Gone with the Wind of Change

10 august 2004

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

Resume: 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.

 

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.

Last updated 10 august 2004, 11:03

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