Collapse of an Empire

Collapse of an Empire

Lessons for Modern Russia




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This remarkably accessible, lucid survey of recent Russian history is a must-read for anyone interested in global affairs. Yegor Gaidar, an acting prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, provides a concise yet comprehensive summary of the course of empires during the 20th century, and draws some pointed lessons. His goal is to counter nostalgia for the glory days of the Soviet Union. getAbstract admires how effectively he executes his objective, with a step-by-step recapitulation of the economic blunders that led inevitably to the Soviet Union’s dissolution. However, he also shows why those who expected democracy to grow must face the fact that it is on the retreat – and he leaves no doubt about Russia’s dangerous crossroads.



Russia is nostalgic for its empire. However, this nostalgia is not uniquely Russian. Other empires collapsed during the course of the 20th century – in fact, every empire that met the dawn of the 20th century collapsed before the dusk.

The century saw two kinds of Empire, which faced different challenges. The widespread British, Dutch and Portuguese empires had clear divisions between their cities and their outlying territories. When these empires collapsed, the metropolitan population of their satellites could return home. The Austro-Hungarian and Russian empires were integrated territories. The populations of the metropolitan areas and their satellites lived together and interacted intimately – for better or worse. After the empires collapsed, the metropolitan population that held sway in the satellites suddenly found itself diminished in power and prestige, possibly even discriminated against. For example, the Sudeten Germans became a minority in Czechoslovakia. After the Soviet Union’s fall, 20 million Russians found themselves in the minority in various new countries, and their suffering resonated through the rhetoric of Russian imperial nostalgia.


About the Author

Yegor Gaidar, Boris Yeltsin’s acting prime minister in 1992, was the architect of “shock therapy” reforms during Russia’s transition to capitalism in the 1990s. He is director of the Institute for the Economy in Transition, a Moscow-based research organization.

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