Russia: Lost or Found? Patterns and Trajectories
|By invitation only|
Professor Markku Kivinen, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki:
Russian Society (PDF, 692 Kb)
Director Kimmo Kääriäinen, Church Research Institute
Russian idea: Culture, law and religion as factors of continuity; Russian "exceptionalism" (PDF, 1.39 Mb)
Dr. Anna Rotkirch, Population Research Institute:
Russian society, state & everyday life:
Commentary with focus on demographic challenges (PDF, 1.02 Mb)
Dr. Sanna Turoma, Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki:
Russia as imperial space (PDF, 355 Kb)
Thu 11.6.2009 at 9:00-17:00
This high-profile conference on Russia's historical legacies and conditions for present-day developments brings together leading international and Finnish scholars on various aspects of Russian and Soviet politics, economics, society, and culture.
Wednesday 10th of June
Professor Markku Kivinen opened the seminar by introducing the House of the Nobility where the seminar was held. The house reminds us of the shared history of Finland and Russia.
Professor Robert Legvold his keynote speech addressed in the 'long duree' of Russian current foreign policy. Only when looking at its subject through historical lenses does one begin to understand the underlying patterns of Russian policy. During the times of great state transformation these patterns - such as cultural alienation and yearning for derzhavnost' - play a particularly important role.
Nevertheless, today's Russia is a different kind of actor than it was during the Yeltsin years. Today Russia's primary focus is not the US and Europe but instead the territories surrounding Russia. Russian foreign policy is now more focused and more aggressive. However, the leadership’s self-confidence rides atop a deep insecurity.
For a long time Russia
has not been able to come up with a clear notion of the core challenges facing Russia
internationally or to make basic strategic choices in its foreign policy.
However, these priorities may be slowly emerging. Medvedev seems to be taking a
key role in defining Russian foreign policy. These major ideas include:
One can identify two major changes that took place in 2008: the economic crisis and the war against Georgia. The economic crisis has thoroughly upended prior economic assumptions underlying Russian foreign policy. As a consequence, the Russian rhetoric internationally has softened. Russia has also refocused its efforts to integrate Russia into the global economy. While the Russian leadership's position on Georgia remains a tough one, there appears to be awareness of the price Russia has paid for its choices and of the limits to the exercise of coercive power.
In the welcoming address that followed the keynote speech, Minister for Foreign Affairs Alexander Stubb posed three key questions. First, why Russia matters? Russia is a power to reckon with both politically and in economics. The West needs to engage with Russia and this is a particularly good time to do so. Stubb noted that the official Russian rhetoric has changed after Medvedev's presidency. The rule of law, democracy, freedom of the media appear more frequently in Medvedev's political speeches and - although this does not necessarily influence the policies directly - the atmosphere is more hopeful than before.
Secondly, Stubb asked, does the Russian scholarship matter? Unlike was predicted in the 1990s, Russia's political and economic evolution is an open-ended project. The agenda of Russian-Western relations is constantly widening and this poses new challenges. We need more insightful research on variety of topics in order to understand the unpredictable Russia.Thirdly Minister Stubb addressed the question, where is the Finnish-Russia policy going? The recently published Russia Action Plan by the government of Finland provides an excellent snap-shot on the current state of Finnish-Russian relations. Minister Stubb underlined the need to strengthen EU's Russia policy and warmly supported the Eastern Partnership initiative.
Session I: Russian Legacy – Russian Past, Inherited and Constructed
Professor Timo Vihavainen spoke about dramatic Russian history in his speech, he emphasised the orthodox religion, the Russian soul and the socialist period as the biggest differences in Russia compared with the West. Prof. Vihavainen spoke about the central role of the state and simultaneously the weak role of society in Russia. In today’s Russia, he saw signs of returning to the mentality of imperial Russia and noted that the past has immense repercussions in today’s ideology.
Professor Neil MacFarlane in his comments agreed with Prof. Vihavainen and emphasised the importance of historical legacy, using the Caucasus and Georgia as an example. Prof. MacFarlane also noted that history is a socially constructed phenomenon. He reminded the audience that spheres of influence have been common in history and the West needs to look in the mirror before criticizing Russia.
Professor Osmo Jussila also agreed with Timo Vihavainen’s analysis about the Russian legacy. Professor Jussila was assessing the turning points and sense of continuity in Russia. He addressed three turning points in Russia’s long history. First, was the Mongol rule in Russia during 13th and 14th century. Second, was the rule and reforms by Peter the Great at the first part of the 18th century. Finally the last turning point mentioned was the period of Bolshevik power. Professor Jussila argued that continuity in Russia is represented in Eurasianist thinking in the form of autocracy.
Session II : Russian Power
Dr. Arkady Moshes questioned the thesis on Russia as a great power by saying that it does not meet the criteria of a state that provides a "good life" for its citizens and also "gets things done" in its internal and external policies. Dr Moshes argued that Russia's leadership failed to use the unique opportunity of the economic growth to really advance its position in the international relations and foster strategic partnerships with key players. On EU-Russia relations, Moshes commented by saying that Russia is more dependent on EU's energy market than EU than EU on Russia's energy. The list of problems is growing while the list of achievements is still very short in mutual relations. The EU will continue developing its relations with Western CIS without Russia. When it comes to the key countries of the Western CIS - Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus, neither of them is interested in keeping special relations with Russia and all of them are rather looking towards the EU. Ukraine is of utmost strategic importance, however Russia's influence is limited there - "Russia is not a king-maker".
