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5 July, 2011

A Slippery Slope

Russification in the broad sense, including economic, sociopolitical and other aspects, poses a threat not only to those societies which are targeted in general but also every individual member of that society.

The greatest danger comes directly from the foundation on which the ideas Russia is imposing on its neighbors are based. They are being advanced by appealing to the base instincts in the human psyche. This leads to degradation, both personal and societal. Degenerate people, to say nothing of society, are incapable of breakthroughs, economic miracles or prosperity.

First, the “special way” proposed by Russia has never been clearly stated. Its main versions boil down to the claim that “Russian civilization” is different from the civilization of Western Europe and adherents to the idea of the “Russian world” should detest all things Western and admire whatever is Russian, “ancient” and “ours.” This love has to be unconditional to boot — we have a deal here with the common juxtaposition of what is “ours” and what is “alien.” It also involves cultivating the “gang spirit” and suppressing dissent, which inevitably leads to stagnation. Moreover, sneers at the West and its rational approach to life and the principle of individual responsibility for one's own future lead to condoning laziness and consumerism: having no plan in life and hoping only for a lucky break while drowning failure in alcohol, blaming internal and external enemies for every problem and so on. Given this attitude, which has been celebrated in Russian mass culture, it is no wonder that the average standard of living in Russia’s satellite countries and, in fact in provinces within Russia itself, is so low.

Second, goals that are clear and acceptable to the majority of people, such as creating favorable conditions for individual fulfillment and prosperity, have been constantly replaced by an artificial fetish almost since the very first days of the Muscovite state –“the Third Rome,” “worldwide revolution,” “bright communist future,” “a rising Russia that is to be feared” and so on. These fetishes are used to justify “temporary hardships.” In the name of high goals, autocrats can demand patience from the people in the face of arbitrary rule, an inefficient economy and the enrichment of a small circle of those who “think for all of us.” Crackdowns on the opposition can then be rationalized not as punishment for a desire to change something in the country but as removing an obstacle on the way to universal happiness. This again guarantees stagnation and a lack of initiative. Moreover, the Great Goal justifies perilous and impracticable projects like “small victorious wars” which destroy those of all nations that have allowed Russia to pull them to itself closer than comfortable.

Third, the traditional construct of the Russian government as an authoritarian, hierarchical system leads it to reject any initiative coming “from the bottom up.” The Russian state apparatus has a kind of inherent “historical fear” of democracy. Attempts to at least expose the hidden ruling caste and make it face the people led to the breakup of the empire: after Godunov in the Time of Troubles, after the Russian Provisional Government in 1917 and after Gorbachev and Yeltsin in 1991. Therefore, the government has stamped out initiative for the purposes of prevention, while active and ambitious people have either been hired by the government, repressed or forced to emigrate. Those remaining must be fully obedient to authorities. Moreover, this approach has something that attracts people with little or no initiative: someone else will think and make decisions for them and, if possible, provide them with a bearable living.

Therefore, countries and societies literally slide into the “Russian world,” losing opportunities to develop and turning into resource-supplying appendages to the ambitions of the Russian leadership. However, a nation can get off this slippery slope. If we compare countries with varying degrees of Russification, we will see a clear pattern: the freer the local elites and society in general are of Russian influence, the greater progress their country has made in terms of economic development and the standard of living. After Georgia gathered strength and carried out reforms, it left Belarus and Ukraine far behind. Estonia and Lithuania, which consistently resisted the interference of Russian factors in their domestic affairs, are now more stable than Latvia, which has perhaps suffered the most from the economic crisis and is now in political turmoil caused by oligarchs linked to Russia.

In order to move off this slope, a nation needs to find an answer to each decoy of Russification, an answer that will help it overcome both financial and spiritual poverty. Is there a lack of jobs, and are there citizens with lack of initiative? Simplify conditions for launching and developing business, introduce training and provide loans on preferential terms to those who are ready to start their own business. Is Russia’s mass culture making a cult of drunkards and loafers and vilifying your history? Support national cultural products and tighten regulations regarding the use of your official language. Is Russia’s business taking over enterprises with the help of local bureaucrats? Introduce transparent privatization competitions. Are paid “agents of influence” creating news and power scandals? Force security agencies to work for your own, rather than a neighboring, state. Is the economy going into the hands of oligarchs? Split their empires, demonopolize the economy and provide real support to small and medium business.

The recipes are not new, but they work. We only need to understand that if we fail to act on them, we will sink into the “Russian world.” It will be hard and complicated to free ourselves later — and those who will allow it to happen will not live to see freedom.


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