Head of the Organising Committee
Sanna Turoma
sanna.turoma [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Coordinator
Kaarina Aitamurto
kaarina.aitamurto [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Secretary
Maarit Elo-Valente
maarit.elo-valente [at] helsinki.fi

Conference Intern
Miikka Piiroinen
miikka.piiroinen [at] helsinki.fi

Conference e-mail:
fcree-aleksconf [at] helsinki.fi

The Aleksanteri Institute

Unioninkatu 33 (P.O. Box 42)
00014 University of Helsinki
phone +358-(0)50-3565 802

aleksanteri [at] helsinki.fi


Past Aleksanteri Conferences

Jan Claas Behrends (Centre for Contemporary History (ZZF), Potsdam/ Humboldt Universität Berlin, Germany)

Violence and Civility: Perspectives on the USSR and Russia (1979-2015)

The recent history of post-Soviet Russia has long been interpreted as a transition to the market and to liberal democracy begun by Gorbachev in 1985 and continued by his successors. Despite obvious deficits in the development of post-Soviet Russia European politicians and analysts have long followed what may be called the "Fukuyama paradigm": Regardless of the many problems a liberal order was inevitable. Only the Ukrainian War has first discredited and then shattered this commonly held view. This paper will present an alternative reading of recent Soviet and Russian history which is at the center of my upcoming monograph. It focuses on (state and military) violence and notions of civility in Russian society. Instead of beginning with Gorbachev's perestroika I argue that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 should be seen as an important caesura. The war at the Hindukush has played a decisive role as the beginning of new military conflicts that have strongly shaped Russian politics, culture and society ever since. The violent experience of Afghanistan was continued in Russia's southern borderlands and in the Caucasus – most infamously during the two wars in Chechnya. Today's war in the Donbass may only be understood if the violent experiences from Afghanistan to Chechnya are thoroughly studied: I can show that they involved similar actors and patterns of war and violence. At the same time violence is only one part of a complex story. Dating back to the 1980s we can observe that state violence often triggered important developments in Soviet and Russian civil society. From the "Soldier's mothers" to "Memorial" and the protest movements of 2011/12 civil society has developed as a reaction to war and state violence. The paper will discuss the tension between these two tendencies and present new perspectives on the current conflicts.