Dr. James Sherr expressed a thought that Ukraine's capacity to damage itself is as big as Russia's capacity to damage Ukraine. Ukraine is a democracy and instability there is part of the democratic process. In both Ukraine and Belarus, the idea of sovereignty has become stronger. Lukashenko is the biggest defender of Belarus's sovereignty. Most of Russia's problems are result of Russia's own behavior. Although Russia lacks a clear strategy towards EU, its tactics are worrying. Mr Sherr pointed out the active use of money in terms of "buying key institutions and key people" in Europe to advance Russia's interests. As for Russia-US relations, Moscow sees the "reset" option as a sign of weakness.
The last speaker in the panel, Mr. Pertti Sadeniemi pointed out that there is a fear of reform in Russia which dates to the traumatic experience of the 1980-90s. There is also a possibility that after the first wave of the economic crisis, Russia might try to fall back on easy solutions and again postpone the reforms.
Session III: Russian Society
Dr. Markku Kivinen spoke about the contemporary tendencies of the Russian society. He started by elaborating on the two ways of looking at the current Russia. First is the patrimonial model of ‘path dependency’ started by Peter the Great. This model assumes that Russia will follow the state dependent model in economy and in politics. The second model of ‘transition’ bases its expectations on adoption of market economy and liberal democracy. Dr. Kivinen listed four major challenges that today’s Russia faces: economic diversification, democracy, developing a welfare regime and foreign policy frame.
Dr. Alexander Etkind started off with a quote from Dr. Kivinen stating that “pacifying Russia is a challenge for our generation.” Dr. Etkind also listed Russia’s challenges. He mentioned Russia’s health problem as Russia currently hold 164th place of 200 in the life expectancy rankings, excessive drinking was mentioned as one of the reasons for this. This depopulation of the country will lead to different geopolitical situation for Russia. Dr. Etkind spoke about ‘double monopoly’ in the Russian society and was referring on the one hand to vastness of the state-controlled energy resources and on the other, the violence conducted by the security services.
Dr. Anna Rotkirch took a demographic approach to the Russian society and spoke about three main themes, mortality, migration and fertility. The shrinking Russian population is a great challenge for Russia, especially worrying is the development amongst the working age men. The lack of Russian welfare system is closely connected with this issue. Furthermore, the demographic problems are not alleviated by Russian migration policies that are very restricted. The large number of illegal immigrants adds also a housing problem to this equation. Fertility in Russia has fallen rapidly, but currently the government is trying to support families by monetary means. Despite everything negative said, it still must be noted that the Russians have preserved the tradition of marrying at an early age and having at least one child.
Session IV: Russian idea of exceptionalism
In her keynote speech Professor Soili Nysten-Haarala looked for answers for why laws were not respected in Russia and what implications this had for business. The current Russian attitude towards law can be partly derived e.g. from the process of the privatization. It created and rewarded opportunism. However, these problems including corruption were deeply rooted in the attitudes, and in ‘business culture’ and cannot be solved with legislation only. Corruption and disrespect for law were not in anyone’s interests. However, the main problem in preventing their abolishment is the corruption of the political elite itself. Professor Nysten-Haarala saw democracy as the only possible solution for overcoming corruption, in that way the rulers of today would have to think about the consequences of their actions for tomorrow. Professor Nysten-Haarala concluded by saying that she was very pessimistic about the future of democracy in Russia.
Dr. Kimmo Kääriäinen linked Russian Orthodox belief, Soviet ideology and exceptionalism. He referred to the symbiosis of Faith, Land and State in the Czarist Russia, or State, Ideology and Fatherland in the Soviet Union as a holy trinity. A symbol to celebrate this trinity was the Christ the Saviour’s Cathedral originally built in 1883. The Church was destroyed during anti-religious policies of the Soviet Union and was planned to be replaced by a huge ½ km tall Palace of the Soviets. In the 1990s the Cathedral was rebuilt in an atmosphere of moving back to the former Orthodox trinity. Dr. Kääriäinen also highlighted the concept of canonical territory, which was identical with the territory of the former Soviet Union. It was an empire in a spiritual sense. This concept justified protecting the rights of Russian speaking minorities in the former Soviet republics. To conclude, Dr. Kääriäinen argued that Russian exceptionalism remained even though its ideological justification – Orthodox or Soviet - varied.
Dr. Sanna Turoma brought up the idea of an empire or imperial space as a form of Russian exceptionalism and wanted to show the imperial continuity in Russian culture. Dr. Turoma referred to the discussions of the Russian intelligentsia in the 1960s and 1970s on imperia, such as Moscow as the third Rome. In addition, she focused on an émigré opponent to this idea, Joseph Brodsky, and his idea of imperia as an absolute evil. Dr. Turoma also discussed imaginations of imperial territory in the Soviet popular culture and to Andrei Bitov’s notion of interconnection of space and nation.
Professor Raimo Väyrynen closed the seminar by summing up how debates on the historical evolution of Russia and the Soviet Union tend to proceed on one of the two tracks; either there is an emphasis on deep historical forces or reorientations and readjustments. The observations on the unchanging character of Russia is justified by references to the large territory of the country, its particular geopolitical positions, the strength of the state apparatus, the relevance of religion, and the lack of democratic traditions. Other discussants tend to see Russia as more malleable, which considers alternatives and make choices in a contingent manner. Obviously both options contain partial truths, but it is important to make one's own position clear. Today Russia seems to be in a situation, where it is facing a need to make choices which appear to be pointing rather to traditional solutions, including the restoration of the national coherence of the society and international strength. Väyrynen also remarked how research on Russia conducted in Finland has grown stronger in recent times and how it is particularly delighting that a younger generation of Russian specialists is growing.The main presentations in the conference will be published soon after the event by the publishing company Edita.