93501 - Remapping The Post-Soviet Space

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Reduced inequalities Peace, justice and strong institutions Partnerships for the goals

Academic Year 2023/2024

Learning outcomes

The course ‘Remapping the Post-Soviet Space: Politics, Culture and National Identities in Eurasia’ aims at offering a challenging approach to the major forces instrumental in the shaping of politics, society and culture in Eurasia, with a specific focus on contemporary Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. At the end of the course, students will be able to: • - critically present major scholarly debates around the social and political nature of the post-Soviet space, vis-a-vis other regional descriptors (Near Abroad, Eastern Neighbourhood, 'Russkij Mir', Eurasia); • - identify and distinguish the main stages of historical evolution of the region after the Soviet collapse. • - analyze the contemporary political, cultural and social dynamics in the post-Soviet space, with a specific focus on Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.

Course contents

The course explores the dynamics of change that has affected the post-Soviet region in recent decades. In an attempt to address pressing issues concerning contemporary developments, new research questions arose in political and scholarly debates: what are the common social, cultural and political features shared by the states making up the space of the former Soviet Union today? Can we still talk about the post-Soviet space as a whole? And, eventually, is Post-Soviet still a useful category? During the course, we will respond to these questions by investigating the shaping of politics, society and culture in the region since 1991. Adopting a retrospective approach to recent domestic developments in culture and politics, the two modules of the course will highlight the dynamics of continuity and discontinuity emerging in the so-called post-Soviet space, with a specific focus on contemporary Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.


First Module (Classes from 1 to 10) - The ‘Soviet Legacy’: Exploring the Impact of Official Identity Narratives and Cultural Practices in the Post-Soviet Political Space


In the first module, we will explore the roots of the domestic political and cultural processes in the post-Soviet space. The complex entanglement between the nationality policies (official identity narratives and cultural practices, demographic and migration policies) promoted in Soviet times and their national outcomes in the region after 1991, will be mainly addressed in the first part of the course. Greater focus will be devoted to both Russian and non-Russian nationalities in post-Soviet Europe, and in particular to the cases of modern Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova.


Second Module (Classes from 11 to 20) - Is the Post-Soviet Over? Dynamics of Change in Post-Soviet Europe


In the second module, we will investigate the recent political and cultural developments in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova. The research focus will include the analysis of the following areas:

  • Between Exclusive National Ideologies and Inclusive Cultural Practices.
  • Post-Soviet Revolutionary Cycles, Migration and Contested Borders
  • Post-Soviet conflicts: Grey areas and De-facto States

Greater focus will be devoted to the contested role of Russian and Russian-speaking communities in the Near Abroad, with a specific attention to Ukrainian-Russian relations. Through the lens of a transnational approach to Russian language and culture, we will analyse the heterogeneous political and social positions assumed by the Russian/Russian-speaking communities in the new map of post-Soviet Europe. The investigation of the fascinating interplay between politics, culture and identity will help explore the contested encounters of Russian language and culture with other languages, cultures, and traditions in the post-Soviet space, highlighting pressing contemporary issues related to - and affected by - political and social developments.


Course Outline:

Class 1: Framing the Post-Soviet Space/Era: Introduction to the course and overview of the key concepts

Introductory Readings:

  • E. Holland, M. Derrick, “Introduction” in Questioning Post-Soviet, Wilson Center, Washington D.C., 2016: 5-14.
  • M. Minakov, “The End of a Great Era: Post-Soviet Transformation in a Historical Perspective”, Nuovi Autoritarismi e Democrazie: Diritto, Istituzioni, Società, Vol. 5 No. 1, 2023: 1-17. 

Class 2: Reconceptualizing Russian Studies: Towards a Transnational Approach

Introductory readings:

  • Byford, C. Doak, S. Hutchings, “Introduction: Transnationalizing Russian Studies”, in Transnational Russian Studies, Liverpool University Press, Liverpool 2019, pp. 1-22.
  • R. G. Suny, “The Contradictions of Identity: Being Soviet and National in the USSR and After” in Soviet and Post-Soviet Identities, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2012: 17-36. 

Class 3: A Global (and Transnational) understanding of the Soviet Legacy: Perestroika and the Collapse of the USSR

Introductory Reading: Mark R. Beissinger, “Nationalism and the Collapse of Soviet Communism”, Contemporary European History, 18 (3), 2009: 331-347.

Class 4: Remapping the (Post-)Soviet Space

Introductory reading: Rogers Brubaker, “Introduction”, in Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and The National Question in the New Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1996: 1-10.

