soviet intellectuals. A very different, varied, and often surprising story of socialism has been emerging recently from multidisciplinary research across history, anthropology, sociology and cultural studies on the everyday cultures of socialism.

My own contribution to this research concerns the cultures around television, the true mass media of the (late) socialism of the 1960s-80s. Rather than serving as an effective instrument of propaganda, television was always slipping out of party control. It lived an ambivalent and contradictory life in the intersection of the public and domestic spheres, between top-down attempts at influencing viewers and bottom-up demands for entertainment. Rather than being confined by the Iron Curtain or national borders, it encompassed a variety of contradictory and hybrid aesthetic, political and economic practices that included frequent exchanges and collaborations within the socialist region and with Western media institutions, a programming flow across borders, a steady production of genre entertainment, borrowings from European public service broadcasting, a semi-official, constantly expanding commercial infrastructure, and transcultural, multi-lingual reception experiences along borders that shared broadcast signals.

These practices around television show us a socialist mass medium well integrated within European and global media cultures. Socialist TV developed in synchronicity with European television from interwar experimental broadcasts through a postwar relaunch in the 1950s, to adopting the principles of educational-nationalistic broadcasting from European public service media and gradually shifting to an entertainment-focused model by the 1970s of the political thaw. In the book I use the structuring grid of genre to demonstrate this integration, understanding genre loosely as a transcultural form of expression and currency of conversion rather than a set of specific television genres defined by Anglo-American TV studies. The generic grid does not only make socialist television accessible to readers unfamiliar with local cultures and TV programs; it also helps track socialist media cultures’ roots into presocialist eras and their afterlife in postsocialist times.

For instance, contemporary reality programs inevitably dialogue with the docu-fictional, educational programming that dominated socialist TV schedules, which foregrounds both the latter’s relative strengths (its non-exploitative, democratizing, educational intention) and omissions (its motivated neglect of minorities on the margins of the normatively white, masculine nation).  For another example, genres of late socialist TV satire not only resonated with but also anticipated the satirical mode that has taken over news reporting worldwide since the end of the Cold War. In a similar vein, socialist superwomen characters who “did it all” as the anchors of 1970s-80s “socialist soaps” both prepared the ground for and issued an early critique of the postfeminist politics often associated with contemporary global quality drama. In a chapter on socialist commercials, I discuss how the most liberalized socialist televisions of Yugoslavia and Hungary inherited advertising structures from the pre-war era and sustained their own marketing activities throughout the socialist period. In fact, socialist commercials – an oxymoron if there ever was one — remain testimonies to the surprising complexities of socialist television and, for that reason, have attracted great deal of nostalgic affection in the postsocialist region. As I also elaborate in the book, nostalgia itself is a vastly more layered structure of feeling than the stereotyped, pathetic longing for a world system that cannot be recovered. Postsocialist nostalgia’s origins reach back to the beginning of European nationalisms; and its contemporary manifestations yield clues to the surprising and growing political and economic divides between East and West. Rather than scarcity, homogeneity and brainwashing, TV Socialism conveys a mixture of recognition and strangeness, which should defamiliarize some of the fundamental assumptions of media studies as well as our ingrained notions of socialism.

Save 30% on TV Socialism with coupon code E16IMRE.

Moving US-Russia Relations beyond Confrontation

Former Foreign Service officer Louis Sell reflects on the past and future of US-Russian relations in this op-ed inspired by the anniversary of 1991’s failed coup that ultimately led to the end of the USSR. Sell’s new book is From Washington to Moscow: US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR. You can also read a Q&A with him.

From Washington to MoscowTwenty-five years ago this month retrograde Communists failed to overthrow Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, hastening the disappearance of the USSR four months later and the onset of Russia’s tragically brief experiment with democracy under Boris Yeltsin. It was a heady time in Moscow. The former Soviet media exploded with exuberant freedom. People assumed that with Communism gone it would be easy to graft democratic institutions onto the Russian body politic. An outpouring of positive feeling toward the US accompanied the post-coup euphoria. Russia and the United States would remain the world’s two leading nations but now as friends, not rivals. To walk into a Russian office as an American was to be greeted by smiles and often a warm embrace.

