Soviet collapse as interplay of memories

Dr. Una Bergmane has been starting out her five-year Academy of Finland research project at the Aleksanteri Institute this fall. The project goes by the name “Collective memory and the collapse of the USSR 1986-1991”. As Academy Research Fellow, Bergmane’s goal is to study how different interpretations of the history of the Soviet Union were discussed in Soviet society during perestroika.

“I would like to explore the story of the transnational connections between, for example,  the memory activists in Georgia and Baltic countries.”

With memory activists Bergmane refers to the people who disagreed on the common interpretations of the Soviet history and actively disputed it on various platforms – for instance people who knew stories of those who had suffered under the Soviet rule due their origins, religion or political views.

“My aim initially was to focus on the new narrative that emerged about the ethnic deportation during the Second Word War. And on the connections between Baltic activists and the Crimean Tatars who were the first to talk about it.”

Another Bermane’s goal for the near future is both to insert experiences of the non-Russian republics and nationalities in her teaching and build up an international digital platform for teaching the Soviet history in a more multi-voiced fashion.    

“I think that teaching is one of those aspects of academia where there can never be enough collaboration, of exchange of ideas.”

One could say that Una Bergmane has one main message she is trying to convey in her research, her teaching, and her international networking: That is, that history of the Soviet Union is not just a history of the Russian people or a Russian state, it is not just a history of the imperial center. 

This is especially true when talking about the Baltic countries that have their own national identities, distinctive histories and different minority groups that have often been bypassed in the main discourse on the history of the USSR.

Una Bergmane herself is originally from Latvia, Riga. While she was only a child during the 1980’s, she does remember standing with her parents in the Baltic Way, a peaceful demonstration where two million people from the Baltic countries joined their hands to form a human chain across the states.

“Helsinki feels a bit like home. It is perhaps more similar to Riga than the other places I’ve worked in.”

Before her previous posting for another Academy of Finland project in the department of History, Bergmane worked as a Teaching Fellow in the London School of Economy and Political Science. She has also spent time in Paris, where she wrote her PhD for Sciences Po and in different parts of USA, as a researcher for the Yale University and the Cornell University. Bergmane has also worked briefly in Aleksanteri Institute before, as she was an Aleksanteri Visiting Fellow in 2018.  

Currently Dr. Bergmane is finishing her book “Politics of Uncertainty: The United States, the Baltic Question and the Collapse of the Soviet Union” that is to be published in 2023 by the Oxford University Press. The upcoming monograph investigates the relations between the US government, the Baltic independence movements and Moscow during the perestroika years. Bergmane will discuss her research and its results in Aleksanteri Alumni Talk on the 1st of December. During the talk Bergmane will analyze the Soviet and American policies towards Baltic claims for independence and display how marginal agents can gain political leverage during times of uncertainties.   

“Often the way that we talk about the collapse of the Soviet Union comes from the imperial perspective produced by Moscow. Or we tell the story from the point of view of one republic. But what I try to do in both my research and in my teaching is to tell the story of Soviet collapse from the point on view of interactions between the center and periphery and their effects.”