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7th Annual Aleksanteri Conference
November 29 - December 1, 2007
The Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki, Finland



Contact Information
(Not for submissions):

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O.Box 42)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki

phone +358-(0)9-191 23631
fax +358-(0)9-191 23615

Aleksanteri Conference <>

A Wide Scope for Debate

As a process of world-historical dimensions, the political characterization of perestroika has been the source of intense controversy. In the early 1990s, the dominant interpretation held that the failure to reform the Soviet system meant (old) Russia's return from “socialist experiments” to a universal path of development – one which all modern societies must inevitably follow. Other viewpoints maintained, however, that the disintegration of the Soviet bloc and the emergence of a new Russian “liberal capitalism” was the result of deliberate political decisions implemented at the expense of others. In retrospect, reassessments of historical contingencies reveal potentials which indicate possibilities for very different outcomes.

The question of “alternatives” in Russian and Soviet history raises the important theme of the unrealised promises of the perestroika era: the idea of a humane and democratic society, the “New Thinking” in international relations and a fresh approach to the problems of the age. These ideas might be called the utopian moment in perestroika. They contrast sharply with the dystopian economic reality of the early 1990s, as well as with the more recent resurgence of illiberal outlooks and also the non-market economic models which have found favour in the current political cycle.

The 7th Aleksanteri Conference sets out to grasp these developments in their complexity and contradiction. We hope that by furthering debates within various disciplines and across their multiple combinations we may encourage not only a more balanced assessment, but a deeper re-evaluation of the perestroika period. It goes without saying that the relation of perestroika to its precursors as well as its present-day significance and popular legacy are within the scope of these research questions. The direct relation of the perestroika process to the collapse of the Soviet bloc, leading to the end of the Cold War, means that contributions concerning Eastern Europe as well as global repercussions are also very much welcome.

To stimulate topics for debate and the formation of panels, please find below some questions indicating the wide, multi-disciplinary scope aimed at by the conference:

  • Revolutions and Processes - Was the collapse of the Soviet bloc a result of a series of contingencies, or deliberate political decisions? Was eco-nomic collapse avoidable, and if so, for how long? Was the restoration of capitalism inevitable, or were there alternative paths of develop-ment? What role did ideas and cultural movements play in perestroika, its pre-history and aftermath?
  • Actors and Institutions - Which groups or traditions emerged, which survived and which were neglected or “written out of history” during the perestroika era? Did practices and customs genuinely see a trans-formation in all fields of life – from the Kremlin to the kitchen table? How was the role of women transformed? Did “parallel” and “under-ground” cultures cease to exist?
  • Generations, Retrospectives and Perspectives - How did different age groups evaluate the changes, and how did people of different “mind-sets” see each other? How do contemporary social formations assess the perestroika era and how does this inflect the future?