Already published as a special issue of Nationalities Papers, this book edited by R. E. Kanet, a Professor of International Studies at the University of Miami, deals with identity question in Central and Eastern Europe. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia, new states have appeared without a clear national identity, while nations were regaining statehood but not within expected borders. Moreover, the multiethnic character of the former Soviet Union, the long history of the complex relationships, of boundary change and population migrations formed different challenges to the various nations and states concerned. As presented by the Editor, this volume tries to elucidate the issues of ethnic and national identity and their relationship to the emerging statehood in various regions of the post-communist world.
In the first essay (“Are You Hungarian or Bulgarian? On the Study of National and Ethnic Identity in Central and Eastern Europe,” 5-21), Alina Curticapean focuses on the conceptualisation of collective identities in international relations. Reminding how concepts have been deployed in the study of Central and Eastern Europe, she notices that the tendency to reify national identities was stronger than for Western Europe. Arguing that this kind of naturalisation has political consequences, she advocates “softening” the understanding of collective identities in relation to “balkanised” Central Eastern Europe. However, when she insists on the scholar’s “ethical choice” (p. 7) and responsibility to explain the ways in which nations and ethnic groups crystallise in compelling realities, her injunction appears too ethno-centred to be adopted by specialists of areas where cultural diversity remains an obvious reality.
The second study, by Harlow Robinson (“The Caucasian Connection: National Identity in the Ballets of Aram Khachaturian,” 23-32) focuses on the representation of national characters in Khachaturian’s ballets. Considered with Shostakovich and Prokofiev as one of the leaders of Soviet music, his masterpieces reflect diverse identities: ethic of Soviet ideology, including friendship of peoples, the folk music traditions of the Caucasus, and the Soviet new patriotism. In this article, descriptions of the ballets Shchast’e (Happiness) and Spartak (Spartacus) end up with conclusion on the paradoxical position of Khachaturian as a symbol of multinational Soviet cultural identity. Despite unfortunate extrapolations (for instance, when the author compares “Khachaturian, an Armenian in the Russia-dominated USSR, and Spartacus a Thracian in the Rome-dominated Empire,” p. 30) the author usefully describes the participation of Khachaturian in the revival of national symbols during the post-Stalin period.
In her contribution (“Representing the Empire: The Meaning of Siberia for Russian Imperial Identity,” 33-50) Claudia Weiss examines the place of Siberia in the framework of the efforts made by imperial Russia, in the late nineteen century, to demonstrate the grandeur of a great power amalgamating two continents in its imperial identity. The author focuses on the role of international exhibitions (especially the 1900 Universal Exhibition in Paris, which proposed a virtual train journey from Moscow to Beijing across Siberia) to justify Russia’s inclusion among Europe’s great powers. At the same time, when Eastern Siberia was still subject of geographical expeditions, its incorporation into Russia’s identity patterns helped the Russian Empire to overcome its sense of inferiority in relation to the West. The article is rich of pertinent considerations and vivid details on how Russia tried to reinvent itself: The Kasli Cast-Iron Pavilion which won a Grand Prix in 1900 was swamped with Old Russian, Scandinavian, Byzantine and Venetian motifs.
Beginning with a mistake in her first sentence, when stating that “the Republic of Tatarstan is located between Europe and Asia,” Aurora Alvarez Veinguer ― “(Re-)Presenting Identities: National Archipelagos in Kazan,” 51-69 ― continues with superficial statements on identity representations in post-Soviet Tatarstan. Using a survey realised in 1999 in two schools of the city of Kazan (a Tatar and a non-Tatar), she argues that a static notion of ethno-Tatar identity and an ethno-cultural segregation consolidates mechanisms of differentiation between Tatars and Russians. The demonstration follows three logics: a formal political discourse of integration (the notion of Tatarstantsy), an institutional praxis of segregation (Tatar schools officially promote Tatar language and Islamic-Tatar patriotism) and a time-space of everyday life transgression (with individual adaptation to ideological changes). The main weakness of this study is to start with the idea that ethno-national representations are unreal, constructed objects. Some visit to Tatar villages would have permitted the author to qualify this perception. More generally speaking, a more subtle approach to the field would have permitted her to avoid such assertions as: “Pupils from Tatar schools have very few chances to interact with non-Tatar friends on a day-to-day basis (59).”
