The expertise of two Wilkes University faculty members sheds light on the continuing political unrest in Ukraine. Dennis Hupchick, professor of history, and Andreea Maierean, assistant professor of political science, provide historical and political context for the clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian forces.
Hupchick, an expert in the history of northeast Europe, says that the region has a long history of political unrest. The tension between Crimea, Russia and Ukraine dates back to the sixteenth century when Empress Catherine the Great orchestrated an attack of the Ottoman Empire and took Crimea in the late 18th century.
Hupchick notes that Crimea was transferred to Ukraine in 1954. In more recent history, the Crimean Parliament voted to declare its independence in 1992, although it took nearly two years for the treaty to be adopted and another four years to adopt a new constitution.
Maierean, who specializes in the post-communist transitions of Eastern Europe, also sees a parallel in history in the way that Russia has managed the situation. “Russia appears to be reliving the philosophy of Peter the Great, with an ideology that relies on terror to control discontent and suppress opposition in an effort to prevent rebellion. This leaves unanswered the question of whether or not the U.S. has a responsibility to help a country whose borders have been invaded.”
She continues to be in touch with classmates from Central European University who are involved in the EuroMaidan movement in Ukraine and can provide perspectives based on her communications with them via social media.
Maierean says that international relations are traditionally analyzed on three levels: systemic, domestic and individual. From a systemic perspective, Russia has violated international laws and treaties through the annexation of parts of a neighboring country. “This creates a dangerous precedent by setting the tone for other countries to exercise a sense of entitlement in lieu of diplomatic negotiation,” she notes.
From a domestic perspective, we see the internal struggles that have been created as Ukraine faces a long-term economic crisis as well as domestic strife, illustrated by the west being more pro-European and the east more pro-Russian, Maierean says. Russia has claimed its “place in the sun” as an important world power with a strong military. Their economic structure is, however, anachronistic. Nearly 70 percent of Russia’s export is petroleum and oil, thus modeling the economic structure of a developing country with little diversification.
Finally, from an individual perspective, the leaders of America and Russia illustrate the primary division of political thinking. On the one hand, American President Barack Obama is coherent with his non-interventionist foreign policy. On the other hand, Russian president Vladimir Putin’s has modified the constitution to allow a reign that will have lasted nearly two decades when his current term expires in 2018. He has fallen back on the use of terror and oppression to quell unrest and ensure his position.
About the experts
Dennis Hupchick, Wilkes University professor of history, is a former Fulbright Scholar to Bulgaria and past president of the Bulgarian Studies Association. He is a highly-regarded expert on Eastern Europe. He regularly teaches classes on Balkan history, Byzantium, the history of northeast Europe, and the history of Russia.
He was the 2013 Eugene Schuyler lecturer at the American Research Center in Sofia (ARCS) in Sofia, Bulgaria. Hupchick’s publications include Culture and Chaos in Eastern Europe; Bulgaria, Past and Present: Transitions and Turning Points (co-edited with Donald L. Dyer); and with Harold E. Cox, A Concise Historical Atlas of Eastern Europe; The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of Eastern Europe, and The Palgrave Concise Historical Atlas of the Balkans. He edited The Pen and the Sword (1988), a compilation of the work of James F. Clarke on the history and realities of the Bulgarian National Revival period.
Andreea Maierean, Wilkes University Assistant Professor of Political Science
specializes in the politics of Eastern Europe. Her research focuses on post-authoritarian and post-totalitarian transitions. Her doctoral dissertation examined the problem of how to deal with legacies of communist repression. Her bachelor’s and master’s degree study, which took place in Bucharest, Romania, and Budapest, Hungary, focused on the important changes in the post-communist transition of Eastern Europe.
Maierean’s other research included examination of the property problem in post-communist societies and the discourse analysis of the December 1989 Revolution that ended the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania.
Maierean’s primary focus on the political unrest in Central and Eastern Europe focuses on lustration, the disqualification of certain categories of former communist officials and secret police collaborators from public positions under the new regime. Her analysis focused on the impact of several factors: the pervasiveness of security apparatus during the last phase of communist rule, the type of regime change, and the extent to which political actors embraced the lustration agenda.