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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 1 .

Beyond the Soviet Union
Edited by Max Beloff

(Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997).
285pp. Index. 42.50; ISBN 1-85521-911-5.

The main subject of this edited volume is the disintegration of the Soviet Union, although there are also chapters on the collapse of Communism in central Europe. All of the chapters are reprints of papers previously published the Conflict Studies series of the Research Institute for the Study of Conflict and Terrorism. The papers were written between 1989 and 1995. The topics addressed in the chapters are broad, ranging from a discussion of the attempts to reform the Soviet economy in late 1980s, through the political role of the Soviet military, an examination of the dispute over the political status of the Crimea, and the sources of conflict in Chechnya.

Most of the papers contained within the volume were originally written in response to rapidly unfolding events in the former Soviet bloc and, with a few exceptions, rereading these chapters offers little to contemporary understanding of the events and processes that precipitated Soviet disintegration. Indeed, the purpose of uniting such an eclectic set of essays in one volume is rather elusive. Despite valiant efforts by the editor to develop themes uniting the different papers, at best the impression left by the book is of a series of only slightly interconnected vignettes that touch upon the conflicts within the post-communist world.

This is not to say that some of the essays are not interesting and well written. Dominic Lieven, for example, offers a valuable comparison of the Soviet collapse and other cases of imperial decline. As a whole, however, the volume fails to shed much light on the `disintegration of power'.

Given the limitations of such a volume in terms of what it can tell us about the fragmentation of the Soviet Union, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the light is sheds upon prevailing western interpretations of the events as they unfolded in the Soviet bloc and how western specialists struggled to make sense of these events.

Neil Melvin, University of Leeds.

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