Triin Vihalemm (“Crystallizing and Emancipating Identities in Post-Communist Estonia,” 71-96) presents the results of two surveys carried out in 2002 and 2005 on the structures of self-identification among ethnic Estonians and Russian-speakers in post-Soviet Estonia. Considering that geopolitical allegiances have to be analysed in relation to other forms of social affiliation, the author notes that the Russian population has faced a trauma, as they have become an alien community in the henceforth Western-oriented state in which they live. The study shows that their identity now focuses on Russianness or language use, or on their residence in Estonia. The patterns of identity development reflect serious dilemmas faced by local population in the context of post-Soviet transition and the enlargement of the EU. In his optimistic conclusion, the author insists on the fact that integration into the EU has homogenised the self-identification patterns of the ethnic minority and majority.
The final three articles shed light on the impact of identity question on international relations. Dealing with “Europeanization and Euro-Scepticism: Experiences from Poland and the Czech Republic” (97-129), Soren Riishoj describes how these Central European countries have managed their “return to Europe” after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In chronological terms, after a growth of pro-European sentiment, Euro-scepticism and strong national feelings have reinforced during the 1990s. In the article, these collective sentiments are related to both political parties and individual politicians. Considerations provided on these two examples show that Central European populations have behaved in Euro-realistic ways, on the basis of national interests and soft Euro-scepticism. The author concludes his interesting demonstration on the idea that “hard” Euro-scepticism has not been widespread due to the fear of being kept “outside”.
The article by Krzysztof Fedorowicz (“National Identity and National Interests in Polish Eastern Policy, 1989- 2004,” 131-47) deals with the emergence after 1989 of a new, national interested-based foreign policy in Poland. Noting that the change of Polish foreign policy has coincided with the changes in Europe, the author explains how the new geopolitical situation has forced polish diplomacy to create a new element in its policy, an eastern policy. In the historical frames running from January 2, 1992 (Poland’s acknowledgement of the Ukraine’s independence) till May 1, 2004 (Poland’s accession to the eu), the article analyses the evolution of Polish diplomacy toward its eastern neighbours in the general context of a changing international reality.
The last article by Rosalina Marsh (“The Nature of Russia’s Identity: ‘Russia and the West’ in Post-Soviet Culture,” 149-72) is an overview of the treatment by Russian writers and cultural figures of certain aspects of the debate about “Russia and the West.” This essay on the “imaginary West” traces a shift from the generally quite positive attitude to the West expressed in the late 1980s to the increased manifestation of anti-Western sentiments in the late 1990s. As to whether the West is still regarded as Russia’s “Other” the author answers that despite growing convergence between Russia and the West, post-Soviet culture frequently attests the persistence of conventional views of the latter. Unfortunately this statement highlights the limits of the article, which remains characterised by systematic use of clichés (on Russian anti-Semitic and anti-Western nationalism) and by an overall tendency to minor Russia’s cultural diversity through the selection of examples confirming the author’s views (like writers with messianic attitudes or involved in the search for a “new Russian idea”).
In all, the book provides no renewal of traditional approaches on over-studied subjects. On the contrary, several of its contributions contribute towards reinforcing a tendency rather frequent in political science to systematically neglect the historical and cultural backgrounds in which each case-study should be analysed. The final result is a general effect of flattening, showing all regions of the former Soviet Union and dependencies as interchangeable. Tatarstan is assimilated with Lithuania and the communist experience is merely seen as an experiment imposed from the outside.