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#28 - JRL 2006-81 - JRL Home
Date: Tue, 04 Apr 2006
From: "Nina Khrushcheva" <KhruschN@newschool.edu>
Subject: The New Post-Transitional Russian Identity Report

Dear Colleagues:

Please find a link to the final report for the World Policy Institute/Harriman Institute project "The New Post-Transitional Russian Identity: How Western Is Russian Westernization?" http://worldpolicy.org/projects/russia/RussiaIIReport.pdf

(See Executive Summary below.)

If you would like to receive a published copy of the report please be so kind as to let me know.

Your feedback on the publication and its contents would be greatly appreciated as your comments and opinions are important to us. Please feel free to contact me either by email <khruschn@newschool.edu> or by phone (212) 206-3524, ext. 2073.


The New Post-Transitional Russian Identity: How Western is Russian Westernization?

Project Report Executive Summary

Russia has undergone many changes since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, perhaps the most fundamental is that faced by the Russian people themselves. The end of the Soviet Union required them to construct a new "Russian" identity. As Russia sought to reform itself into a western-style free-market democracy, the identity of its people needed to change as well. Russia's tsarist history, followed by seven decades of Soviet rule, left the people with a deep-seated communal identity, one which is at odds with the individualism implicit within the ideas of democracy and capitalism. The evolution of this new individualism among the Russian population is therefore central to the success of any post-Soviet reforms attempted by Russia.

The idea of reform is not a new one. Russian history is dotted with periods of reform followed by retreat from new ideas back towards "traditional" values (a communal, patriarchal society with a strong leader at its head), in a pattern best expressed by the idea of a pendulum swinging between two points. One theme which emerged from this project is that Russia shows signs of swinging away from the reforms of the 1990s, back towards an embrace of earlier ideas. Examples of this swing are a centralization of power back to the Kremlin from the regional governments, and a growing nostalgia among the population for the Soviet era.

This pendulum idea is also symbolized by President Vladimir Putin. As his second term of office began, Putin himself moved away from the reforms of the 1990s and has instituted a series of reforms designed to reestablish a vertical of power in Moscow. It would seem that Putin is trying to recreate the Soviet system under which he was trained. Further, Putin has emerged as a figure with which Russians can identify on a personal level. In this way he has become the face of the new Russian identity.

At the same time it is important to note that, Soviet nostalgia aside, Putinism is not Stalinism. In the relatively short existence of the post-Soviet "new" Russia, the ideas of capitalism and individualism have worked their way into Russian society. This makes a return to a Stalinist-style autocracy highly unlikely. In fact, it is the freedom from fear of Stalin-era gulags and oppression that allow for nostalgia for the "pomp and grandeur" of his times. However, the reforms can still be stopped or even reversed to some degree should Putin continue to consolidate power. Also in question is what form the "new" Russian identity will finally take; whether western-style ideas of individualism will become a lasting part of the national psyche. Finally, it remains to be seen if the post-Soviet reforms truly mark a new path for Russia, or are just another swing on the historic pendulum.

The New School/World Policy Institute/The Harriman Institute at Columbia University
Project Director Nina L. Khrushcheva
March 2006.