The political response of Soviet Republican leaders to the challenge of nationalism

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


International Studies

First Committee Member

Roger E. Kanet - Committee Chair


This work is an anatomy of the nationalist challenge to incumbent power in the Soviet Union Republics and of its continuing reverberations in the successor states during the tumultuous years from 1988--1994. It is a study of commonality and variation. Similarities are readily apparent in the eventual outcome, which resulted in all fifteen Union Republics seceding and becoming sovereign, independent states. A more interesting, but less well-explored issue, is the variation between the different republics in the nature and development of the challenge and in its consequences for the fate of the incumbents and the republics themselves. The explication of the differences in response on the elite and mass levels to the opportunities offered by perestroika , and, later, by the disintegrating Soviet state itself is the focus of this dissertation. The thesis that I put forward is that it is the "state of the nation"---the coherence, the historical depth, the resilience of the national formation---at the outset of the transition years that best explains the variation in outcomes in the different republics. I have shown that once national identities and nationalist ideas have become accepted and institutionalized in a society, they can then be adduced as explanations for subsequent political outcomes. I have selected for analysis four Soviet republics (and their respective leaders): Lithuania (Brazauskas and Landsbergis), Ukraine (Kravchuk), Georgia (Gamsakhurdia and Shevardnadze) and Uzbekistan (Karimov). The dynamics of national assertiveness operating within the constraints and opportunities offered by both the institutional ethno-federal framework and the local political culture are analyzed as the most satisfactory causal explanation not only for the breakdown of the Union but for the collapse of the Soviet system itself. The work focuses on political culture, but assesses the relative merits of the institutional and rational choice approaches.


History, European; Political Science, General; Political Science, International Law and Relations

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text