Margarita Zavadskaya is a postdoctoral researcher at University of Helsinki’s Aleksanteri Institute, and research fellow at the European University at St. Petersburg. She recently joined UC Press’s journal Communist and Post-Communist Studies as Associate Editor, where she focuses on elections, protest, social movements, and contentious politics, particularly with regard to Russia, Central and Eastern Europe.

UC Press: Thank you for joining the Communist and Post-Communist Studies editorial team!

MZ: My pleasure! It has already been one year since I took over the Associate Editor’s role. I feel myself in a privileged position for a unique opportunity to shape the field I am working in, have a better grasp of the academic community, topics that concern my fellow researchers and have access to a broader perspective on area studies. Knowing the publication and review process from the inside allows me to fine tune my own publication strategies and understand how to better address reviewers’ and editors’ recommendations and expectations. 

I have experience in publishing with international and Russian-language journals and I have been actively engaging in discussions on how journals can provide an equal access to various contributions respecting authors’ background, national academic culture, and native language. From this perspective, I believe that CPCS is one of those journals that seeks to strike the balance between the variety of academic and epistemological traditions and high quality research that meet conventional standards.

UC Press: Ahead of the recent elections in the Russian Federation, the opposition leader and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was imprisoned, and his voting app removed from Apple’s and Google’s app stores under pressure from Russia. For over a year, and under threat of violence and arrest, Belarusians have been protesting their fraudulent 2020 election. Seems like an auspicious time for the world to gain a better understanding of politics and protest in the former Soviet Union, and for you to join CPCS!

MZ: Indeed. Russia and Belarus remain in the spotlight. Most of the international media outlets project Russia as a new ‘evil empire’ or ‘black knight’. And this makes a lot of sense in several respects. However, I am still convinced that these days it is of utmost importance to see the complexity and ambiguity of what is going on within the civil society of authoritarian states, i.e. grassroot activities, bottom-up initiatives, people’s attitudes. Resilience of civic protests in both countries despite the ever growing repression demonstrate the potential and willingness of people to live better lives and claim back their political agency. Tightening of authoritarian regimes in the former Soviet Union looks astonishing given the quality of human capital and economic development. It is heart-breaking to see how further closure of these states makes international scholarly collaboration, survival of independent research, and access to the field and data more complicated, this is why it is crucial to carry on with the dialogue and give the floor to those academics who are not in a position to speak up in their home countries and still work their best to adhere to the highest academic standards. The latter can support science in non-free countries and avoid transmitting a simplistic ‘black-and-white’ vision of political developments.

“In the coming months we expect an insightful in-depth analysis of the Belarusian political landscape, a study of the election observation impact in Ukrainian elections, and research based on unique data will tell a story on how corruption and political attitudes drove anti-Putin mobilization in Russia in 2017-2018.”

UC Press: Can you tell us about some of the articles you have handled that we can expect to see publishing in CPCS in the coming months? And what types of articles would you like to see submitted in the future?

MZ: Most of the manuscripts I’ve handled deal with autocracies, sources of their resilience, communist legacy, protest movements, and political economy. Since I mostly work with comparative large-N studies, a lion’s share of manuscripts I review rely on survey data. I also encountered several analyses with extensive interviews and focus groups that often give a new twist and nuance to the known correlations. In the coming months we expect an insightful in-depth analysis of the Belarusian political landscape, a study of the election observation impact in Ukrainian elections, and research based on unique data will tell a story on how corruption and political attitudes drove anti-Putin mobilization in Russia in 2017-2018. One of the most intriguing manuscripts that has already been published deals with the heavily under-explored topic of how successor communist parties in post-communist states shape people’s attitudes towards the past. In the future, I would love to see more research on sub-national politics in post-communist states, more comparative research with mixed-methods designs and experiments. (See here for details about submitting a manuscript.)

UC Press: The US has recently experienced its own bouts with contentious politics and authoritarianism. Are there any lessons we can take from the experiences of the post-Soviet world?

MZ: Contentious politics in democracy is not the same as the one under autocracy. Political polarization has plagued US politics and led to a series of worrisome developments including violence during the insurgency on January 6, 2021. Violence is not the sign of autocratization per se, however, extreme polarization and shrinking common ground for negotiations potentially opens up possibilities for democratic erosion. Nevertheless, I personally do not think that American democracy is in any danger and strong civil society remains a powerful counterbalance. As trivial as it sounds. If any lessons can be taken from the post-Soviet world I would emphasize the ability to build up broad coalitions and to keep the ability to listen and deliberate. This is exactly what brave Belarusians did last summer and almost won.

UC Press: Thanks again for your contributions to the journal! We look forward to what’s in store for 2022.

Communist and Post-Communist Studies is an international, peer-reviewed scholarly journal featuring comparative research on current and historical developments in the communist and post-communist world. Post-communist states and societies encompass Central and Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, Asia, Africa, and Latin America, for which the term “post-communist” remains analytically useful as a temporal or geographical frame. The journal broadly covers domestic politics and societies, foreign policy and international relations, ideology and identities, political economy, political and human geography, and law.