A quarter century later Vladimir Putin rests his appeal on a narrative of Western perfidy. Many Russians believe that the US objective was to humiliate their proud country and keep it weak. In reality, Russians and foreigners alike underestimated the difficulties that needed to be overcome to usher in democracy. Institutions were created and elections were held but a genuine democratic culture, founded on toleration, transparency, and rule of law could not be created overnight. Russian reformers and their Western supporters over promised and under performed. Russians received a lot of well-meaning advice but too much of it amounted to applying formulaic outside models to stubborn Russian reality.

Now, when hopes for US-Russian global partnership have been replaced by almost equally unrealistic fears of a new Cold War, it is important to keep in proper perspective the scope of the Russian challenge and the scale of the US response. Russia remains far behind the US in almost every measure of global power. Its declining population is less than half the US while its economy is roughly one-quarter the size of the American. Putin’s impressive modernization revitalized the Russian military after decades of post-Cold War neglect but Russia lags the US in almost every category of armed might. On the other hand, aided by disarray in Washington and Europe, Putin is moving against the US on many fronts — in Ukraine and Syria, through disinformation and cyber subversion, and encouraging a global coalition of authoritarian, anti-Western regimes.

The US needs to protect its genuine interests while also seeking to understand Russia’s legitimate concerns. We should provide Ukraine aid to rebuild its economy and the real military assistance it needs to defeat pro-Russian rebels in the east — as long as it demonstrates it can use the aid effectively and according to democratic standards. A long-visible deal involving autonomy for eastern Ukraine will not become possible until Moscow is convinced it cannot achieve its aims through force. Similarly, in the murky world of cyber conflict, we need to be prepared to inflict equivalent damage on Moscow, as a first step toward regulating actions in this area.

The historical record provides no support for the claim, widely believed in Russia, that NATO expansion violated pledges made at the end of the Cold War. NATO membership helped integrate Eastern Europe into the West but it is time to acknowledge that expanding NATO into former Soviet republics was a bridge too far. NATO cannot honorably step away from the commitment it made to the Baltics. But NATO should acknowledge the obvious truth that no additional former Soviet republic, including Ukraine, will become NATO members even as we make clear that we will hold Moscow to its obligations to respect their independence.

Moving beyond confrontation would allow the US and Russia to cooperate in areas where they have common interests. Russia faces a far greater threat from radical Islam than does the US and both wish to minimize regional instability when the US finally withdraws from Afghanistan. Cooperation with Russia in Syria is pointless as long as Putin views the conflict there as a way to humiliate the US, but over the longer term a more effective US policy there could help Moscow understand the broader dangers it faces from violence across the Middle East.

It is unlikely that the US and Russia will ever return to the partnership that many in both countries desired after the end of the Cold War, at least as long as Putin and his cronies remain in power, but a measured US stance combining firm resistance to Russian offensive moves with a willingness to talk in areas where cooperation may be possible offers hope of eventually ending pointless antagonism.

You can order From Washington to Moscow from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16LSELLto save 30%!

 

Q&A with Louis Sell

Sell F16 Author PhotoLouis Sell is a retired Foreign Service officer who served twenty seven years with the US Department of State, specializing in Soviet and Balkan affairs. Sell also helped establish the American University in Kosovo and served as the Executive Director of the American University in Kosovo Foundation (AUKF). He has taught at the University of Maine at Farmington and is the author of Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (2002). His new book is From Washington to Moscow:  US-Soviet Relations and the Collapse of the USSR, which draws archival sources and memoirs—many in Russian—as well as his own experiences to trace the history of US–Soviet relations between 1972 and 1991 and to explain what caused the Soviet Union’s collapse.

There are a lot of books about the Cold War. What’s different about yours?

