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1991 saw the disintegration of the Soviet Union - fifteen new states emerged and joined the international community. These states had never before existed as such: they inherited arbitrary borders imagined and enforced in the early years of the Soviet experience. But as these newly independent countries were affirming their own sovereignty, minorities within their own territories were imagining states of their own.

The wars in Chechnya are the most blatant and brutal expression of these secessionist conflicts but not the only ones: between 1991 and 1994 wars were fought and won in the name of sovereignty within Moldova, Georgia and Azerbaijan. As a result, new states have been proclaimed: Transdniestria, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh. They exist in a state of limbo, as entities without recognition, their status unresolved and their conflicts unsettled.

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Thursday, September 21, 2000

The idea had been gestating in Dov's brain for some time. Two weeks in Nagorno-Karabakh in 1998 and a whirlwind visit to Transdniestria shortly before had spawned stories of people living in states with names, flags, currencies and governments of their own but without recognition. States that had been imagined, were being built, but lived outside the law. For the better part of a decade they had existed as such, and they could no longer be dismissed as accidental and temporary even though no permanent settlements were at hand.

There was also the idea of a collaboration - combining the impressions and understandings of a scholar and a photographer. Traveling together through the same places, but with different methods, each informing the other.

And so, in July and August 2000, Dov and I went on a journey through three breakaway de facto states in the former Soviet Union - Transdniestria, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh - asking ourselves, "What is a state? Lines on a map, or the will and identity of a people? An act of imagination, the consequence of a series of actions, or acceptance by other states?"

In each breakaway state we met with government officials, builders of civil society, workers and youths. We traveled with relief organizations, walked through cities and country sides, each day seeking to understand and record the state of life in these small places caught in limbo between the national independence they fought for and the post-war isolation they find themselves in today.

Along the way, we kept a journal - notes from the road in Transdniestria, Abkhazia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
posted by Eric Baudelaire at 5:22 PM


About the project: Imagining the State is a collaboration between Dr. Dov Lynch of Kings College, London, and Photographer Eric Baudelaire. In the fall 2000, photographs from the journey and articles, analysis and interviews will be added to this site. Maps and design by John Dutton. The site's travel journals were powered by Blogger.

Copyright 2000