Debates About Values

30 july 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: Thirty years ago, on August 1, 1975, the leaders of 35 countries gathered in Helsinki to sign the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

© "Russia in Global Affairs". № 3, July - September 2005

Thirty years ago, on August 1, 1975, the leaders of 35 countries gathered in Helsinki to sign the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. This document fixed the geopolitical status quo in the Old World – a goal pursued by the Soviet Union – and, at the same time, introduced a new notion into international politics – the ‘third basket,’ that is, humanitarian issues and human rights, which Moscow formally pledged to observe.


The “inviolability of frontiers,” the prime goal of the participating nations, failed to withstand the test of time. Human rights and democratic freedoms, however, have become effective instruments that are capable of radically changing the international geopolitical landscape. “It still remains a mystery to me how the Final Act, with its humanitarian ‘heresies,’ successfully passed through the Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party,” Russian veteran diplomat Anatoly Adamishin, who was present at the birth of the Helsinki process, ponders in his article. He argues that the decisive role during those negotiations belonged to Communist Party liberals who had a large amount of influence on General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev. They believed that “the movement toward the observance of human rights was not a concession to the West but an indispensable prerequisite for the country’s development.”


Conservatives in the Kremlin immediately raised the alarm, and their intuition did not betray them: Moscow’s commitments soon were made an instrument of pressure from abroad and from the growing human rights movement inside the country. And although the collapse of the Soviet Union 15 years later was caused, above all, by economic factors, the ‘third basket’ played a role, too, as it helped destroy the ideological monopoly.

The ‘third basket’ gave rise to powerful nongovernmental organizations which now play an ever growing role in global politics. At the beginning of the 21st century, the ruling regimes of various countries have been pushed out of power by slogans which embrace the common human values of freedom and democracy. In some countries, these political changes came about from the external use of force (as in the Middle East); in other cases, the ruling regimes fell under the pressure of domestic revolutionary developments (as in some of the former Soviet republics).


In Russia, the “values” issue arouses special interest. Some people are concerned by the present government’s departure from democratic ideals, while others fear the possible use of the human rights argument for imposing alien interests and development models on the country. Both politicians and experts actively discuss the “uniqueness” of Russia, which many believe cannot follow any other path of development but its own. The ideologist of New Isolationism, Mikhail Yuryev, argues that the development of the Russian nation is possible only through the establishment of insurmountable civilizational barriers. Alexander Muzykantsky admits that the Russian mentality differs from the Western mentality, but he is confident that Russia can take avail of these differences for its successful modernization. Well-known politician Grigory Yavlinsky and Andrei Illarionov, the Russian president’s economic advisor, share their views on the changes facing Russia, while economist Vladimir Mau warns against a “natural resource euphoria” and cites examples from the past to prove his position.

The issue of ‘Russia’s path’ always gives rise to discussions about its place in the world – whether it belongs to Europe or Asia, or whether it represents a special type of civilization. Moscow’s relations with the European Union were the focus of attention of a recent workshop headed by Sergei Karaganov and attended by major Russian experts. Arkady Moshes emphasizes the opportunities that would open up for Russia if it proclaims a “European choice.” Sergei Chugrov looks at the Asian vector of Russia’s policy and its relations with Japan. Businessman Vladimir Yevtushenkov urges Moscow to return to the Arab world – where the Soviet Union had firm positions in the second half of the 20th century – as an active player.


As for the other articles that appear in this issue, I would emphasize the debate between Swedish diplomat Lars Fredén and his Russian colleague Mikhail Demurin which considers whether Russia should show repentance to the Baltic States. Norway’s Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik writes about Oslo’s experience in the peace settlement of internecine conflicts in various countries. Alexei Arbatov raises an uncommon subject as he discusses the feasibility of keeping nuclear weapons under democratic control. Yevgeny Satanovsky paints a gloomy picture of the Middle East’s future, while Olga Butorina and Alexander Zakharov discuss the prospects of integration in the post-Soviet space.

Last updated 30 july 2005, 15:44

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