Ghosts of Soviets Past

Identity Politics of the Former USSR/ Warsaw Pact Through a Structural Lens

latvia • estonia • Lithuania • bulgaria

Since childhood, we have both shared a fascination with the Soviet Union, its post-apocalyptic looking military hardware and otherworldly architecture. Though it disappeared from the world stage over twenty years ago, its legacy continues to haunt the Eurasian landscape and influence current geopolitics. 

In 2015, we traveled to the Baltic States with the purpose of exploring the remnants of Soviet infrastructure. What we found was an overwhelming amount of repurposed bunkers, abandoned ballistic missile launch complexes, and even an military ghost town frozen in time. Upon our return, we found it important to tell the story of the people and their post-Soviet identity struggle through these incredible sites.

Not content with our Baltic expedition, we planned a more ambitious trip to Bulgaria in 2016 to see the remains of the eastern Balkan nation's socialist regime. From imposing brutalist commemorations of Soviet liberation to an enormous flying saucer meeting house straight out of a James Bond film, this Black Sea nation did not disappoint.

 

world travel and The Active Learning Approach

'But even in this age of Twitter and podcasts and whatever, social media and with the net, of course, you can access information in a way that is mind-bogglingly important. But still, you need to go to places. You need to smell them, I say... Americans can look at intelligence reports and overhead imagery and whatever. But for me... if you don't go there and smell it and talk to the people in place and see it, you can never understand the places. And that applies also to going to Berlin or to Brussels or to Madrid or to Stockholm or to Belgrade. You need to be there now and then to see the context and to smell it.' -Carl Bildt, former Swedish Prime Minister, appearing on The Global Politico

We couldn't agree more. As intelligence officers, we have seen the side effects of building understanding solely through reports and imagery. Raw information is only one small part of the picture. War is a profoundly human undertaking, and understanding the complexities and context surrounding the decisions of human actors can only truly be done with an open mind and a healthy dose of wanderlust. This is the core of what the Ghosts of Soviets Past is for us.

The Ghosts of Soviets Past project has been termed an 'Active Learning' (learning by doing) approach, developing and sharpening our skills as military officers through travel planning and execution, leading us to traverse rugged terrain in search of concrete wonders and connect with the locals to gain valuable insight into their sociopolitical situation.