Regions: A Prism to View the Slavic-Eurasian World
Towards a Discipline of "Regionology"

Copyright (c) 2000 by the Slavic Research Center.(English / Japanese ) All rights reserved.

When an object of study is changing drastically, its methods should change too. Probably this is one of the academic canons which we Slavists have been facing during the last decade. Summarizing a group study which was included in the Priority Project "Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian World: Conditions for Existence and Coexistence" financed by the Japan Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture (April 1995 - March 1998), the group leader, Professor Teruyuki Hara suggested:

"To restructure historical images of the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union and the Slavic Eurasian World as a whole by focusing not on 'states, ' but on 'regions, ' we need geographic approaches; here we find an abundant possibility for cooperation of various research disciplines: the humanities, social and natural sciences, and technology." 1

Emerging "regionology" is an attempt to respond to this challenge, i.e. to break down the barriers between traditional academic disciplines by exploiting the key concept of "space." Regionology focuses upon subnational subjects, regions and locales, which often spread across existing state borders. Regionology relies upon first-hand sources, accessible through surveys of local archives and fieldwork. By its nature, regionology is an "quantitative art," therefore regionologists are required to be adept at collaborating with a vast number of people and finding necessary financial sources. Last but not least, regionology appears to be initiated by scholars interested in actual, not yet conceptualized, people; and with this merit it proceeds in tandem with the humanitarianization of social sciences. After all, it was not by chance that regionology became a most heated, energetic area of Slavic studies after the end of Cold War.

As has often been noted, we are witnessing a dual revolution: globalization is weakening the modern system of national markets and sovereign states and thus broadening the scope for regional self-assertion. However, post-communist countries experienced exceptionally drastic and painful changes during the 1990s since until then they had been practically closed to the outer world and regional self-assertions were, at most, tacit there. The result might be called a doubly dual revolution; in addition to a combination of globalization and regionalization, shared with all other parts of the world, be it the EU or the Northern Pacific Rim, we may discern a further combination of these two processes, specific to these countries.

Actual contacts with these countries have also changed historians' spatial perceptions. It has become very difficult to argue in terms of "Russia in general" or "the Soviet Union in general," dumping "cases" from the Urals and Belarus into one paragraph. Young scholars have been well trained, to the extent that when they hear two place names in the CIS, they cannot but automatically calculate how many sutki (days and nights) between them by train.

With these factors in mind, an international symposium entitled "Regions: A Prism to View the Slavic-Eurasian World - Towards a Discipline of 'Regionology'" was held at the Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University on July 22-24, 1998. This symposium was supported by the Center of Excellence Fund of the Japan Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture.

Apparently Slavic studies in Japan have a good reason to convene such an adventurous symposium. In contrast to the United States and the former Soviet Union, where the humanities and social sciences, respectively historical and current studies, have been strictly divided, the Japanese academic structure is characterized by closeness of these two areas; Japanese Slavists have traditionally been more interdisciplinary. Saying this, I do not deny at all that the Soviet and US academic structures have many other attractive merits.

Of course, it is one thing to invite scholars of various disciplines to an auditorium, but quite another to organize discussion in interdisciplinary ways. Fortunately, the participants in the symposium proved equal to this task. At one pole there were a number of academic "outsiders," political scientists who had dropped out from history or literature, a political scientist who preferred to appear as a historian, an economist who had influenced political scientists more than his close colleagues, and so forth. At the other pole stood a number of authorities in their disciplines, but who had always tried to share their achievements with scholars of other disciplines. A number of speakers gave consciously interdisciplinary papers.

According to their approaches, the chapters of this collection may roughly be classified to three groups: first, basics of spatial approaches, which include methodological proposals useful for any regionologist, irrespective of his/her major (Postnikov, Rutland, Ponomarenko's chapters). Second, applied regionology: the chapters by Ryzhenkov, Matsuzato, Kennedy and Spiegeleire. Third, case studies abundant with insights and methods applicable to other parts of the Slavic-Eurasian territory: Yakovenko, Shishkin, Uyama, Young, and Rosefielde's chapters.

In this preface, I will limit myself to noting findings which extend across chapters and are not articulated by their own authors. First, a number of authors, in particular Ryzhenkov, Matsuzato and Kennedy, emphasize regional identities rather than "objective," social and economic, parameters of the regions. This is not to say that they dismiss these social-economic factors. Rather, they advocate attention to the question of how these objective conditions are interpreted by the population.

Second, a series of chapters show the importance of macro-regions in the histories and politics of FSU countries (see Yakovenko, Uyama, Shishkin, Ryzhenkov and Matsuzato's essays). Actually, in the governor-generalships of the Russian Empire, the eleven macro-regions based on economic regionalization (raionirovanie) in the RSFSR, and the present eight groupings of governors in the Federal Council of Russia, we find an at a first glance invisible historical continuity. The long version of Shishkin's essay, which unfortunately could not be included in this collection, points out similarities and contrasts between Siberian governor-generalships before the 1917 revolution and the post-revolutionary macro-regional party and Soviet institutions in charge of Siberia. Ryzhenkov's and Matsuzato's chapters refute the cone model of "one center versus 89 regions"; rather, it is very important to see a region's place within the hierarchy of the macro-region to which it belongs.

