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REECAS NW 2017 Conference Theme

January 19, 2017

100 Years after Red October: Historical Legacies and New Beginnings in Culture and Politics


REECAS NW warmly welcomes papers on history, culture, politics, economics, sociology, religion and other topics from the centuries leading to 1917 until the present day.


Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia have undergone tremendous changes in the hundred years that followed the 1917 October Revolution that swept away the Romanov Dynasty and laid the groundwork for the Soviet Union. The October Revolution had enormous consequences for Russians themselves but also had a great impact on the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Empire. In the north, the Baltic states emerged as independent after the fall of the Romanovs while whole new states (Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia) and revived states (Poland) emerged on the territories of the defeated Russian, German and Austro-Hungarian Empires in Eastern Europe. During the interwar period, these new East European nation states sought to consolidate themselves while Soviet nationalities policies inadvertently began to prepare the peoples of Central Asia for independence many decades later.


The interwar order was not to last, however, and the Second World War brought even greater destruction than the first. In its wake, many independent states of interwar Eastern Europe found themselves absorbed by the USSR either formally through annexation or informally through occupation and the imposition of the communist system, a state of affairs that would endure until the revolutions of 1989 and the dissolution of the USSR in 1991. Today the Baltic states and the interwar countries of Eastern Europe are once again independent of Russia as are, more surprisingly, the new countries of Central Asia. But even as East European states join West European institutions, several states in the region have shown renewed interest in Moscow, driven by ascendant forces of populism and cultural conservatism. Likewise, many of the Soviet successor states find themselves drawn to Moscow either by cultural inclination or economic association in the Eurasian Economic Union.


Though often remembered as a stultifying time of suppression and ossification, the period of Soviet hegemony in the USSR itself and also in its satellite states was nevertheless also a period of cultural development and innovation. Particularly in the 1920s, Russia attracted many of the world’s most cutting-edge cultural minds who were attracted by the energy and promise that communism seemed to offer. In Central Asia, nationalities were coalescing as nations within Soviet Socialist Republic boundaries and interpreting their cultural heritage in both national and socialist ways. Eastern Europe struggled with authoritarian state structures and in the process produced dissident artists like playwright Vaclav Havel, who would confront communism with its own contradictions and call out its absurdities. Throughout, underground and youth culture would rebel at the margins and indulge in the forbidden music and fashions of Western culture.


After the uncertainty following the collapse of communism, a kind of stability and even prosperity seemed to emerge for some such as the Baltic and Vysehrad states, which joined the EU and NATO. Even in Russia a kind of stability developed in the form of Vladimir Putin’s resuscitation of Russian national symbolism, centralized control over politics and the media, and the development of Russia as a petrostate. But the potential for instability has long lurked in the form of nationalism, corruption, and authoritarianism. And only two years after returning to the Russian Presidency, Vladimir Putin brutally brought the REECAS region back to the world’s front pages with Russia’s seizure of Crimea, the occupation of eastern Ukraine, military intervention in Syria, and interference in the U.S. and European elections through media arms like RT and even outright hacking.


As the world enters the first months of Donald Trump’s Presidency, the vast territory of Russia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia is front page news in the United States perhaps more than it has ever been since the collapse of the USSR. The future is not yet written, but it seems likely that Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia will continue to dominate headlines one way or another in the years to come.


REECAS NW warmly welcomes papers on history, culture, politics, economics, sociology, religion and other topics from the centuries leading to 1917 until the present day.

The Ellison Center

Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies
University of Washington
Box 353650
Seattle WA, 98195-3650