Stephen E. Hanson likes to call himself “the last Sovietologist ever produced.”
After he earned his doctorate in Soviet studies in 1991, he was only able to work in the field for one year before the Soviet Union collapsed. However, Hanson’s studies on a collapsed empire did not go to waste — they actually help him make sense of the present-day tensions in Eastern Europe.
wHanson will discuss the changing landscape of Eastern Europe at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. His lecture is titled, “Russia, Ukraine and the Borders of Europe.”
“What we are seeing in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine — and potentially elsewhere — is nothing less than a reconsideration of basic border deals that were struck at the end of World War II and have been taken for granted as Hanson will discuss the changing landscape of Eastern Europe at 2 p.m. today in the Hall of Philosophy. His lecture is titled, “Russia, Ukraine and the Borders of Europe.”
“What we are seeing in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine — and potentially elsewhere — is nothing less than a reconsideration of basic border deals that were struck at the end of World War II and have been taken for granted as the architecture of international security ever since,” Hanson said. “We have the first annexation of a European country by a neighbor since World War II.”
Important to this historical perspective are the ways in which borders were drawn in the Russian Empire, Soviet Empire and Post-Soviet era. Hanson said these changes have led to “almost diametrically opposed” understandings of the present situation between Russia and Ukraine.
“Unfortunately, the viewpoints are different not just at the elite level, but also at the social level,” Hanson said. “Even Russian liberals, who are generally pro-Western, or have been in the past, will disagree pretty strongly with many Western European and North American interpretations of what’s going on in Ukraine.”
Though having historical understanding makes these perspectives easier to grasp, Hanson said it does not make everything clear.
“There’s a way in which this set of tensions are even less predictable than the Cold War tensions,” he said. “At least in the Cold War, there was a sense that there were rules in the game, whereas now we’re in a world where things are shifting so rapidly and precisely in opposition to what Putin and the Russians see as the United State-dominated rules.”
In addition to his role as director of the Reves Center, Hanson is the vice provost for international affairs at William and Mary and the Lettie Pate Evans Professor in the Department of Government. In 2014, he served as president of the Association for Slavic, Eurasian and East European Studies.
He is the author of Post-Imperial Democracies: Ideology and Party Formation in Third Republic France, Weimar Germany, and Post-Soviet Russia and Time and Revolution: Marxism and the Design of Soviet Institution. Hanson’s current projects include an examination of the creation of Putin’s political legitimacy in Russian society.
This work has led Hanson to believe that cultural understanding is vital to successful international diplomacy.
“I’m a firm believer that, if we don’t understand the perspectives of different groups in international relations, in different cultures, different societies, we’re never going to be able to come up with stable institutional solutions,” he said. “Cultural understanding and the ability to see through the eyes of others is a starting point for almost anything that we want to accomplish in world affairs. That’s more true than ever in the 21st century, given the speed of communication and interface that take place around the globe.”