The world watched in awe on December 25,
1991, as the largest nation on earth suddenly ceased to exist. It was on that
Christmas Day that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, born in the
Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, split into 15 independent republics. These 15
republics are Russia Federation (still the largest on earth, by territory),
Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia,
Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
What is the future of psychology in
this region? This question
seems important to those studying psychology in the U.S., for at least three
reasons. First, the sheer size of the post-Soviet Union, which included
one-sixth of the earth's entire land area and 291 million citizens at the time
of its dissolution. Second, the unusual nature of psychology in this
region--its unique history before the 1917 revolution, then its odd development
during the Stalin years, and gradual reformation since the 1960s (Joravsky,
1989). Third, the suddenness of change in 1991, which is now transforming
psychology so dramatically in these 15 republics.
This presentation offers U.S. students and
faculty a look into that "other world" of Soviet science. To do this,
we offer 10 points about Soviet psychology before 1991, to compare with 10
points after 1991.
Pre-Soviet and Soviet Psychology Before
The unique history of Russian psychology
stretches back to the formation of the Moscow Psychological Society in
1885--seven years before the formation of the American Psychological
Association in 1892. Under such world-class researchers as V. M. Bekhterev and
I. P. Pavlov, Russians were at the forefront of world science. Yet this was an
uneven mix of neurology, physiology, psychology, and philosophy--with never a
clearly distinguishable psychology in Russia during these early days. After the
Revolution of 1917, Russian psychologists moved far from mainstream world
psychology, to the point where Soviet-era psychologists were rarely cited in
the textbooks or articles of other nations, with only a few possible
exceptions, such as Lev Vygotsky and Alexander Luria (Rieber & Carton,
1992; Nalchajian, 1972).
During the communist era, psychologists
were expected to produce a "Marxist psychology" in sync with
Marxism-Leninism's materialist, environmentalist, egalitarian ideology. So, for
example, the once-large Psychoanalytic Institute in Moscow closed its doors
when Freudian mentalism was prohibited. A 1936 meeting of the Communist Party
of the Soviet Union (CPSU) went so far as to actually ban "testy"
(psychological tests) and much of Western scientific psychology as anti-Marxist
(Takooshian & Trusov, 1992). Moreover, key physiologists like P.V. Simonov
contended that the growing knowledge of brain physiology would make the field
of psychology unnecessary.
During the Stalin era, 1924 till 1953, government control became oppressive of
psychologists, to an extent rare in other nations. Psychologists lost their
positions and, on occasion, their lives. Bekhterev himself--the day after he
made an offhand comment during his physical examination of Josef Stalin--was
fatally poisoned at the Bolshoi Theatre buffet. Like Armenia's top
psychologist, Gurgen Edilian, many leading psychologists found themselves
exiled or worse during those dark years, putting scientific psychology on a
shaky footing (Joravsky, 1989).
Up to 1991, all Soviet government functions
were centralized in Moscow, including higher education. "Aspirants"
(graduate students) studied at local universities throughout the 15 republics,
yet their official degree actually was from the Moscow-based High Committee on
Attestation, which had to receive, examine, and approve all dissertations. What
Western schools commonly term "outside readers" were often termed
"opponents" in the USSR--readers outside the aspirant's committee
whom Moscow assigned to examine independently the dissertation's quality.
Occasionally the Attestation Committee appointed a so-called "dark
opponent"--an outside reader whose identity was not revealed, and who took
an especially hard look at a questionable dissertation. It was the Moscow
Committee's approval that awarded aspirants their doctorates.
5. Reverse Tuition
universities were free for full-time students. No tuition. In fact, the state
routinely paid students a stipend to attend college, treating this as their
full-time occupation. This policy naturally attracted thousands of students
from Third World countries and other nations to study in Soviet universities,
receiving free lodging, tuition, and a stipend (three times as much as native
Soviets). How different this is from Western universities, where students often
must strain to finance tuition, relying on aid from their family, employer,
government loans, or foundation grants.
Imagine a school with no photocopy
machines. This was the common situation in Soviet schools, where students had
no access to photocopy or fax machines, Soviet-made computers often took days
to return a job's output, and carbon paper was more common than word
In almost every nation, higher education
and scientific research are linked; university students are paid to do
state-of-the-art research by private or government grants, which doubles as
their training. In contrast, Soviet society traditionally kept education and
scientific research entirely apart under two separate ministries--the Ministry
of Higher Education and the Academy of Science.
World psychology has become increasingly
applied since World War II, to the point that most psychologists today are
involved in mental health specialties--clinical, counseling, school. In
contrast, clinical psychology was virtually nonexistent in Soviet society,
where citizens rarely sought out strangers to confide their personal
difficulties. In fact, even American visitors to the USSR were warned to avoid
Soviet psychiatrists, who had the ominous authority to confine against their
will people the psychiatrist deemed threatening to society.
