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Regular version of the site

Alfred Rieber Speaks on Social Fragmentation at First World War Conference

Alfred J. Rieber, University Research Professor at Central European University (Budapest, Hungary), recently presented at the international conference ‘Russia in the First World War’, which was organized by the HSE’s International Centre for the History and Sociology of World War II and its Consequences and took place on June 3-5, 2014. He spoke with the HSE news service about his conference paper, ‘Social Fragmentation and the Crisis of the Old Regime’, his research interests in general, and his impressions of the conference.

— Why did you choose the First World War as a topic for your research?

— I first became interested in Russia's war aims as a graduate student and wrote my Master's thesis on ‘Russian Policy and Rumania and World War One, 1914-1916’, which was later published in a collection called Russian Diplomacy and Eastern Europe (New York: King's Crown, 1963).

Later, in writing my book, Merchants and Entrepreneurs in Imperial Russia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983) I took a different, social perspective, emphasizing the role of Moscow’s merchants in the war. Since then I have continued to take an interest in both the foreign policy aspect and the social foundations of the tsarist monarchy in its final years. See, for example, ‘The Sedimentary Society,’ in Edith Clowes et al (eds.), Between Tsar and People (Princeton University Press, 1991) and ‘Persistent Factors in Russian Foreign Policy. An Interpretive Essay’ (a Russian translation appeared in Amerikanskaia Rusistika: Vekhi istoriografii poslednikh let. Sovetskii period, Samara 2001).

— Your report at the conference in Moscow was about the First World War and political and social stability. Why is it so relevant to our time?

— The relevance of my report at the international conference to our time has to do with the state of Russian politics, which, in my view, suffers from similar problems as on the eve of World War I. It is highly personalized, based on informal networks and the party structure is unstable and changing.  This reflects a lengthy period of a one party system, which, although theoretically drawing on a mass base, was in fact rooted in personal relationships and networks rather than a genuine electoral process.

— What is your impression of the international conference and being in Moscow?

— The conference was highly stimulating and exhibited a superior level of scholarship and new approaches.  As a ‘veteran’ of exchanges with Soviet and Russian historians going back to the 1960s, I can say that today the field is truly international, sharing common theoretical and methodological values.

— What is next on your research plate?

— My next book, to appear in 2015 with Cambridge University Press, will shift to the Soviet period and is tentatively entitled, Stalin and the Struggle for Hegemony in Eurasia. I also have an unfinished manuscript tentatively entitled ‘Three Paths to Development: Engineers, Entrepreneurs and Economists in Russia's Drive to Modernity.’

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for the HSE news service

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