Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Why Am I a "Sovietologist?"

I have wondered at times if my internet pseudonym has given people the wrong impression about me. After all, it has "soviet" in it, and because of this I suspect that I could be taken for an apologist for the Soviet regime. I would like to reassure readers that I am nothing of the sort.

"Sovietologist" was originally the term for Soviet studies researchers who used social science methodology to try and understand the Soviet regime, rather than merely trying to divine what was going on in the Kremlin by dissecting the minutiae of public pronouncements and ceremonies. The latter were called "Kremlinologists." However, in actual practice the terms became somewhat interchangeable.

The reason that I adopted the name was because I am basically trying to fill the shoes of a famous Sovietologist who spent his career studying Soviet civil defense- Leon Gouré. Unfortunately, Dr. Gouré died last year before I had the opportunity to meet him, but he apparently led an incredible life. Born in Russia, he fled from there to Germany, then to France and ultimately America, served in WWII, worked at RAND, and authored a wide range of books and articles. While I have to admit that I think that Gouré's conclusions about the capabilities of Soviet civil defense were exaggerated, I do believe that he made a much better case than his critics, who often denied that the USSR possessed a large civil defense program at all.

As the case of Dr. Gouré suggests, Sovietologists were not known for being fans of the Soviet regime. Indeed, very few people who described themselves with this term were russophiles of any description. Predictably, this led to the word becoming an insult among some Russians. One famous example was Vladimir Putin's response to the 2006 recommendation of the Foreign Policy Centre that Russia was neither democratic nor economically successful to merit G8 membership:
Эти люди все еще живут в прошлом веке; все они - неперестроившиеся советологи.
-Владимир Путин

All of these people are living in a bygone age; all of them are unreconstructed sovietologists.
-Vladimir Putin
So to sum up, I'm neither a Soviet apologist nor a Communist.

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