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"Civilizational" Approach


In Russian history transitional periods have invariably been accompanied by the immense suffering of its citizens and have always been very protracted and painful. In this sense, the transitional era opened by Gorbachev’s perestroika and continued by Yeltsin’s liberal reforms conforms fully to the Russian tradition. Neither Gorbachev nor Yeltsin was able to achieve his objectives. The result of both reform efforts was a society in a state of acute economic and political crisis. 

Bread lines at the end of Gorbachev's perestroika

There are examples of reforms in other countries when a cautious and well thought out approach allowed governments to reduce substantially the burdens of radical reforms. In the 1930s, for example, President Franklin D. Roosevelt was successful in bringing about changes that gave the U.S. government a new role in both domestic and foreign policies. To counter the Great Depression, he enlisted the powers of the federal government to promote the economic welfare of the American people. His measures seemed anticapitalist and even “socialist” by American standards. Yet they relatively quickly brought benefits to the middle and lower classes and, far from undermining the capitalist foundations, reinvigorated them.

Other examples of relatively painless and swift transitions from totalitarian to liberal-democratic societies include postwar West Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as Spain of the 1970s. Somehow Russia has never been able to emulate foreign examples of successful evolutionary transitions. The Russian tradition has never known such precedents.

In order for us to understand the reasons for the high social and economic cost of a Russian-style modernization, it is necessary to complement the theory of modernization with a theoretical approach that can be called “civilizational.” By “civilization” most scholars understand a group of societies (or a single society) of the same type that throughout their history display certain stable economic, socio-cultural, and political characteristics. Russia meets this criterion, and, for this reason, many analysts treat it as a distinctive civilization.

There is, in the West, even a popular view of Russia’s “otherness” that has been famously epitomized in Winston Churchill’s characterization of Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

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"Non-organic" Reforms

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Russian Federation

The "Catching up" Cycles
"Non-organic" Reforms
Great Leap to Capitalism
Russia's Privatization
Deformed Capitalism
Coping with Transition
The Yeltsin Era
Yeltsin's Legacy
Putin's Plan
Russian Federalism
The Chechen Problem
"Deprivatizing" the State
First and Second Dumas
Third and Fourth Dumas
Civil Society
"Controlled" Democracy

Post-Soviet Geopolitics

Paradoxes of Russian Mentality
Economy under Putin
The Putinite Order
Putin's Choice
People Speak (Opinion Polls)
Tables and Statistics

Russia from A to Z

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