From Washington to MoscowBooks about the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the USSR would fill a good sized library but mine fills a niche occupied by few others. Many books discuss Soviet internal developments. Many others deal with the end of the Cold War. My book puts together in one narrative domestic and international affairs over the final decades of the USSR from the perspective of players on both sides. This is how history actually unfolds. Tip O’Neill once famously said “All politics is local” and my corollary is that all international politics are at least partially domestic. It is impossible to make sense of Gorbachev’s efforts to reduce Cold War tensions without understanding that escaping the crisis the USSR faced required sweeping internal changes which could only be accomplished if Moscow’s confrontation with Washington were relaxed. Similarly, the often debated question of why Gorbachev did not intervene in 1989 to block the collapse of neighboring Communist regimes is impossible to answer without understanding that by 1989 the Soviet leader was losing control of events inside the USSR and that ordering the tanks to roll in Eastern Europe would have played into the hands of Gorbachev’s hard-line domestic opponents and blocked any chance of Western economic assistance which by then had become Gorbachev’s only hope for rescuing perestroika at home.

What new, significant, or controversial material can readers find in your book?

Since the book is drawn largely from archival holdings and memoirs of participants on both sides, most of which in the Soviet case at least are not available in English, it contains a lot of material which is either new or not widely known in the general literature.  I include, for example, a discussion of the 1986 Reykjavik US-Soviet summit, drawn from official records on both sides and previously unpublished accounts of some key participants, that reveals the actual content of the deal on the table when the meeting collapsed, something that US accounts have obscured.  I also include a discussion of the facts around the 1983 Soviet shoot-down of the Korean civil airliner and Moscow’s subsequent cover-up; an informed discussion of the Soviet approach toward nuclear negotiations with the US, based on memoirs of Soviet participants and interviews with senior Soviet military officers conducted around the time of the end of the Cold War but which were not declassified until recently; a discussion of the politics and personalities around the Soviet human rights movements of the 1970s based on my experience working that beat at the US embassy; and new material on the scandal of the “bugged” US embassy in Moscow. Drawing on interviews with senior US officials in the US Embassy at the time of the August 1991 coup, the book dispels widely cited allegations that the US offered asylum and intelligence support to Boris Yeltsin. Finally, the book draws on official records from both sides to provide a detailed inside account of secret US-Soviet negotiations in the Nixon era, including on Vietnam where, in a meeting with Kissinger at the May 1972 US-Soviet summit in Moscow Soviet Foreign Minister Gromyko finally understood just how cynical was what he called the “rather strange” US position and how, after this conversation, the Soviets began to encourage temporary flexibility by the North, one factor leading to the January 1973 agreement on US withdrawal.

In the first chapter, you note that with regard to the USSR, “things were not always the way they seemed.” What do you mean by that?

Visitors to the USSR were inevitably struck by the contrast between the image of the USSR as a nuclear-armed superpower and the reality of living standards that lagged far behind most other developed countries, a contrast that led German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt to describe the USSR as “Upper Volta with missiles.” Secrecy shrouded almost everything in the USSR, often to absurd lengths. In 1983 General Secretary Andropov refused Gorbachev’s request to see the secret Soviet state budget, even though Gorbachev was by then the second-ranking official in the country and had been tasked by Andropov to write a report on the true state of the Soviet economy. It also shows how a visit to a US grocery supermarket led Boris Yeltsin, who had been a senior Soviet official for decades, to understand how badly the Soviet system had failed in providing the basic needs of its citizens. When Gorbachev’s glasnost opened the floodgates of truth, the flow of honest information undermined the foundations of the Communist system he was trying to reform not destroy.

During the early 1980s, tensions between the US and USSR seemed to be high enough that many Americans were fearful there would be a nuclear war. Were the two countries ever actually close to war?

