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Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 8.3 (2007) 487-531

Mongol Commonwealth?
Exchange and Governance across the Post-Mongol Space
Stephen Kotkin
Dept. of History
Princeton University
Princeton, NJ 08540 USA

Suddenly, "Eurasia" is everywhere. Just a few short decades ago, even at the University of Washington—which back then stood out starkly for its atypical efforts to integrate the histories of Slavs and of Asia—the term "Eurasia" was hardly heard.1 Today, we have the Eurasia Group (, a money-making consultancy in New York, and the Eurasia Foundation (, a money-awarding agency in Washington, with branch offices in Moscow, Kiev, Tblisi, Almaty, and elsewhere, funded mostly by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). In academia, the old Soviet Studies centers are now called "Eurasia": Columbia (Harriman Institute: Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies), Harvard (Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies), Berkeley (Institute of Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies), Stanford (Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies), Illinois Champaign-Urbana (Russian, East European, and Eurasian Center), Toronto (Centre for European, Russian, [End Page 487] and Eurasian Studies), and on and on.2 The "Central Committee" apparat on Old Square is now the "Presidential" apparat on Old Square. Of course, along with nameplates, substance can change, too. But maybe, as Karl Kraus quipped of psychoanalysis, Eurasia is the disease masquerading as the cure?

A confession: I'm a perpetrator. In 2005, Princeton University's Russian Studies Program became Russian and Eurasian Studies, after a process in which some faculty objected that the addition of Eurasia would dilute the "Russia." Indeed, not everyone is going "Eurasia." Miami University of Ohio still has its Center for Russian and Post-Soviet Studies (which, however, organized a 2006 conference on "Performance in Eurasia"). More pointedly, consider the joint Kennan Institute–University of Washington 2004 symposium on the future of "Russian Studies."3 The well-intentioned organizers at U. Washington—whose own program is now called "Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies"—informed me that "handling Russia is challenge enough." And look at the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS)—no "Eurasia" added to that long-standing name (after considerable discussion and the inability to find consensus on a new designation).

The 1990s membership drop off in the AAASS has been paralleled by the upsurge in membership in a new Central Eurasian Studies Society (CESS), which has ballooned to more than a 1,000 members and in 2006 held its seventh annual meeting. CESS "define[s] the Central Eurasian region to include Turkic, Mongolian, Iranian, Caucasian, Tibetan, and other peoples. Geographically, Central Eurasia extends from the Black Sea region, the Crimea, and the Caucasus in the west, through the Middle Volga region, Central Asia, and Afghanistan, and on to Siberia, Mongolia, and Tibet in the east."4 CESS does not mention Russia. Indiana University's Department [End Page 488] of Central Eurasia Studies—formerly Uralic-Altaic—deems Central Eurasia "the home of some of the world's greatest art, epic literature, and empires," from "the vast heartland of Europe and Asia extending from Central Europe to East Asia and from Siberia to the Himalayas." Indiana, too, omits explicit mention of Russia or the Soviet Union as well as of China or East Asia.

So, there are at least a few holdouts sticking to Russia (or Slavs), and some invoking an expansive yet seemingly self-contained Central Eurasia that conspicuously does not mention Russia.5 Perhaps the seemingly innocuous character of the term "Eurasia"—the choice "to Eurasia" or "not to Eurasia"—is not so innocent?6

Consider the peer-reviewed journals. The American Kritika, founded (or re-established) in 2000, subtitled itself "Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History." (A second confession: the Kritika editors substituted "Eurasian," instead of "European," largely at my insistence.) Kritika admirably pays close attention to Russian-, German-, and French-language scholarship, but its team of editors has been able to...


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