Following former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the enforced isolation of the Soviet peoples ended. Yet, the isolation of post-Soviet studies to a considerable extent remained, and still remains to this day. Rather than undergoing a real intellectual opening, much of the discipline continues to refer back only to Tsarist and Soviet parallels in attempts to understand developments in the present.
The understanding of post-Soviet societies has been further muddled by the appearance of the new academic-political discipline of "transitionology" -- the study, or rather endlessly repeated mantra, of "transitions from totalitarian rule to democracy and the free market." Applied in a blanket way across a range of very different societies and political cultures, this, in my view, has obscured far more than it has revealed about the real processes at work in much of the former Soviet area. As John Schoeberlein wrote recently, "While development agencies still enthusiastically support a
Anatol Lieven is a Senior Associate
at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington
DC. His book Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power was
published in paperback in 1999 by Yale University Press.