Ending the Cold War

The modernization and Europeanization of Russia has been an ongoing topic of debate ever since the reign of Peter the Great. Another topic often raised is the West’s suspicion and lack of understanding of Russia.

Markku Kivinen

Markku Kivinen, professor and the leader of the Aleksanteri Institute, has little time for such banalities:

– It is unfortunate how Russia is interpreted simply through the lens of a non-existent power struggle between Putin and Medvedev. Whenever one of them says anything, all manner of hidden meanings are read into what they say. This is artificial and results in superficial interpretations.

Under Kivinen’s leadership, the Centre of Excellence in Russian studies aims to redefine the way in which the West understands Russian change. In the Centre’s research, Russia is more than just the Kremlin and the oligarchs: it includes families, schools, the army, companies, regions, citizens – the whole gamut of society.

– We challenge the prevailing schools of thought in both the West and Russia. It is important to stress that significant decisions are being made in Russia, and the question of who makes these decisions does matter. It is all too often thought that Russia is just hostage to a specific ideology or caught in the ineluctable flux of history, Kivinen states.

– Russia’s progress is much more complex and open than one might usually think.

The unit’s researchers are as likely to be found in in the villages of Karelia and Kuola as Moscow and St. Petersburg. Information is gathered through interviews, questionnaires, quantitative longitudinal studies, analysing the statistics and going through archives. Among the researchers are sociologists, historians, cultural researchers, legal scholars and economists. The University of Tampere is involved in the research on international politics. Other partners include the Aalto University’s CEMAT Research Centre, investigating economies in transition, Helsinki University’s Slavic and Baltic studies and the European University of St. Petersburg.

One concrete aim is to be involved in ending the Cold War, which, according to Kivinen, Russia and the West still haven’t got completely beyond.

– The West and Russia still have a total of 5000 strategic nuclear weapons pointing at each other. If their mutual antagonism could be resolved, it would have massive political and economical consequences. In fact, there are no other options, everything else will lead to the destruction of the world, Kivinen says pointedly.

– This challenge for global co-operation is of the same order of magnitude as climate change, he says.

Aleksanteri Institute » »
Aalto University: Center for Markets in Transition (CEMAT) » »
The European University at St. Petersburg » »
Centres of Excellence in the University of Helsinki » »
Research at the University of Helsinki » »

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Text: Tuomo Tamminen
Photo: Linda Tammisto
Translation: first-year students of English, rev. John Calton 29.12.2011
University of Helsinki, digital communications

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