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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1998, Vol. 1 No. 2 .


On Ruins of Empire
Georgiy I Mirsky

(Westport Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997)
185pp. Index.bibl. hb.: 43.95, ISBN 0-313-30044-5



It is rather puzzling that the first seven chapters of the book, devoted mainly to a very succinct and impartial presentation of the case studies' results, do not allow a reader to get acquainted with the author's analysis of the ethnicity and nationalism as such. The theoretical review of the conceptual issues is insightful and contains references to critical sources and key works on the theoretical background as far as the definition of "nation" and "nationalism" are concerned. However, the chapter "On some aspects of ethnic conflict" speaks for itself by its very name. Some aspects and some approaches are, indeed, tackled but the picture remains essentially incomplete. It is quite understandable that the material for the analysis of such intensely complicated issues should first be presented in a proper manner and the theoretical approach outlined, but it appears the author's affection to impartiality and objectivity has gone a little bit too far (at the expense of originality). The style in which material is presented is easily comprehensible and consistent. Much attention is paid to details, but one cannot escape the feeling of a certain down-to-earth caution. Reading the book, I often wondered why Mr. Mirsky wrote it. Is it an art for art's sake (which is then a masterpiece of academic landscape painting), or the author aspired to making a contribution to theory and/or policy-oriented analysis, or at least wanted to advance the understanding of what is going on in this poor country (which is then a masterpiece of academic diplomacy)? After repeating some thoroughly forgotten historical comments on the situation in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, relations between Russia and Tatarstan and the problem of Russian "Neoimperialism" (which for some reason fails to scare a reader), Mr. Mirsky offers just 20 pages "On Russian Nationalism". That is a disappointment! The idea of the "Third Rome" just cannot be seriously considered as the only historic root of such a very complex and serious phenomenon as the Russian Nationalism. The author's comment about the coexistence of inferiority and superiority feelings vis--vis the west in the Russian collective psyche strikes by its similarity to the wise-cracks one normally hears during long and rather heated discussions at the Russian intellectuals' kitchens (which, I admit have a lovely air), ending too late for the participants to remember what they have actually been talking about. After reading through this book I unfortunately ended up asking myself the same question. The book, nevertheless, may be of interest to practitioners and policy-makers as it appears to be tailored to their most critical needs.


Anton Ivanov, FEWER



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