Una Bergmane’s Upcoming Book, “The Politics of Uncertainty,” is Awarded the AABS Book Publication Subvention

Dec 14, 2020

The AABS Board is pleased to announce that Oxford University Press has been awarded the 2020 AABS Book Publication Subvention, for publishing “Politics of Uncertainty: The US, the Baltic Question, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union.” The book, authored by Latvian historian Una Bergmane, “investigates the triangular relations between the US government, Baltic independence movements and Moscow during the perestroika years.” It is the author’s first monograph.

The AABS Book Publication Subcommittee, chaired by AABS VP for Publications Dr. Ausra Park, noted that the book is likely to make a substantial contribution to Baltic Studies. According to one of the reviewers, “The submitted material demonstrates that this is going to be a very important book, capturing the interplay between international and domestic factors during the Soviet disintegration process. She is using various primary sources—archives, oral interviews—in several different languages. I think that probably a very important contribution of her book will be a description of the ways in which non-state actors, including the Baltic diaspora, have contributed to Baltic independence.”

Una Bergmane. © Una Bergmane, 2020.

Una Bergmane is a postdoctoral researcher at Helsinki University and a Baltic Sea Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (PA, US). She holds a PhD from Sciences Po Paris. In the past, she was a Fox International Fellow at Yale University, a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University and a teaching fellow at the London School of Economics. Una has published several articles and book chapters in English and French analyzing Baltic drive for independence from an international and transnational perspective. Her most recent article “Is This the End of Perestroika?”: International Reactions to the Soviet Use of Force in the Baltic Republics in January 1991” appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of the Journal of Cold War Studies.

Ahead of the 30th anniversary of the Soviet collapse this book aims to tackle the interplay between international and domestic dynamics in the Soviet disintegration process. Based on extensive archival research, this book investigates the triangular relations between the US government, Baltic independence movements and Moscow during the perestroika years. The study demonstrates how in the space of three years Washington and its European allies moved from extreme prudence regarding the Baltic states’ claims to fully embracing their independence and weakening the USSR. It argues that this change was driven much more by uncertainty, domestic pressures and last-minute decisions than by Realpolitik calculations and long-term strategy.

A significant amount of research has been published on the international and internal causes of the Soviet collapse, but very few works have made the connection between the two. The rise of nationalist contestations in the USSR have mostly been treated as a purely domestic phenomenon, while the outside influences have been reduced to high-level interactions between Moscow and Washington. The existing literature projects the impression that during the Soviet collapse Moscow still functioned as a gatekeeper between the international community and the other Soviet actors. This work is intended to move away from this imperial perspective and study the links between independence movements in the USSR and the US government.

The Politics of Uncertainty makes a significant contribution to the Baltic studies not only because it analyzes superpower policies regarding the Baltic question, but also because it highlights the agency of Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian state and non-state actors such Baltic diplomats, diaspora activists, and politicians. The existing literature on Baltic independence movements focuses on local events in each of these three countries. This book offers an international perspective on the Baltic independence struggle.

Demolition of Lenin monument in Riga, 25 August 1991. Photographer: Gunārs Birkmanis, collection of the Latvian War Museum.

The most important documents used in this study originate from the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum at Texas A&M University, run by the National Archives and Records Administration. This includes the Records on the Baltic States, declassified in the early 2000s, and the Records on Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, corresponding to the FOIA request made by Bergmane in 2012 and released in 2015. These records have been complemented by the private papers of Jim Baker and documents from the National Security Archive in Washington DC. The Baltic side of the story was researched in Estonian national and diplomatic archives, Latvian national and diplomatic archives and Lithuanian diplomatic archives, while the Soviet documents used in this study mostly come from the archives of the Gorbachev Foundation. Finally, this book originates from a PhD dissertation that analyzed not only US but also French policy regarding the Baltic question, and thus benefits from the author’s previous research in French national and diplomatic archives.

What is AABS book Publication Subvention?

The AABS awards a biannual Book Publication Subvention of up to $5,000 for individually authored books, edited volumes, and multiple-authored books in English that make a substantial scholarly contribution to Baltic Studies. The applications must be submitted by publishers, not authors. Priority will be given to single author’s first monographs.

ABS awards two Book Publication Subventions each year. Applications may be submitted for review anytime, on a rolling basis. Applications will be evaluated by the AABS 2021 Book Publication Subvention Committee consisting of AABS President-Elect Dr. Dovilė Budrytė, AABS Director-at-Large Dr. Andres Kasekamp, and AABS Executive-Officer-at-Large Guntis Šmidchens.

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