The systemic transformation of international politics and economics at the turn of the 1990s is fundamental for understanding the present day in Europe and globally. As the Cold War and its bipolar system ended, ‘the European Civil War’ that started in 1917 was also brought to an end.
A new era began.
State of Research
Since the early 1990s, Cold War history has been one of the most vital fields of international historical research. During the last few years, the emphasis has shifted to the end of the Cold War.
The understanding of transformation benefits from the passage of time.
At a distance of 20 years, it is now possible to discern between the elements that did change, those that proved to be more constant, and finally those that marked new beginnings. As usual in historical research, the availability of documents influences research themes. Genuinely multi-archival studies on this period are becoming possible, and the first ones have now appeated. Seminal documentary collections on the early 1990s have been published in several countries.
New approaches open fresh viewpoints using conceptual innovations from global and transnational history as well as International Relations (IR), including the influence of ideas and perceptions in decision-making. Parallel to this, researchers’ gaze turns from the highest levels of decision-making deeper into the societies, which were dramatically affected by the 1989 changes in the East as well as in the West.
A new genre of research emerges, looking at how contemporaries viewed the events in historical terms, how ideas about the past influenced the emerging future and what kind of utopias emerged in their intersection (Vogt 2005). Paying attention to the thinking and making of the future sheds light on historical possibilities and probabilities and helps us to understand the historical contexts in which futures were imagined: expectations, hopes, fears, and the inescapable presence of past experiences and historical thinking at the end of the Cold War.
After a period when the focal point of research was the end of a vast phenomenon which had dominated the global scene for half a century, scholars (Sarotte 2009, Wirsching 2012) are now gradually but increasingly seeing the end of the Cold War also as a beginning. The point of this project is indeed the end as a beginning, as open futures rearranged and reimagined, but still constrained by the old structures of thought and action. In short, the interaction between old and new.
Timely Combination of Two Fields
Accumulation of historical evidence and research provides an opportunity to test International Relations theories on foreign policy change and to develop them further. At the time, the end of the Cold War was dramatic for IR as an academic discipline, challenging a number of key theoretical assumptions on the nature of international politics and forcing the field into critical introspection (Ned Lebow & Risse-Kappen 1996). Now, it is high time for contemporary historians and IR scholars to join forces in a concerted attempt to understand and explain the course, nature and significance of the transition and change from the mid-1980s into the 1990s and beyond.
The specific perspective of the project is how the transformation played out in the European North, especially in Finland and Estonia, and how developments in the Soviet Union and Russia, in Western Europe, and then the change in the international system as a whole influenced them and their environment. The project is opposed to the traditional view of Finnish historiography, which saw Finland as the center and its leaders as the main actors. Here, Finland is seen in the middle of the great transformation, in the framework of a larger area where all fixed signposts swiftly changed.
A relatively small state next to the Soviet Union, and heavily influenced by developments in Germany, Scandinavia, and in the European Community, Finland felt exceptionally strongly and simultaneously the effects of Eastern disintegration and Western integration. This now creates favourable preconditions for methodologically and theoretically ambitious research, which will add significantly to the international scholarly literature on continuities and change at the turn of the 1990s.