CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

Cynthia V. Hooper is an Associate Professor of Soviet and Post-Soviet History at College of the Holy Cross and an affiliate at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies. She is currently completing a book entitled Terror From Within: Policing the Soviet Powerful, Under Stalin and Beyond.

  • Money Talks - and Putin Can Afford to Compromise

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    Western analysts waffle between portraying Putin as a leader so powerful even Russian billionaires are afraid to speak out against him, and a leader so constrained by the rabid anti-Ukraine, anti-U.S. sentiment he initially encouraged that he finds himself with limited ability to change course.  The truth is that his interests lie in compromise. 

  • Russian Tabloids: Psst... Digging Up "Dirt" on Poroshenko

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    Russian media coverage of the Ukraine crisis relies on emotional association and innuendo that plays into base, unexamined prejudices and fears.

    Overtly, such coverage brands new President Petro Poroshenko, quite legitimately, an oligarch. Less legitimately, it presents Russian authorities (as well as ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine) as crusaders opposed to oligarch-led corruption. Between the lines, however, it goes even further, linking Poroshenko to repellant stereotypes of the “rich unethical Jew” – paradoxically after months of negatively portraying Ukraine as a hotbed of right-wing, Nazi-inspired political violence.

  • The War Against the Nazis: A Source of Cold War Antagonism and Current Superpower Conflict

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    For the U.S. and Russia, the two superpowers who have taken such an “interest” in Ukraine’s political turmoil, the Second World War could be upheld as a past example of successful diplomacy and as a model for future collaboration in resolving today’s crisis. After all, it stands for a moment when East and West worked together – as part of the “Big Three” coalition of the U.S., Great Britain, and the USSR – to bring down Adolf Hitler. Yet even the initial V-E Day in May of 1945 was an imperfect joint triumph, one marred by troubling indications of just how quickly a U.S.-Russian alliance could dissolve and one global cataclysm spill into another.

  • We Are Not Ukraine: Kazakhstan Stages a Show of National Reassurance

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    In Kazakhstan, the government is anxious to demonstrate to its people that the fighting that has riven Ukraine for the past four months could never happen at home, inside a country which has, since Soviet times, been advertised for its ethnic diversity.

    As one state employee told me, tongue-in-cheek, Kazakhstan is routinely praised for its 150 different national and ethnic groups, although researchers have never actually discovered more than 80. Today the regime of President Nursultan Nazarbayev, an autocrat who has led Kazakhstan since independence in 1991 via ritual “elections” held every five years, is, I am told, focusing its full public-relations powers on advertising not only the country’s vast diversity but also, and more importantly, its alleged harmony – exactly that which is missing, these days, in Ukraine.

    In order to emphasize the country’s rock-solid level of peaceful coexistence, the government is, of course, relying on media censorship in which the conflict in Ukraine is barely mentioned on television, and when, then “gently and carefully” referenced, with an absence of dramatic pictures that show any fighting. (Their coverage varies tremendously with that found in Russia, where the government also controls most television media, but where state-sponsored reporting of the Ukraine crisis strives to be maximally sensational, and to upset and excite its viewers through exaggerated stories of anti-Russian conspiracy and persecution. One such example is the arson attack on Odessa's House of Trade Unions, in which at least 40 pro-Russian activists died: Russian television is not only blaming the tragedy on "Nazi-fascists" but also repeating, over and over again, elaborate tales of the attackers shooting and killing anyone who tried to jump out the windows of the burning building and later rifling through the charred corpses for valuables -- all echoes of genuine, well-known Nazi atrocities perpetrated during World War Two.)

    In addition to ignoring such events, the Nazarbayev regime is also focusing on what, in Soviet times, was referred to as “positive censorship,” staging ostentatious mass demonstrations of the love that all its citizens ostensibly share.

    [Click on title to read more.]

  • Ukraine Crisis in Russia

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    This Is Crazy: Travels to Russia (Part One)

    22. April 2014

    Nothing like a shot of adrenaline, when suffering from jet lag. After arriving in St. Petersburg on Tuesday (coincidentally the 144th birthday of Vladimir Lenin), I crashed for 12 hours, only to wake up, groggy, to television headlines proclaiming:

    1. Ukraine has turned off all water supplies to the peninsula of Crimea (which run through the North Crimean canal, normally at 50 cubic meters per second). TV and internet news sites in Russian are showing pictures of empty canal trenches and calling such actions "inhuman."

    2. Ukraine has started a second round of military "special operations" in the East which the U.S is supporting. (This report plays on the one remaining independent Russian cable TV station Dozhd -- "Rain" -- that has been dropped by major satellite carriers in recent months, only to be handed a potential olive branch by Vladimir Putin at his news conference on 17. April. So is the story true? Or is it one more shaped to please the Russian government, as part of a peace-making quid-pro-quo -- Dozhd survives, but they do a better job of towing the official line?) On second thought, I'm confused - did I really hear that at all? My Russian "second family," people who have known me for 20 years, are all talking, loudly, in one tiny little kitchen, over the already-loud TV and as the report goes on, it's easy to get confused. "How did you sleep?" "What do you want to drink, tea or coffee?" "Don't bother her Sergei, she's working." "Was it too cold last night?" "Sergei, I told you that shelf is too low, she keeps hitting it with her head.""Eat, you have to eat."

    "Ummm, " I ask, shaking my head to clear it. "Did they just say the U.S. is directing military actions in East Ukraine?"

    "Well, they could have said it!" answered my Russian dad without missing a beat. "Because it's true!" There followed an animated discussion about the surreptitious visit of CIA Director John Brennan to Kiev earlier this month, with Brennan allegedly flying in under an assumed name and flying out the next day, apparently just before Ukraine announced its first "anti-terrorist campaign" against eastern separatists. Now THAT story made me laugh. Until I checked it on the internet, and found out that the CIA had confirmed the visit "as part of pre-scheduled trip to Europe." Dang - a hundred stories about Ukraine a day, and that's the one I miss.


  • Crimea: Power on Display

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    With Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to annex Crimea, we are witnessing a grand act of political theater.

  • Not "Back in the USSR"

    by CHooper's Post-Soviet Futures Blog

    Twenty years ago, when I was learning Russian one summer in St. Petersburg, I managed to lure both my best friend from college and my little sister from my local host family on a spontaneous and, in hindsight, somewhat ill-conceived trip to the middle of Siberia. -- Excerpt from our newest blogger, Cynthia Hooper.