Traditionally, everyone in the USSR was a
state employee, with no private practices or associations. This began loosening
under Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika" (reconstruction) starting in
1986 (Holowinsky, 1990), so psychologists and others could form private
associations to do professional or research work (Matyushkin, 1991).
At the 1923 All-Union Congress on
Psychoneurology, after Kornilov called for a new "Marxist
psychology," the sci-ence became another arm of Communist ideology,
intentionally drifting apart from world psychology. It became insular, avoiding
Western concepts and sources.
Post-Soviet Psychology Since 1991
Since 1991, the changes in Russia and the other 14 republics have been so
transforming that the world is unsure even what to call these republics, which
are now separate, yet interdependent. In the 1992 Olympic Games, athletes from
these 15 republics were labeled CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) at
first, then FSU (Former Soviet Union), NIS (Newly Independent States), and
later simply PSU (Post-Soviet Union) (Goble, 1997). In less than 10 years,
psychology has seen changes, in line with the 10 points above:
1. There are now 15 national psychology associations
where there had been one, and psychologists in each are seeking to become more
involved in world psychology--through journals, books, and exchanges (Halpern
& Voiskounsky, 1996; Gilgen et al., 1995; Koltsova et al., 1995).
2. The oppression of the Stalin gulags is apparently
long past, and psychology is relatively free from political pressure. In fact,
since 1991, the magnificent buildings once used only by the Communist Party
officials are now converted into community centers, where science, business,
and other groups can meet.
3. The Marxist influence on psychology still exists, but
on a voluntary basis, while the science of psychology grows more diverse. In
1995, for instance, Russian President Boris Yeltsin endorsed an unusual Executive
Order defending psychoanalysis, perhaps the first time a government has
protected a school of psychology.
4. Psychology is no longer centralized in Moscow, and
each republic can confer its own degrees. In fact, most republics have signed
agreements with Moscow recognizing each other's degrees.
5. Though state universities remain free for students
who score high on entry tests, some 25-75% of students now pay at least some
tuition, which can be very costly compared to the average income of the
population. Moreover, some private schools are now emerging to compete with the
state schools. These privates charge tuition, yet still lack the resources to
compete with the massive state schools. Time will tell if these privates can
one day surpass state schools in their selectivity of applicants, funding, and
quality of training.
6. Due to the poor economy in the 15 republics,
facilities remain meager, but improve as the republics are now more open to
outside resources--the Internet, fax, and foreign technologies. Sadly, U.S. and
foreign aid to PSU schools is stolen by corrupt PSU leaders, and some are
leaving their homeland as survival becomes harder.
7. Education and science remain separate, despite
government decrees beginning in 1991 to link the university with the Academy.
8. Clinical and other so-called "practical
psychology" has blossomed since 1991 as more psychologists have been
retraining in mental health and leaving the lab for applied work. A clear
example of this is in Armenia where, after its 1988 earthquake killed 25,000
people, clinical psychologists from Europe and the U.S. volunteered to train
Armenia's local psychologists in clinical methods to treat the thousands of
child and adult survivors (Kalayjian, 1995). In St. Petersburg, too, a new
Association for Child Psychiatry now treats, for the first time, sexual abuse
and other family crises (Lunin, 1997).
9. Predictably, private associations and practices have
flourished as prohibitions have been removed. Most republics now have several
specialty associations within
psychology and, in 1996, St. Petersburg began publishing the first Russian
psychology newspaper (Lunin, 1997).
10. The insular days are gone, as PSU psychologists reach
out beyond their borders for collaboration (Adler, 1994). One clear example is
the University of California, which has already established its first PSU
campus; the American University of Armenia (AUA) opened its doors in 1991, with
101 matriculants, a $3-million endowment, and American-style procedures:
entry-testing, course grades, written exams, and state-of-the-art technology
(Jeshmaridian & Takooshian, 1994). U.S. Fulbright exchanges to the PSU have
also increased. We two authors (SSJ and AAN) are now faculty members of Psi
Chi, and we expect to introduce this honor society's excellent concept to our
The dramatic changes within the post-Soviet
Union present not only great opportunities, but also increased
problems--stress, political instability, and economic confusion. For example,
recent news articles warned that new PSU elites may prove as dangerous as past
Communist dictators (Coleman & Belyaninov, 1997) and are unstable (Goble,
1997). In fact, two of us are Fulbrights now doing cross-cultural research on
moral development and family life (SSJ) and on political leadership styles
(AAN) to help us address home-country issues upon our return. PSU psychology
continues to grow into a more vibrant and diverse force, in order to address
the also-growing social problems which await it.
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