In Search of New Identity

18 may 2005

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: Russia is marking two anniversaries this spring that are of fundamental importance for its development.

© "Russia in Global Affairs". № 2, April - June 2005

Russia is marking two anniversaries this spring that are of fundamental importance for its development.

Sixty years ago, Europe experienced the end of World War II, the most catastrophic conflict in the history of the Old World. For those who fought against Nazism, it was a fight for the survival and very existence of their states. In the face of this challenge, they put aside their ideological differences and mutual quarrels in the name of a much higher goal. Today, as Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov writes in these pages, whatever may be our historical assessments of that momentous event, we must not forget that the supreme goal was achieved.

Russia’s second anniversary is 20 years since the beginning of the epoch of change in the Soviet Union. In 1985, the country’s new Secretary General of the Communist Party Central Committee, Mikhail Gorbachev, called on the nation to “accelerate social and economic development.” The wish to “renovate socialism” resulted in the collapse of the Soviet system and brought about unprecedented geopolitical changes across the globe. The scope and significance of those changes have not yet been fully grasped to this day. This historic anniversary has sparked heated debates as to whether Gorbachev’s perestroika policy was inevitable. Did Russia follow the right path? Has the country, in the final analysis,  lost or gained as a result of its decision?

From an ideological point of view, the results of the two decades that have passed since the beginning of Gorbachev’s reforms, and since the country opened up to the world, are rather controversial. The direction of Russia’s strategic development, far from becoming clearly defined, has become confused. We have consistently discredited various kinds of development models or declared them inapplicable due to the present conditions in Russia. These models ranged from the futile Soviet model, to the Western liberal model, even to the Asian authoritarian model – on which the advocates of modernization once pinned their hopes.

Russia never made a breakthrough into the Euro-Atlantic Community where, it turned out, nobody was waiting for it; and the imperial project has become history once and for all. This is the reason why, despite the favorable economic situation in the country, Russia’s intellectual elite finds itself in a state of confusion as it searches for new goals while trying to analyze possible methods of development.

Our contributors offer in-depth analysis of various aspects of the changes now facing Russia. Economist Vladimir Mau is confident that there was no alternative to perestroika – by the mid-1980s, the Soviet system had exhausted its potential. Political scientist Vladimir Degoyev argues that the collapse of the system was brought about by the irresponsible policy of the then Soviet elite, while sociologist Yuri Levada writes that, despite the cataclysms, the essence of “Homo sovieticus” has not changed, as it has not yet given way to a new Russian identity. His colleague Emil Pain writes about Russia as a “decaying empire” in search of a new development model.

The formation of a new national self-consciousness is directly related to the processes underway in the space which Russia is accustomed to consider its lawful zone of influence. Experts Konstantin Zatulin, Andranik Migranyan and Alexei Makarkin discuss the consequences that the developments in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan may have for Russia’s policies. Economist Tatyana Valovaya analyzes integration prospects in the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Researchers Anatoly Vishnevsky and Vilya Gelbras discuss Russia’s migration policy as a factor that in the next few decades will have a strong influence on the formation of the Russian identity.

Amidst ideological confusion in society, the victory over Nazism is acquiring special importance – as an absolute value not subject to erosion – which has united the nation. That is why Moscow reacts so strongly to the increasingly frequent attempts to call into question the results of the war. However, if we view that war not as a feat of the people but as a political triumph of the Russian state, we will fall into a trap: we will inevitably have to justify Stalin’s regime – a poor foundation for the formation of Russian identity in the 21st century.

Last updated 18 may 2005, 14:54

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