Friday, September 11, 2009

Will Dmitry Medvedev's Gazeta article move Russia forward?

Which way is Russia headed? Three interesting developments in Russia over the past week have led to new -- and quite contradictory -- speculation.

First, a new history textbook released this fall presents Stalin in a more favorable light.  A Moscow historian told the National Post that in the past "Soviet textbooks hid what had happened.  But now Stalin's terror is presented as not only necessary but useful."    The newspaper article lists some other recent initiatives  that make it sound as if Stalin is being resurrected as a national hero.

However, not all recent developments are so ominous.

The Russian Education Ministry said Wednesday that excerpts of Alexander Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago are to be required reading for students. (AP)  In addition to being a severe critic of Soviet-style communism,  Solzhenitsyn, who died last year, was passionate about self-government on the model of New England and Switzerland, held a romantic view of Russian history, and was a harsh critic of the commercial culture of the West.

Finally, Russian JOTMAN.COM contributor Sanjuro reports on an interesting development that has not yet been reported in the Western media:
President Dmitry Medvedev's program article "Russia, forward!" has just been published in the  - a not very obvious choice for a Russian president, as the Gazeta has increasingly been in liberal opposition.

It's mostly about overcoming corruption and technological backwardness. Ironically, the tone is evocative of the Stalin's famous call for defence of the Motherland back in 1941 ("My dear compatriots! Brother and Sisters!..."). It has already generated over 800 responses from the readers and counting... Many responses are skeptical, some plainly write they believe neither Medvedev, not Putin. There are some hopeful ones, but I had the impression that most readers were deeply suspicious of any attempts from the authorities to restore the feedback channel.
Sanjuro points to this state media report which summarizes points raised by the Russian president in the article:
In his article entitled “Russia, Forward!” published on the Gazeta-Ru” website, the head of state mentions among such ailments, above all, “the age-old economic backwardness, persistent reliance on the export of raw materials in exchange for finished products.” He notes, “These elements of the innovation system were created, not without success, by Peter the Great, by the last czars and by the Bolsheviks.” However, “too steep a price was paid for those successes. They were usually achieved by inordinate exertion, at the limit of the potential of the totalitarian state machine.

Another ailment, Medvedev notes, is “the age-old corruption depleting Russia from the times immemorial and eroding to this day the economic area and other areas of public activity of any importance because of the excessive interference of the state.”
The point of the matter “is not only the excessive presence of the state. Business is not without fault, either.” Many business people, the president notes, instead of looking for talented inventors, introducing unique technologies, producing and putting new products on the market, aim for bribing officials to get the “control of the flows” of property redistribution
According to Sanjuro, indications are that Medvedev's initiative was aimed at Russians, and not something he carried out with the intention of impressing the international community.

Which way is Russia headed?  Given all the mixed signals from the government these days, even the Russians are puzzled.
In June 2009, Jotman traveled to Helsinki to discover the answer to the question: What kind of bear is Russia?

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