Third, this collection as a whole shows that regionology is inseparable from comparative and typological approaches. I mean not only comparisons within the Slavic-Eurasian territories, conducted by Kennedy and Ryzhenkov, but also comparisons with other countries (see Young 2 and Spiegeleire).

Fourth, several authors, in particular Yakovenko, Uyama and Young, present fine examples of the combination of spatial and other approaches, such as ethnic, "civilizational," genealogical or prosopographic; these are justly understood as the kin of spatial approaches. 3

Fifth, Spiegeleire, Rosefielde and, to a lesser extent, Ryzhenkov focus on border regions (or gateway regions). Readers will enjoy the dispute between Spiegeleire and Rosefielde concerning the extent to which the frontier location of the Russian Far East can be advantageous for its economic development. The topic of gateway regions has become one of the most active areas in regionology. This is hardly surprising since the aforementioned interaction of the two processes of globalization and regionalization is typically observed in such regions.4

Sixth, three of the twelve chapters (Yakovenko, Uyama and Kennedy) are dedicated to the Newly Independent States, to which we need to pay much more attention. Another three focus on the Russian Far East in a broader sense (including Sakha-Yakutia). Thus this collection traces the southern fringe of the former socialist bloc, i.e. so-called Central Eurasia. If we add Northern and Trans-Caucasus, the Balkans and Slovakia, we can cover almost all of Central Eurasia, a sort of explosive belt in which state building is extraordinarily difficult. True, this belt is actually a powder keg for ethnic and confessional conflicts; however, by exactly the same token it can also be a beneficial armory for regionology.

Seventh, this collection is an entrance to another newly opened subdiscipline - subregionology. The diversification of electoral behavior among the raiony of Sakha, presented by John Young, suggests much to be analyzed. I need to add that three of the authors in this collection (Ryzhenkov, Young and Matsuzato) have been the earliest advocate of the academic value of the subregional units of government in Russia and the NIS. 5

Finally, Postnikov, Rutland and Ponomarenko's chapters illustrate social backgrounds as well as institutional and financial conditions for the development of regionology. Rutland's pessimistic view on the viability of area studies in university economics in the post-Cold War US is shocking. On the other hand, however, we may be proud that the discipline of regionology has attained a level which makes us care about the reproduction of specialists in this field less than a decade after its initiation.

I need to acknowledge the assistance generously offered in the editorial process of this collection by Professor Anthony E. Backhouse (Hokkaido University), Dr. Songho Kim (then lecturer at the SRC, now lecturer at Ryukyu University), Ms. Mika Osuga (academic secretary at the SRC), Mr. Mark Baker (Harvard University, graduate student) and Dr. David Goldberg (then fellow at the SRC). Of course I am solely responsible for all possible editorial mistakes and misprints.

Sapporo, March 2000

Kimitaka Matsuzato

Doctor of Law

Professor, Slavic Research Center

Hokkaido University

  1. Translated from: Surabu, Yurasia no hendo: jison to kyozon no joken - kenkyu seika houkokusho [Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian World: Conditions for Existence and Coexistence - Reports of Activities and Results] (Sapporo, 1998), p. 262.
  2. John Young's view that the Canadian federalism can be a model for the Russian federalism contrasts radically with that of Peter C. Ordeshook. See the latter's "Russia's Party System: Is Russian Federalism Viable?" Post-Soviet Affairs 12: 3 (1996), pp. 195-217. I cannot but sympathize with Young's view simply because both Canada and Russia, be it de jure or de facto, are asymmetrical federations, whereas the United States is a symmetrical one. This is a decisive difference.
  3. As an example of this methodological synthesis I need to refer to Professor Nataliya Yakovenko's monumental work: N.M. Yakovenko, Ukrainsユka shlyakhta z kintsya XIV do XVII st. (Volyn' i tsntral'na Ukraina) (Kyiv, 1993).
  4. Many papers were also dedicated to this issue at the SRC international symposium of the following year (1999), entitled "Russian Regions: Economic Growth and Environment."
  5. John F. Young, 'Institutions, Elites, and Local Politics in Russia: The Case of Omsk," Theodore H. Friedgut, Jeffrey W. Hahn, eds., Local Power and Post-Soviet Politics (Armonk-London, 1994), pp. 138-161; Idem, "At the Bottom of the Heap: Local Self-Government and Regional Politics in the Russian Federation," Peter J. Stavrakis et al., eds., Beyond the Monolith: The Emergence of Regionalism in Post-Soviet Russia (Washington, DC - Baltimore - London, 1997), pp. 81-102; K. Matsuzato, ed., Tret'e zveno gosudarstvennogo stroitel'stva Rossii: podgotovka i realizatsiya Federal'nogo Zakona ob obshchikh printsipakh organizatsii mestnogo samoupravleniya v Rossiiskoi Federatsii, Occasional Papers on Changes in the Slavic-Eurasian World 73 (Sapporo, 1998); N.V. Vinnik and S.I. Ryzhenkov, eds., Mestnoe Samoupravlenie: problemy, protivorechiya, perspektivy (Moscow, 1998); S. Ryzhenkov and N. Vinnik, Reforma mestnogo samoupravleniya v regional'nom izmerenii. Po materialam iz 21 regiona Rossiiskoi Federatsii (Moscow, 1999).