A Different View on the European Anniversary

20 december 2009

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

Resume: Europe recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the anti-Communist revolution that put an end to the division of the world into two ideological blocs. The events of 1989 opened a new chapter in global politics; however, even two decades later, the full content of this chapter remains unclear.

© "Russia in Global Affairs". № 4, October - December 2009

Europe recently celebrated the 20th anniversary of the anti-Communist revolution that put an end to the division of the world into two ideological blocs. The events of 1989 opened a new chapter in global politics; however, even two decades later, the full content of this chapter remains unclear. The fall of the Berlin Wall was not “the end of history” as proclaimed by some analysts at the time, but the beginning of a thorny transition to a yet unclear destination.

Russia evaluates the last two decades differently than the rest of Europe. First, the results of the post-Communist transformation are very mixed. Many problems have been inherited from the past; that is, they have never been resolved. Others stem from developments in recent years. Second, the widespread view in the West that the world and Europe have become more stable and safer after the end of the Cold War is not that obvious to Russia. The years that have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall can in no way be described as a period of calm, considering the number of armed conflicts that have taken place since then, including two wars that involved nuclear superpowers (in Yugoslavia in 1999 and Georgia in 2008). Furthermore, the universal security system, which was talked about so much in the post-Cold War years, has not been built.

In this issue, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev shares his views on the events of the late 1980s. He is still convinced that what he did was right because it set a strategy for the development of his country and the whole world. However, the initiator of the changes is not satisfied with the way subsequent generations of politicians both in Russia and the West have used the newly opened opportunities.

Timofei Bordachev views the events of 20 years ago as a fundamental demolition of the principles of strategic stability, which the international system has never regained. Viatcheslav Morozov analyzes the phenomenon of the European revolution and tries to understand why it did not put a real end to the division of Europe. Twenty years later, the dividing line has not disappeared but has moved eastward, while Russia has not acquired a new political identity. Lai Hairong points out the importance of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union for China’s reforms. Beijing has analyzed the mistakes made by European communist leaders, the author says, adding, however, that not all the lessons have been learned.

The cataclysms of those times have raised the “Russian issue” – for the first time in history the Russians are a divided nation, Igor Zevelev writes. The development of Russia and the stability of a huge European-Asian territory depend on a realm where Moscow will look for answers to it. Nikolai Silayev discusses why Georgia became the first post-Soviet country to find itself in a state of war with Russia. This is especially surprising as two decades ago many people in Moscow actively sympathized with the national-democratic movement in Tbilisi.

Piotr Dutkiewicz explains the emergence of the “Putin model” by the need for Russia to overcome the acute crisis of its statehood, which hit the country after the Soviet Union’s collapse. The author points out, however, that the potential of this model has been exhausted and that it must be radically reinvented.

Leonid Sedov argues with those who believe that Russian society wants democratic changes and that it would be enough to just not stand in the way of healthy instincts. In the sociologist’s view, the national characteristics that distinguish Russians from other post-Communist nations are not conducive to changes in the country.

Vadim Smirnov writes about the unusual fate of Kaliningrad, a Russian region which the cataclysms of the late 20th century have turned into an isolated “island” within the European Union.

Yevgeny Savostyanov advocates a strategic alliance between Russia and the United States. The author believes that the two countries must implement what Gorbachev failed to do 20 years ago, despite the burden of mutual grievances and misunderstanding. Alexander Oreshenkov draws the reader’s attention to the Arctic, a new region of international interaction that could become a place of rivalry or a place of cooperation. Russia and the U.S. are key players in this region.

Fyodor Shelov-Kovediayev writes about the degradation of the capitalist development model, which 20 years ago was believed to have no alternatives. The global financial crisis has shown that this model has exhausted itself and that new market principles should be formulated. Leonid Grigoriev and Marsel Salikhov argue that the financial crisis of 2008-2009 has not been deep enough to change the development paradigm and that the “new” world will be very much like the “old” one. Vyacheslav Kopiev insists that tourism is the industry that can become the locomotive of the economy. Russia has a special potential in this sector and can take advantage of the opportunities offered by the country’s openness achieved in the early 1990s.

Our next few issues will continue to analyze the last two decades of change, especially as post-Soviet countries are entering a period of notable anniversaries. Our other topics include the transformation of the Army, security and the future of negotiations on nuclear disarmament.

Last updated 20 december 2009, 15:08

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