Laboratories of Marketization: A Historical Reassessment of Economic Reforms at the Soviet Union´s Western Fringes, 1987-1991

Project leader

Fredrik Stöcker, PhD

Project period

11 October 2014 – 30 September 2017

Project description

After the appointment of Mikhail Gorbachev as General Secretary of the CPSU, the Soviet leadership launched an agenda of radical market reform aimed at getting the ailing national economy back on track. Given the fact that the economic performance continuously declined up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, most scholars agree that the perestroika reforms ultimately failed. Yet, while this verdict seems to be quite accurate seen from the perspective of the Kremlin, the trajectory of early marketization was different in the peripheries, especially along the western fringes of the USSR. In the Baltics and Ukraine, the debates about the transformation of the Soviet planned economy system coincided with a rise of anti-Soviet, nationalist sentiments. Reform-minded circles within the system saw economic decentralization and autonomous republican agendas of marketization as a less radical path towards national emancipation within a federalized Union. Hence, economic issues gained top priority in republican policy-making from Tallinn to Kiev.

The gradual liberalization of the Soviet border regime triggered the development of semi-official and informal networks in international trade and business between individual Soviet republics and the capitalist West, from which especially the non-Russian republics in the western borderlands could profit. Examining the dynamics of cooperation and exchange between perestroika-minded state officials, economists and first private entrepreneurs on the one hand and Western economic advisors and investors on the other, the project focuses on the ‘embryonic capitalisms’ that developed in the western Soviet republics between 1987 and 1991. According to the major hypothesis of the research project, the very different paths towards marketization chosen by the Baltic and Ukrainian republics depended to a large degree on the intensity of the economic networking processes with the West, which eventually set the ground for the economic performance of the post-Soviet successor states.”

Related publications

“Paths of economic ‘Westernization’ in the USSR: Soviet Estonian market pioneers and their Nordic partners”, Estonian Historical Journal (forthcoming)



“The economic Westernization of Soviet Estonia”, Pierre du Bois Annual Conference, “The Great Transformation? Reassessing the Causes and Consequences of the End of the Cold War”, Institut de hautes études internationales et du développement, Geneva, 24-26 September, 2015

“The architects of early marketization: Medium-level state officials and their vision of economic autonomy for the Soviet Baltic republics”, 11th Conference on Baltic Studies in Europe, “Traditions, Transitions, Transfers”, Marburg University, 7-10 September, 2015

“Reassessing the dynamics of economic reorientation around the Baltic rim: Grassroots-level cooperation between Soviet Estonia’s pioneers of marketization and their Nordic allies”, 14th Conference on Modern Estonian History, “Transnational Currents in Modern Estonian History”, Tallinn University, 10-11 June, 2015


“‘Economically self-governing Estonia’: Foreign investments and marketization strategies in Soviet Estonia 1987-1991”, Uppsala Centre for Russian and Eurasian Studies, 9 December 2015

Paths of economic ‘Westernization’ in the USSR: Soviet Estonian market pioneers and their Nordic partners”, Department of Economic History, Uppsala University, 28 September 2015


Swedish Research Council (Vetenskapsrådet)