Archive | Stephen F. Cohen

Stephen F. Cohen was Professor of Politics at Princeton University, where for many years he was also director of the Russian Studies Program, and Professor Emeritus of Russian Studies and History at New York University.

He grew up in Owensboro, Kentucky, received his undergraduate and master’s degrees at Indiana University, and his Ph.D. at Columbia University.

For his scholarly work, Cohen received several honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and a National Book Award nomination.

Throughout his long and storied career, Cohen visited and lived in Soviet and post-Soviet Russia regularly for more than forty years.

Steve was a frequent contributor to American media, including for many years as a CBS News commentator where he covered the historic Bush-Gorbachev Summit in Malta. With the producer Rosemary Reed, he served as a project adviser and correspondent for three PBS documentary films about Russia.

Cohen served on the Board of the original American Committee on East-West Accord in the 1970s and 80s and served as the founding Board member of the second iteration of the Committee in 2015. The current American Committee for US-Russia Accord hopes to carry on Steve’s considerable legacy.

Foreword to ‘His Way: Remembering Stephen Cohen’ by Katrina vanden Heuvel and Gennady Bordiugov

The death of Stephen Cohen is a huge loss to what little is left of public sanity in the United States. His wisdom sprang from knowledge but also from generosity of spirit, and his inherent capacity to regard the people he studied as fellow human beings.

-Diana Johnstone

Those close to Stephen Cohen knew he had a CD with a dozen versions of the song “My Way,” from Billy Bragg to Frank Sinatra. It was natural, then, to name our memorial book of Stephen “His Way”. His passing inspired an immense outpouring of condolences and tributes in both social and academic fields across numerous nations. And yet, even a year later it’s difficult to grasp both the full impact of losing such an outstanding American scholar as well as the scope of his contributions to historical science, pedagogy, and the course of US-Russia relations.

Our contributors often begin by addressing what set the historian and politologist apart from others: his disagreement with the notion that the USSR’s creation in 1917 was illegitimate; his discovery of the true history of Bukharin; his influence on the architects of perestroika; and his theory that the Soviet Union was not doomed to end but could’ve been reformed instead. There’s also Steve’s speech at the 1989 May Day parade on Red Square – a uniquely incredible opportunity for a foreign scholar – as well as his friendship with the Larin-Bukharin family. What other historian could immerse himself in a family’s past to the point of being considered a close relative himself?

At the same time, while all our authors touch on the same overarching aspects of Steve’s life, each one found something unique to focus on: some stressed his development of NEP as an alternative to Stalinism or the distinctive “Princeton approach” to the high politics of the 1920s-1930s; others were drawn to Steve’s work chronicling the fates of dissident thinkers who had returned from the gulag and his unwavering support of A.V. Antonov-Ovseyenko in the creation and development of the GULAG History Museum. The reader will often encounter reflections on Steve’s passion for history’s truths, his talent as an educator and lecturer, or his amazingfriendship with the family of Bukharin and with Gorbachev.

Steve’s primary academic field was the study of alternatives – options and consequences of decisions made at inflection points in history – buoyed by his firm belief that there’s always a choice. His life, too, had choices and inflection points. In the spring of 1959 he had to decidebetween going on a trip to Pamplona or a tour of five cities in the Soviet Union, the sleeping giant just beginning to awaken and recover after decades of state terror, as he described it. Thirty years later, Steve was about to decline the chance to speak at the 1989 May Day celebrations on Red Square, only to heed the urges of his Russian friends and accept the invitation. “It was fate,” he reflected in an interview for an oral history project.

Cohen’s path was inimitable, one-of-a-kind. It was a path he had chosen and invariably hewn to. Many of the twists were interconnected but not predetermined, and in the end were shaped by his determination and willpower. It took courage to denounce the Washington politicians who, impelled by triumphalism, expanded NATO eastward, placed US anti-ballistic missile systems on Russia’s borders, fomented blind anti-Russian hysteria in America, and demonized Vladimir Putin.

His stances on Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea, and Syria led to baseless smears and public harassment. He survived a particularly painful episode when a group of colleagues attempted to abolish the Cohen-Tucker Dissertation Research Fellowship and yearly dissertation prize for Russia scholars. Steve was ostracized in academia and the media, yet he was prepared for these unexpected turns and stayed true to his path. “It hurts to know that Steve didn’t live to see his truths prevail,” writes his friend Marshall Auerback, “but he is survived by an impressive written legacy which will no doubt withstand the test of time.” Another testament to that legacy is this book, its authors, and all those who played a role in its creation – designers, editors, translators and photographers. We are deeply grateful to them all.

-Katrina vanden Heuvel and Gennady Bordiugov

Translated by Steve’s friend and protege, the author and journalist Lev Golinkin.

From the Archives: VIDEO: Stephen F. Cohen: Searching for Common Ground in U.S-Russian Relations

At a Carnegie Council event in New York on February 17, 2016, Professor Cohen noted that “The Putin that is so irrationally demonized in America today, this Putin is the almost inevitable result of…unwise American policies. He is the effect, not the cause.”

From the Archives: Stephen F. Cohen: Second Chance With Russia (From Nov. 9, 2001)

In the aftermath of 9/11, Professor Cohen observed that “The events of September 11 confront George W. Bush with not one but two historic challenges–to defend America from unprecedented dangers and to develop an unprecedented relationship with Russia. Properly understood, they are inseparable.”

From the Archive: Stephen F. Cohen and Richard Holbrooke on The Balkans and Russia (1993)

Appearing on Charlie Rose in January 1993, then-former assistant secretary of state Richard Holbrooke and Princeton University Russian studies professor Stephen F. Cohen discussed the unrest in Yeltsin’s Russia, the war in Bosnia, and the foreign policy problems President Clinton was about to inherit.

From the Archive: Stephen F. Cohen: Interview before the Munk Debate on Russia (2015)

In the 15th semi-annual Munk Debate, acclaimed academic Stephen F. Cohen and veteran journalist and bestselling author Vladimir Poznar squared off against internationally renowned expert on Russian history Anne Applebaum and Russian-born political dissident Garry Kasparov to debate the future of the West’s relationship with Russia.

From the Archive: Stephen F. Cohen’s Speech at the Commonwealth Club of California

In the fall of 2015, Professor Cohen outlined his views on the Ukraine Crisis to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Then, as now, the consensus view in Washington and in the U.S. mainstream media was that the Ukrainian crisis, which some have called the worst international crisis of our time, was due solely to Russian aggression under President Vladimir Putin. Cohen’s view, on the other hand, was that U.S. policy since the 1990s was largely responsible, and that unless this is acknowledged at least in part by Washington, no successful negotiated end to the crisis will be possible.

From the Archive: Russia Betrayed? Voices of the Opposition, Part III of IV

Part III of a documentary film by Rosemarie Reed examining Russia in the chaotic 1990s through interviews between Russian scholar Stephen F. Cohen and oppositionists Aleksandr Lebed, Aleksandr Rutskoi, Grigory Yavlinsky, and Gennady Zyuganov. From 22 November 1995.

From the Archive: Russia Betrayed?: Voices of the Opposition, Part II of IV

Part II of a documentary film by Rosemarie Reed examining Russia in the chaotic 1990s through interviews between Russian scholar Stephen F. Cohen and oppositionists Aleksandr Lebed, Aleksandr Rutskoi, Grigory Yavlinsky, and Gennady Zyuganov. From 22 November 1995.

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