THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA

Charles E. Ziegler

 

The Greenwood Histories of the Modern Nations
Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling, Series Editors
Greenwood Press / Westport, Connecticut London / 1999

    

 

 

 

 

Preface

 

Russia is a very large country with a long and complex history. This book provides a brief, accurate introduction to Russian, Soviet, and post-Soviet history in a readable format that will be of use to high school students, college students, teachers, and nonspecialists. It includes major social, cultural, and economic developments so that readers new to the subject will come away with a good general understanding of this fas cinating and troubled country.

 

For those who wish further reading, the bibliographic essay includes some of the better known accessible works.For those who grew up in the post- World War II United States, Russia (or more accurately, the Soviet Union) was a constant source of fear and attention. Secretive leaders in the Kremlin, the massive stone fortress in the heart of Moscow, had sworn to spread communism across the globe.At any time they might rain thousands of nuclear warheads on America. School children in the 1950s learned to "duck and cover"--to hide under their desks and put their hands over their heads in the event of a nuclear attack. U.S taxpayers spent billions and then trillions of dollars on bomb ers, missiles, fighter aircraft, submarines, aircraft carriers, troops, tanks, and the other paraphernalia of making war to defend against the communist threat. Leftists and communist sympathizers were hounded and persecuted by Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American ActivitiesCommittee in the 1950s. The United States lost 58,000 men and rent itself apart trying to stop the spread of communism in Vietnam in the 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1980s President Ronald Reagan swept into office on a strong anti-communist platform, pledging to build a space shield that would provide a comprehensive missile defense for America.

Few experts or government officials expected the Soviet communist government to collapse in 1991. When it did, Americans were overjoyed, expecting that once Russians had rejected dictatorship and socialist ecoomics they would quickly learn the ways of democracy and market capitalism. Russians likewise expected that within a few years they would be as affluent as the West Europeans, Japanese, or Americans. After all, Russia was a highly educated nation with talented people and vast natural resources. Sadly, as the twentieth century drew to a close, these expectations had still not been borne out. Russia's economy had shrunk nearly every year since 1991. The government was deeply in debt, joblessness was rising, and crime was rampant. Russia had managed to hold several rounds of relatively free presidential and parliamentary elections, but the country's new democracy was still quite fragile. More over, democratic Russia had had only one president, Boris Yeltsin, and he was frequently sick and unable to govern.

Americans seem to have lost interest in Russia now that it is no longer communist and seems to pose no threat to the United States or its allies. Russia, however, is still a major nuclear power, and its leaders are determined that it will be influential and respected around the world. And Russia may some day extricate itself from the economic morass into which it has sunk. If that happens, Russia will indeed once again be a power to reckon with.

A brief note on transliteration and pronunciation. Russian names are written in Cyrillic, and so must be transliterated into the Latin alphabet. This means that occasionally the same word will be rendered by two different spellings: for example, tsar and czar. In most cases I have followed the Library of Congress transliteration style used in the United States, with a few minor modifications for common usage (Trotsky instead of Trotskii). In Russian words and names, unlike French, all the letters should be pronounced.

Readers should also be aware that until the twentieth century Russia followed the old, Julian calendar abandoned by Europeans in 1582. The Julian calendar was inaccurate, so in Russia dates were twelve days be hind the modern Gregorian calendar in the nineteenth century and thirteen days behind in the twentieth century. The Bolsheviks adopted the Gregorian calendar in February 1918, but the Russian Orthodox Church still celebrates its holidays according to the older calendar. Different dates for events in Russian history therefore are often referred to as "Old Style" or "New Style," depending on which calendar was in effect.


Chapter 8 draws in part from Charles E. Ziegler, "The Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1985-1991: Interpretive Essay," in Events That Changed the World in the Twentieth Century, edited by Frank W. Thackeray and John E. Findling (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995).

I would like to thank Bruce Adams of the History Department at the University of Louisville for his helpful comments on various chapters. Frank Thackeray, one of the series' general editors, also gave me useful feedback on the manuscript. I am grateful to Dianne O'Regan for com piling the index and to Justine Ziegler who helped with the proofreading.


My greatest debt of gratitude, however, is to my wife Janna Tajibaeva, whose many insights and suggestions from her years inside the Soviet Union made the book much better. Her tolerance and encouragement are deeply appreciated, and it is to her that I dedicate this book.

 

 


CHARLES E. ZIEGLER is Professor and Chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Foreign Policy and East Asia ( 1993), Environmental Policy in the USSR ( 1987), and dozens of scholarly articles and book chapters.