Essays by Foreign Fellows
Russia and the Slavic Sphere in Today's World
Juha Janhunen (University of Helsinki, Finland, Foreign Visiting
Fellow, SRC, 2001)
A problem faced by regional studies institutes all over the world
is that international borders and regional political structures can
change surprisingly rapidly. This is particularly obvious when dealing
with the border regions
of large amorphous empires like Russia and China. For instance, in the
it was natural to study Korea and Manchuria in the political context of
Japan, while a similar approach today would not make much sense. On the
other hand, the formerly independent country of Tibet belongs today
to the political context of China and has to be dealt with within the
framework of Chinese Regional Studies.
Likewise, unexpectedly rapid and massive changes in regional structures
and orientations took place with the collapse of the Soviet Union. In
the decades of the Cold War Era, it was natural to regard not only the
Soviet Union, but the entire Soviet Bloc as a single monolithic entity,
kept together by centralized political, military, and economic bonds.
However, in the post-Soviet
reality there is very little that unites the former components of the
Bloc. Instead, there are several new regional entities in Europe,
Asia, and the Caucasus.
The Slavic Research Center of Hokkaido University is one of several
similar national and international institutes which were created in
order to correspond to the research challenges of the Cold War Era.
Thus, with the exception of Cuba and Vietnam, the profile of the SRC
still currently covers most of
the former Soviet Bloc, including the now independent republics of
Central Asia and the Caucasus, the Baltic states, and the whole chain
of former Socialist
countries in Eastern Central Europe extending from Poland in the north
Bulgaria in the south.
The question is whether the change in the regional situation should not
call for a radical reorientation of all the former Soviet Studies
institutes. It is true, there is one feature that is still shared by
most parts of the otherwise defunct Soviet Bloc: this is their on-going
economic transition, which is replacing the traces of socialism by
"free market economy." However, the economic transition will be
completed in less than a generation, after which regional identities
will almost solely be based on factors connected with political
integration and cultural orientation.
Indeed, we should recognize that Russia is an entity large and diverse
enough to be studied in its own right, without having to include the
regions which never really wanted to be parts of Russia. European
such as Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, as well as the Czech and
Republics, deserve to be studied in the context of the rest of Europe,
which they are rapidly becoming re-integrated. The same is true of the
states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which, in spite of their long
history in the context of both Imperial Russia and the Soviet Union,
never really culturally integrated with Russia.
Looking at the extant research structures in Japan as an outsider, one
cannot help thinking that some changes are inevitable. For one thing,
urgently needs a strong center of European Studies. This center should
simply focus on the politically integrated European Union, but it
also cover the countries remaining outside of the political
including, for instance, Norway, Switzerland, Albania, and Serbia. The
place of the so-called "East European"countries now covered by the SRC
be in the new center of European Studies.
Second, Japan needs an equally strong center of Central Asian Regional
Studies. This center should obviously cover the now independent
of the former Soviet Central Asia, recently also called Middle Asia.
is, however, no reason not to include other Central Asian and Middle
Eastern countries, notably Afghanistan and Iran. Central Asia is also
the natural context of Turkey, which, anachronistically enough, is
currently trying to
make an entry into the European Union.
Third, Japan should promote the current structure of the SRC as a major
international center of Russian Studies. The understanding of Russia is
essential for Japan, not only since Russia continues to be a globally
important political and military entity, but also since Russia is the
immediate northern neighbour of Japan. There are indications that the
Post-Soviet political disorder and economic misery of Russia have
created a feeling in Japan that Russia need not be taken seriously.
Nothing could be less true, and it is the obvious task of the SRC to
keep the Japanese decision-makers informed about the realities of
When it comes to delimiting the profile of the SRC, there will, of
course, always be problems. One problem is what value should be given
to the Slavic linguistic unity. The current name of the SRC implies
that its domain includes the entire Slavic linguistic sphere. This
criterion would include, for instance, the Catholic NATO land of Poland
(Slavic), while it would exclude the Catholic-Protestant NATO land of
Hungary (Finno-Ugric). Needless to say, such an approach would be
absurd, for in spite of its Slavic language, Poland has today just as
little to do with Russia as Hungary has. One might therefore propose
that the SRC could redefine its profile as a Russian Studies Research
However, when making such proposals one should not overlook the
uncontestable achievements of the SRC as it is today. Any research
center derives its achievements from the people it can bring together.
Successful research is
not dependent on strict administrative structures, rather to the
contrary. The task of research centers is to integrate the individual
scholar into a sufficiently large and diversified intellectual
community. In this important task, the SRC is doing better than well.
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