Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Surkov on Russia's ideology: "We will definitely get screwed!"

Vladislav Surkov, deputy head of the Russian President's Administration, regarded by many as the Kremlin's chief ideologist last week discussed Russia's strategy, ideology and political culture. The speech was a first in terms of its scope, its forward-looking nature, its philosophical thoughts, and has been regarded by some as an attempt to formulate a "Russian ideology".

The core of the lecture focuses on Russia's individualistic culture (collectivism in Russia is considered a myth by the lecturer) and its continuing uniqueness in development from its Western partners. The speech bases much on Surkov's discussion last year where he explained Russia's developing political system as a "sovereign democracy", again based on its differences and uniqueness in the world of democracies. Yet the lecture has much to say regarding the faults of Russia's current system, one without an ideology, and without any political thought. Surkov regards the centralization of power as unjustified in Russia in the long-run.

Surkov's speech serves to break the deadlock of political thought in Russia caused by the Bolshevik regime. The century-old Russian debate focused on the conflicting views between the so-called "Slavo-philes" (those thinkers that associated Russia's development separate from the West in terms of culture and in terms of political systems) and the "Westerners" or "Zapadniki" (those thinkers that rooted for change in Russia's archaic political structure and called for the convergence of Russia's development and integration in the then developing European democratic order).

I bring some of the excerpts from Surkov's speech taken from the United Russia party web site. The parts are translated by the blog's author, so apologies for any inconsistencies, if such are to be found. Some may regard this post as being a hail of praise for the Kremlin's ideology; in fact those who analyze, criticize, and praise Russia must understand its way of thought. This is why it appears here:

On Russia's unique way of thought

Russia’s new democratic order comes from the European civilization. But is implemented as a very differentiated Russian version. It does not deny Russian culture and evolves along with it, not despite it.

Trubetskoy remarked that “Russians are more prone to understanding the world under as an organic whole, unlike the West, where philosophers dwell upon the world’s mysteries, segregating them into parts for further analysis”. Iosif Brodsky wrote of “Russian millennialism”, which assumed an “idea of a simultaneously changing world order” and of a “synthetic essence of the Russian language”.

According to this version synthesis dominates analysis in our philosophical and cultural practice. Idealism dominates over pragmatism, imagery over logic, intuition over reasoning. A Russian is more interested in time rather than in the structure of a clock. So, the idea of grasping the essence of a whole structure rather than the manipulation of a structure’s individual parts lies in the center of our culture; collecting, not dividing.

On Russia's idealistic approach to life

Once we had a goal of building communism. We thought that once we would build it, we would have to do nothing. But that would require very fast construction of communism so that we could start “doing nothing” as soon as possible. The average person thought of communism as a place where one has to “do nothing”, but where everything is in abundance. The same way people talk of democracy. I hear often: we have to build a democracy. This assumes some sort of an end-goal, where once democracy is built, one can relax and have a pleasurable life. It is the same as saying that we need to “build” a person. A person always evolves; whether he becomes better or worse is a different question. He is not static, and nothing is static. But such is the property of an idealistic view of life, where ways of life are dwelled upon and attempts are made for their installment on Earth.

On complaints from the West

Those who complain need such a democracy in our country whereby their lives would be better off. We need such a democracy where we would be better off; where all our people would be better off. We wish the same for everyone else.

Some say that in the 1990-s the West considered Russia to be a democracy. This is a defect of memory. Of course our weakness and our stupidity were rewarded. But stupidity and weakness are not democracy. The International Herald Tribune wrote in 1994, that the “regime [in Russia] is not leaning toward a democratic transition, which assumes a market economy and a political democracy”. The Washington Post in 1998 called Russia a “developing unpredictable autocracy”. The Washington Inquirer labeled the regime “undemocratic, and Forbes a year later called Russia a “gangster state”.

Thus, stories about Western influence on Russia being caused by flaws in our democracy today are nonsense. This is what Iver Neumann a modern day researcher writes: “[At all times] irregardless of what social practices prevailed at a specific period, Russia was always viewed by the West as an anomaly. Due to the fact that exclusion is a requirement for integration, a temptation to focus on the differences of Russia arose for the sake of a European integration”.

I believe our difficulties with the West – stem from a translational barrier, and are difficulties in communication between two cultures of the same origin but of different mentalities. These difficulties have roots much deeper than current economic, military or stylistic differences.

Russia is interested in a convergence with Europe, as without access to intellectual resources of the West, the creation of an innovative economy looks impossible.

Criticizing Russia's current stance

It is highly unlikely for someone to come to Russia to find new technologies, quality financial services, effective management, blockbuster movies, or stylish clothes. Investors come to our country to buy oil, gas, and forest. In the world’s segregated production system we are not engineers, bankers, designers, producers and managers. We are miners, woodcutters, and oil refiners. We are rather greasy folks from the outskirts. Why is it that way? We regard ourselves highly educated and highly cultured. Why are we so educated with our university diplomas feeding mosquitoes on an oil pond? Such bright and intellectual descendants of Gogol, Stravinsky, Prigozhin, we sweat on a quarry and in a meat-packing factory. Maybe we have not lived up to the height of our national culture? Maybe not everything is okay with our education?

Right now our country is filled up with money and a bureaucracy coupled with a deficit of creativity. Primitive structures and vertical methods of management dominate. The speed of informational transfer and social mobility is very low.

We have to exit this standstill, overcome the shock and state of confusion, which have captured our society in the face of an approaching future. We look like those folks from the countryside who have found themselves in the city’s business center. We are in a world full of noise, light, people running around, surrounded by those “too smart” and too tricky, by traders and commissioners. We look like suckers when we stare at all of this with our mouths and eyes wide open. All we do is defend ourselves so that we don’t get screwed. We will definitely get screwed, if we continue to stand and stare with our mouths wide open.

Consolidation and the centralization of power was necessary to save a sovereign nation and to move it from an oligarchy to a democracy. But today, and definitely tomorrow it may be justified only if it can transfer Russia to the next, and a much higher quality level of development.

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