In the early 1980s tensions between the two countries were high but actual conflict was never close. In September 1983, in response to the annual Able Archer staff exercise on the release of nuclear weapons, a few Soviet aircraft went onto heightened alert status. But after the end of the Cold War, senior Soviet military and civilian officials denied that conflict was considered imminent, in part because Soviet intelligence had good information on US military actions which would have accompanied any move toward war. As special assistant to the chief US nuclear arms negotiator in 1983 I was in a position to see virtually all US diplomatic and intelligence material relating to the USSR and there was never belief on the US side that war was close, no matter how heated was the rhetoric.

2016 is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the USSR. What was it like to be there in 1991?

The August 1991 coup in Moscow was aimed at rolling back Gorbachev’s reforms but it ended by destroying the Communist system and the USSR itself four months later. Despite the turmoil and hardship which accompanied Gorbachev’s final years, Moscow after the August coup was a place of hope and positive feelings towards the United States. Many Russians assumed their country and the United States would remain the world’s two leading nations but as partners. To be introduced as an American diplomat at this time was to be greeted by smiles, enthusiastic handshakes and often a warm embrace.

How did the way the USSR collapsed end up leading to the rise of authoritarianism with Vladimir Putin at the helm of Russia?

Vladimir Putin famously described the collapse of the USSR as “the biggest geopolitical tragedy of the [twentieth] century.” His remark illustrates why it is impossible to understand Putin and the country he leads without also understanding how Russians view the collapse of the USSR and its aftermath.

The Soviet Union fell in 1991 without any of the events which have generally accompanied imperial collapse in the past — military defeat, foreign invasion, internal revolution and the like. It came, moreover, only a short time after the country appeared to be at the pinnacle of international power and prestige. After he took office Putin constructed a narrative of Western perfidy which is the foundation of his appeal to the Russian people. In reality, plenty of mistakes were made in Moscow and abroad. Almost everyone involved in Russia after the Soviet fall—Russians as well as foreigners—underestimated the extent of the political, economic, and social difficulties that needed to be overcome. Similarly, everyone underestimated the difficulty in establishing a viable democratic culture in a society where it had never existed before. Institutions were created and elections were held but a genuine democratic culture, founded on toleration, transparency, and rule of law could not be created overnight.

Both Russian reformers and their Western supporters over promised and under performed. Largely for domestic political reasons US administrations exaggerated the size and significance of American assistance. Russians received a lot of advice—almost all of it well-meaning and some of it good—but too much of it amounted to applying outside models to stubborn Russian reality.

Where do you see US-Russian relations going in the next decade?

Alarmed warnings of a new Cold War between the US and Russia overstate the potential threat posed by Putin’s regime at the same time they underestimate the complexity of the current global situation. Putin’s regime is incapable of mounting the kind of broad global challenge to Western interests the USSR did over the nearly half a century of the Cold War. Russia holds important cards in many—but not all—geopolitical arenas but in most of these it will be only one of numerous players and seldom the most powerful.

With a declining population less than half that of the US and an economy roughly one-quarter the size of the American Russia’s underlying political and economic strength remains far below that of its former Cold war rival. In recent years Putin has invested heavily in modernizing the Russian military but this push comes after two decades of post-Soviet neglect and Moscow remains well behind the US in almost every quantitative measure of military power. Only in the nuclear arena does Russia truly stand on more or less equal military terms with the US, a sign of how little it has changed in some ways from the Cold War era where the USSR was, in fact, a superpower only in the military sense.

The application of countervailing power in every area of where genuine Western interest comes up against Russia is the only sure way to deter Moscow. Having in effect chosen to draw a line in Ukraine we must support Kiev politically, economically, and militarily to the extent it shows itself capable of using Western aid in ways consistent with democratic reform and Western interest. It makes no sense to provide only non-lethal military aid. Once Moscow recognizes that its aggression will not succeed the outlines of a deal involving autonomy for the east within a united Ukraine are already present in the framework of the Minsk accord currently on the table.

