AABS Book Prize Awarded to Una Bergmane for “Politics of Uncertainty”

Jun 16, 2024

The Association for the Advancement of Baltic Studies is pleased to announce that Una Bergmane has been awarded the 2024 AABS Book Prize for her monograph Politics of Uncertainty: The United States, the Baltic Question, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union.

The biennial prize of $1,000 is awarded to an outstanding English-language scholarly book in Baltic Studies (humanities and social sciences). The 2024 award covers books published in 2022 and 2023.

The 2024 Book Prize Committee selected the awardee from a pool of books that were nominated by the publishers, authors, or their colleagues. The Committee noted the high level of all nominated books and thanks everyone who submitted a nomination.

Politics of Uncertainty: The United States, the Baltic Question, and the Collapse of the Soviet Union

by Una Bergmane
Oxford University Press, 2023, 256 pp., ISBN 978-0-19-757834-6 (Hardback)

Thirty years after the Soviet collapse, Politics of Uncertainty investigates the interplay between international and domestic dynamics in the Soviet disintegration process.

Based on extensive multilingual archival research, this book recovers the voices of local actors in Riga, Tallinn, and Vilnius in its examination of the triangular relations between Washington, Moscow, and Baltic independence movements. Occupied and annexed by the USSR in 1940, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were the first Soviet republics to push the limits of Perestroika. The Baltic problem, at first seemingly minor, increasingly gained international visibility and by 1990 risked derailing issues that mattered in the eyes of both Soviet and American leaders–the transformation of the Soviet state and transformation of the European order.

The United States, which had never recognized the annexation of the Baltic states, tried to perform a highly challenging balancing act of supporting Baltic independence without jeopardizing relations with the Kremlin. Meanwhile Mikhail Gorbachev, who saw the Baltics as an integral part of the USSR, was frustrated that their secessionist tendencies distracted from the monumental opportunity for change that the Perestroika project offered to his country and the world. Meanwhile, George Bush, François Mitterrand, and Helmut Kohl were exasperated that events at the margins of the Soviet empire risked destabilizing Gorbachev and souring East-West relations during negotiations over German reunification.

First and foremost, this book tells the story of how Moscow and Washington tried to deal with independence movements at the Soviet periphery, namely the Baltic countries. This problem at first seemed minor, but as it started to gain more and more international visibility, it risked derailing “the real issues” that actually mattered in the eyes of both Soviet and American leaders—the transformation of the Soviet state and transformation of international order. Second, it is an account of how, at times  of profound historical change, marginal actors defy their marginality and  find strategies for gaining visibility on the international stage.

In other words, this is a book about superpower struggles with uncertainty and Baltic struggles with invisibility. Through them, it tells a broader story of the Soviet collapse.

By focusing on the relations between those at the top of global power hierarchies and those situated at their margins, the book underscores how the Soviet collapse was driven much more by uncertainty, domestic pressures, and last-minute decisions than by long-term strategy–while warning about the tenuous geopolitical positions of these three states that joined NATO and the European Union after breaking out of the Soviet empire.

Fragmentation in East Central Europe challenges the traditional view that the emergence of these states was the product of a radical rupture that naturally led from defunct empires to nation states. It retraces the roots of the interwar states of East Central Europe, of their policies, economic developments, and of their conflicts back to the First World War. At the same time, it shows that these states learned to harness the dynamics caused by territorial fragmentation, thus forever changing our understanding of what modern states can do.

A woman in a black shirt standing with her arms crossed

©Una Bergmane, 2024

Una Bergmane, originally from Latvia, is a researcher at the University of Helsinki. Before joining the University of Helsinki, she was a postdoctoral fellow at Cornell University and a teaching fellow at the London School of Economics. She holds a PhD from Sciences Po Paris.

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