George Breslauer, scholar of Soviet and Russian leaders, is appointed social science dean at UC Berkeley

By Patricia McBroom, Public Affairs

BERKELEY-- Political scientist George W. Breslauer, an authority on Soviet and post-Soviet leadership, is the new dean of social sciences at the University of California, Berkeley.

He assumed his new role August 1, taking over from Jan de Vries, UC Berkeley professor of history, who, since January, has served as interim dean of the Division of Social Sciences in the College of Letters & Science, the largest academic unit on campus.

Breslauer, who returned from sabbatical this year after completing a 500-page manuscript on Gorbachev and Yeltsin, will oversee 12 departments in the social and behavioral sciences.

"The campus is fortunate that George Breslauer has agreed to devote his intellectual vision and administrative skill to leading the Division of Social Sciences." said Carol Christ, Executive Vice Chancellor & Provost at UC Berkeley. "I very much look forward to working with him."

Among Breslauer's top priorities will be recruitment and retention of world-class scholars for UC Berkeley departments, roughly half of which already are ranked near the top among universities. A first step is to search for three new faculty members - two in Native American and one in Chicano studies - for the Department of Ethnic Studies.

"This will further strengthen an already distinguished department," said Breslauer.

Breslauer comes to the dean's position with 11 years of administrative service as chair of the Center for Slavic and Eastern European Studies and three years as chair of his Department of Political Science. A UC Berkeley professor since 1971, he has written and edited 10 books and, in 1998, was chosen to receive a three-year award, the Chancellor's Professorship, for combining excellence in research, teaching and university service.

His new book, "Gorbachev and Yeltsin as Leaders," building on an earlier work on Khrushchev and Brezhnev, sheds new light on the end of Soviet communism and Russia's transition to a market economy. Interested in how leaders make changes, Breslauer has looked at how these leaders justified their actions and outflanked their opponents.

He has addressed such urgent questions as: Could Yeltsin have pursued a more beneficial path to a market economy, despite Western advisors and actions of the International Monetary Fund, which now are widely condemned?

"The transition could have been less traumatic," said Breslauer. "Yeltsin didn't have to be so autocratic in order to effect change. He certainly didn't have to invade Chechnya. He didn't have to adopt policies that gave away so much to a narrow band of bankers.

"Yes, the West urged on Russia a drastic solution, medicine so strong it almost killed the patient, and the I.M.F. is culpable.

"But you can't absolve a country of responsibility for accepting that advice. When you consider Yeltsin's leadership in this context, he looks pretty bad."

At the same time, Breslauer said, Yeltsin has been able to preserve free elections, a free press and civil liberties in Russia.

"It's a minimalist form of democracy," he said, "but a democracy nevertheless."

Like other Soviet scholars, Breslauer has rewritten his entire curriculum in political science to reflect the momentous changes in Eastern Europe, shifting from historical analysis to current events. This difficult task may have been somewhat easier for Breslauer than for most since he has written often for both lay and academic audiences.

"It's exciting to watch changes taking place before your eyes, but challenging to interpret and analyze the process," said Breslauer. "You have to gallop to keep up, and you are dealing with a moving target. Sometimes, the target dies or disappears before you finish your work."

But Breslauer's research on leadership has been made even more vital by the fall of communism in Russia. For the chapters on Gorbachev, he was able to interview former members of the leader's politburo, including those who plotted Gorbachev's overthrow. In his upcoming book, Breslauer traces the former Soviet leader's key role in bringing down communism.

"Communism was brought down from above, not from below," said Breslauer. "Social forces would not have dared to move in without Gorbachev's momentous changes. I show how he survived while making these changes."


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