10.08.2004
Gone with the Wind of Change
№3 2004 July/September
Fyodor A. Lukyanov

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 Discussion Club. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

 

Fifteen
years ago, in the early summer of 1989, the entire Soviet nation
was glued to the television, not believing its eyes. At that time,
the country held its first Congress of People’s Deputies of the
Soviet Union, and it was then that public politics first arose in
Russia.

For the
first time in almost 70 years, there was a real opposition in the
Soviet Union which expressed not only a different view on the
situation in the country, but also a desire to come to power and
thus destroy the Communist Party’s monopoly.

Against
the background of brilliant democratic leaders, the Communist
bosses, with their inarticulate discourses about the renovation of
socialism, seemed purely anachronistic. Russian society was very
quickly swept away by the euphoria of change.

 

Since
then, everything has changed beyond recognition in Russia. The
Soviet Union broke up into 15 independent states, while the
state-planned economy collapsed, sending shock waves throughout the
country. These transitions paved the way for a fast-developing
market economy which bewildered the world with a legion of new
billionaires. However, the transition to this new reality has
proved to be much more difficult and unpredictable than the
proponents of the reforms expected 15 years ago. It is not
fortuitous that none of the original reformers are among today’s
active policymakers. The profound disillusionment is the other side
of the transformations.

 

What we
are witnessing in Russia today – the discrediting of liberal ideas,
managed democracy, a conflict between business and the government,
attempts to reverse the results of the past privatization, and a
passive society – all these are consequences of the mistakes made
in the 1990s. Debates about whether or not it was possible to avoid
those mistakes can go on forever, but they will never produce the
truth. Of course, it is easy to be wise after the event and
criticize those who were not afraid to assume responsibility for
launching the long-pending and difficult reforms. It is more
important that we learn from that bitter
experience.

 

What
Russia has become today following 15 years of reforms is the main
theme of this issue of Russia in Global Affairs. Comments on the
results of the reforms were contributed by Russia’s leading liberal
economists and ideologists of those reforms, Vladimir Mau and
Yevgeny Yasin. Academician Nodari Simonia and economists Konstantin
Sonin and Vladimir Milov discuss the role that Russia’s natural
resources have played – and will continue playing – in Russia’s
transformation. Svetlana Babayeva and Georgy Bovt paint a vivid
picture of the strange mindset of the new Russian elite, which
seems to believe that it has achieved everything and can now rest
on its laurels. Well-known analyst Alexander Dugin warns about the
danger of substituting real actions with their imitation in order
to produce a PR effect.

 

Unlike
other transition countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Russia
has no definite foreign-policy goal, which adds to the difficulty
of its reform. Other members of the former Warsaw Pact did not
hesitate about which direction to go following the Soviet collapse
– East or West. Their point of destination was definite – Europe.
For Russia, the situation is more difficult: NATO or EU membership
is not on Russia’s agenda, while the enthusiasm about a partnership
with its European neighbors has markedly subsided over the ten
years since the EU and Russia signed the Partnership and
Cooperation Agreement. Russia’s major expert in European studies,
Prof. Yuri Borko, proposes changing the terms of this
agreement.

 

This issue
also contains the results of an extensive public opinion survey
that was organized by leading sociologists of Russia, Ukraine and
Belarus. The purpose of the survey is to determine the three
nations’ attitudes toward European
integration.

 

The
renowned cast of contributing authors in this issue includes the
famous Polish writer Stanislaw Lem, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogўan, the United Nations’ living legend Brian Urquhart,
Chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court Valery Zorkin, and
Chairman of the State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin
Kosachev.

 

The next
issue of Russia in Global Affairs will take a look at what has
happened to the other countries that were once part of the Soviet
Union, and whether there is the possibility for a new integration
within the post-Soviet space.