Class 5: The new national majorities in the post-Soviet space: Citizenship and Memory

Introductory readings:

Rogers Brubaker, ‘Nationalising states revisited: projects and processes of nationalization in post-Soviet states”, Ethnic and Racial Studies, 2011, 34, 11: 1785-1814


Class 6: National Minorities in the New States: Migration, Assimilation or Contestation?

Introductory reading: “The Double Cataclysm” in David D. Laitin, “Identity in Formation: The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Near Abroad”, Cornell University Press, Ithaca (NY) 1998: 85-104.


Class 7: State-Building and Patronal Systems in the post-Soviet states (through the lenses of Boris Eltsin’s Russia)

Introductory Reading: Henry E. Hale, “25 Years After the USSR: What’s Gone Wrong?”, Journal of Democracy, vol. 27, no. 3, 2016: 24-35.


Class 8: In Search of New Roots: Towards Putin’s Russia

Introductory readings:

  • Vladimir Putin, “The National Question”, January 23, 2012.
  • Kevin M.F. Platt, “The Post-Soviet Is Over: On Reading the Ruins”, Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts, 1, 2009: 1-26.

Class 9: History, State and Culture: The Russian Nation-Building from El’tsin to Medvedev

Introductory reading: Oxana Shevel, “Russian Nation-Building from Yel’tsin to Medvedev: Ethnic, Civic or Purposefully Ambiguous?, Europe-Asia Studies, 2011, 63 (2): 179-202.


Class 10: Ukraine and Russia: A National, Transethnic or Transnational History?

Introductory reading: Serhii Plokhy, “Beyond Nationality”, Ab Imperio, 4, 2017: 25-46.

Class 11: The Long Road to the ‘Ukraine Crisis’

Introductory Reading: Igor Torbakov, “Ukraine and Russia: Entangled Histories, Contested Identities, and a War of Narratives”, in After Empire: Nationalist Imagination and Symbolic Politics in Russia and Eurasia in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Century, ibidem-Verlag, Stuttgart 2018: 201-228.

Class 12: Ukrainian, Russian-Speakers, Russians: The Rise of Identity Politics in Ukraine

Introductory Reading: T. Zhurzhenko, “A Divided Nation? Reconsidering the Role of Identity Politics in the Ukraine Crisis”, Die Friedens-Warte, 89, 2014: 249-267.

Class 13: From the Ukrainian Russians to Global Russians: A Post-Soviet Question Between Integration and Contestation

Introductory reading: Ammon Cheskin & Angela Kachuyevski, “The Russian-Speaking Populations in the Post-Soviet Space: Language, Politics and Identity”, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 71, No. 1, 2019: 1-23.


Class 14: Belarus: A Denationalized or Divided Nation?

Introductory reading: Grigory Ioffe, “Culture Wars, Soul-Searching, and Belarusian Identity, East European Politics and Society, 21, 2007: 348-381.


Class 15: Belarus, Ukraine and Russia: East or West (or in between)?

Introductory reading: S. White, I. McAllister and V. Feklyunina, “Belarus, Ukraine and Russia: East or West?”, The British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 2010, vol. 12: 344-367.


Class 16: Moldova/Moldavija: Ethnic engineering in Soviet and Post-Soviet times

Introductory reading: “Introduction”, in Charles King, The Moldovans: Romania, Russia and the Politics of Culture, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford 2000: xxvii-xxix; 1-7.

Class 17: Moldova and Transnistria: Contesting in-between borders and External Projections

Introductory readings:

- Steven D. Roper, “From Frozen Conflict to Frozen Agreement: The unrecognized state of Transnistria” in T. Bahcheli, B. Bartmann, H. Srebnik (eds.), De Facto States: The Quest for Sovereignty, Routledge, London and New York (NY) 2004, pp. 102-117.

- Harry Mylonas, “The Geopolitics of De Facto States”, PONARS Eurasia Policy Memo No. 577, February 2019.


Class 18: A new generation of "Frozen Conflicts" in the Post-Soviet Space: Disentangling the War in Donbas 

Introductory readings:

Elise Giuliano, "Who supported separatism in Donbas? Ethnicity and popular opinion at the start of the Ukraine crisis", Post-Soviet Affairs, Vol. 34 (2-3), 2018: 158-178.

Andrei A. Kazantsev et al., "Russia's policy in the 'frozen conflicts' of the post-Soviet space: from ethno-politics to geopolitics", Caucasus Survey, Vol. 8, No. 2, 2020: 142-162.