Over the longer haul, we need to find some way to show Russia that we are prepared to recognize its legitimate interests. If Moscow truly ceases its aggression and shows itself willing to treat Ukraine as a genuinely independent state, there is really no reason why we should persist in promoting the illusion that Ukraine will ever become a member of NATO. As for Crimea, the chances of it ever returning to Ukraine are as close to zero as anything is in the field of national security although no Western leader can say so openly. Probably the most that can be expected is for the US to formally refuse to recognize its forcible and illegal incorporation into Russia, in the same way that for half a century we refused to recognize Stalin’s forcible seizure of the Baltic states and hope that in the intervening period something will turn up – as it eventually did with the Baltics.

It is important to hold open a hand of cooperation in areas where working together with Moscow may be possible. Ultimately, the fight against radical Islam, a far greater potential threat to Russia than to the US, may well be one such area. Eventually, if Russia stops its dangerous meddling in the affairs of neighbors and stops its anti-Western global probes it may be possible to find some way to cooperate more broadly. The critical post-Cold War failure, for which both sides share some blame, was in not finding some way to incorporate Russia into the security system that emerged after 1991. The search for an alternative to endless confrontation will not be easy but given good will on both sides it should not be an impossible task.

You can order From Washington to Moscow from your favorite local or online bookstore (print and e-editions available) or order directly from Duke University Press. Use coupon code E16LSELLto save 30%!

 

Aimé Césaire: Critical Perspectives

Celebrate Aimé Césaire with recent and long-established scholarship from Duke University Press journals.

ddsaq_115_3In the most recent issue of SAQ: South Atlantic Quarterly (volume 115, issue 3), “Aimé Césaire: Critical Perspectives,” edited by Michaeline A. Crichlow and Gregson Davis, contributors revisit Césaire’s influential and controversial brand of “negritude,” as he articulated it in his literary work (poetry, drama and prose) in the course of his lengthy career on the island of Martinique in the French Caribbean. The contributions provide a wide range of fresh critical and philosophical perspectives by leading scholars in the field that refine and clarify the concept of negritude and its relation to the ongoing project of cultural decolonization. Topics include forging a Caribbean literary styleCésaire’s apocalyptic wordcircumstance and racial time in poetry, and Aimé Césaire studies. To read more of the issue, check out the table of contents.

ddsmx_19_3_48Revisit Small Axe‘s special section “Rethinking Aimé Césaire” from the November 2015 issue. Included in this section are essays devoted to Césaire’s poetic legacy, his theory of “negritude,” his relationship to Marxism, and his intellectual partnership with his wife, Suzanne Césaire. What emerges is a sense of Césaire’s legacy as a living legacy, firmly rooted in a specific historical context but revealing different facets of its structure to successive generations as they seek to understand it in relation to their own preoccupations and challenges. Read the introduction to the section, made freely available.

ddst_103Read more about Césaire in Social Text #103 (2010), which includes Brent Hayes Edwards’s “Introduction: Césaire in 1956” as well as two of Césaire’s own translated works, “Culture and Colonization” and “Letter to Maurice Thorez.”

Also check out these three articles from a 2009 issue of Nka:”Aimé Césaire: Architect of Négritude” by Locksley Edmondson, “Aimé Césaire: The Poet’s Passion” by Édouard Glissant (translated by Christopher Winks), and “Losing Césaire” by Natalie Melas.

The Carlyle Letters Online has a new home

We are pleased to share that the Carlyle Letters Online has a new home and a refreshed platform at the Center for Digital Humanities at the University of South Carolina. You can view the new site at carlyleletters.dukeupress.edu.

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The homepage of the new Carlyle Letters Online site.

The new platform features an updated look and a tweaked letter viewer for more streamlined viewing. Users will also have immediate access to the raw XML code of the collected letters. Volume 42 of The Collected Letters of Thomas and Jane Welsh Carlyle is the first volume to be published on the new platform, and volume 43 will be available before the end of 2016.

Visit carlyleletters.dukeupress.edu to browse the letters of Thomas and Jane Welch Carlyle to their contemporaries including Charles Dickens, John Stuart Mill, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Elizabeth Gaskell.

Follow @carlyleletters on Twitter to stay up-to-date with the Carlyles.