Spring 2017


Questioning ‘Post-Soviet’ in a New Era of Russian-American Relations

Professor Matthew Derrick Submitted

ALLEGATIONS AND INVESTIGATIONS into interference in the U.S. Presidential election have brought Russian-American relations into the national spotlight in a way unseen since the fall of the Soviet Union 25 years ago.

The intense international interest has people coming to Humboldt State Geography Professor Matthew Derrick with questions and concerns. “People want to talk to me more about that part of the world than ever,” says Derrick, whose research explores the era and geographic region that relate to the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Derrick is the co-editor of Questioning Post-Soviet, a book that was released in December—coinciding with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the USSR—at a public roundtable event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center Scholars, the nation’s key nonpartisan policy forum on global issues.

In their book, Derrick and co-editor Edward C. Holland compiled writings on the geographies, governments, cultures, and religions of the successor states of the Soviet Union, focusing on the identities of the region.

The book examines the continuing utility of “post-Soviet” as a signifier to describe people and events among the 15 independent states that once made up the Soviet Union. The various contributions collectively indicate that Soviet-era legacies indeed continue to have a complex impact.

For example, Derrick spent time in Tatarstan, an important region located in the heart of Russia. When Vladimir Putin rose to power as president in 2000, he re-centralized the region, rolling back freedoms the region had gained in the preceding decade. Researchers predicted bloodshed, a second Chechnya, but it never materialized. Since then, the region’s large populations of Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully, working closely together and intermarrying frequently. And it’s not just mere “tolerance,” Derrick says, “It’s genuine respect for each other.”

For the last two summers, Derrick has been a resident scholar with the Woodrow Wilson institute. This fall, he will spend his sabbatical in Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, studying political-geographic dimensions of religious and national expression.