Class 19: Revolution and its aftermath: Post-2014 developments in Ukrainian and Russian Politics

Introductory readings:

Olga Onuch, "The Maidan and Beyond: Who Were the Protesters?", Journal of Democracy, Volume 25, No. 3, 2014: 44-51.

Marco Puleri, "Values for the Sake of the (Post-Soviet) Nation: Patriotism(s) and the Search for the 'True' Self in Ukraine", Southeastern Europe, Vol. 42, No. 3, 2018: 350-375.


Class 20: What After Post-Soviet? The War in Ukraine and the Impact on the Region

Introductory reading:

Peter Rutland, “Thirty Years of Nation-Building in the Post-Soviet States”, Nationalities Papers, 2023, 51 (1), pp. 14-32.

Additional readings (optional): V. Putin, Address on Ukraine, 21.02.2022.


All the attending students are expected to read the introductory readings included in the syllabus.


  • First Module:
  • Stephen Kotkin, Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000, Oxford University Press, Oxford-New York, 2001.
  • Rogers Brubaker, Nationalism Reframed: Nationhood and the National Question in the New Europe, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1996. (selected pages: 1-76).
  • Jeremy Smith, Red Nations: The Nationalities Experience in and after the USSR, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 2013. (selected pages: ix-xix; 256-364).
  • Second Module:
  • Edward C. Holland and Matthew Derrick (eds.), “Questioning Post-Soviet, The Wilson Center”, Washington D.C. 2016 (selected pages: 5-16; 39-140).

- Select 1 Case Study among the following options (only for attending students):

  • The Russian Federation: Andrei P. Tsygankov, The Strong State in Russia: Development and Crisis, Oxford University Press, New York 2014 (Selected Chapters: Preface; chapters from 3 to 15) OR Gulnaz Sharafutdinova, Putin's Leadership and Russia's Insecure Identity, Oxford University Press, New York, 2020.
  • Belarus: Andrew Wilson, Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2021 (Selected chapters: Introduction; Part II - chapters from 7 to 14; Conclusions).
  • Ukraine: M. Minakov, G. Kasianov, M. Rojansky (eds.), From "The Ukraine" to Ukraine: A Contemporary History, 1991-2021, ibidem Verlag, Stuttgart 2021 (Selected chapters: Introduction; 1; 2; 5; 8; 9) OR Marco Puleri, Ukrainian, Russophone, (Other) Russian: Hybrid Identities and Narratives in Post-Soviet Culture and Politics, Peter Lang, Frankfurt/Main 2020 (Selected chapters: Introduction; Chapters 1, 2, 4 and 5; Conclusions).
  • Moldova: Charles King, The Moldovans: Romania, Russia and the Politics of Culture, Hoover Institution Press, Stanford 2000.

Teaching methods

Each class will be opened by the professor and/or by students’ presentation based on introductory reading.

In each class, the topics reported in course outline will be discussed with all the students on the basis of the introductory/suggested readings (see “Virtuale”).

Documents scheduled for presentation must be read by all the attending students, in order to guarantee a fruitful discussion after the presentation.

Assessment methods

Attending students

The assessment of the acquisition of expected knowledge and abilities by the attending students is based on the following levels:

  1. Oral presentation on assigned introductory reading and Short essay (max 5000 words, including footnotes and references, worth 50% of the final grade):

The ability of the student to participate actively in class will be a crucial part of the assessment methods. Furthermore, each Student will be assigned an introductory reading for an oral presentation during the course: this will be part of the final evaluation.

Finally, students will be invited to elaborate a brief research paper. This short essay must be based on a case study chosen by the student and previously agreed with the professor. The case study should be focused on recent developments in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and/or Moldova, and based on main topics covered in the syllabus .

The short essay must be emailed to the instructor in either .doc or .pdf format no later than two weeks (15 days) prior to the day of the final oral exam. Essays submitted beyond that deadline will not be considered for evaluation.

  1. Final oral exam (worth 50% of the final grade) on the Syllabus and on topics covered during classes.

The oral exam is articulated through a discussion of the case study chosen by the student for her/his essay. The oral exam is aimed at testing the student's ability to verbally articulate themes and methods discussed in class, offering the student the opportunity to show her/his ability to critically reassess such material.

Please note: Students from other Italian programs or Exchange students are requested to follow MIREES rules: therefore, in order to take the exam, they MUST have attended at least 70% of lectures.

Teaching tools

The attending students will be provided with the power point presentations, short videos and additional material that will be analyzed during the classes.

Office hours

See the website of Marco Puleri