Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Back to Russia's future

Elizabeth A. Wood, an MIT historian wrote the following for The Monkey Cage. She describes a dilemma that Putin finds himself in.

Political scientists, less sensitive about historians' labels, often describe this dilemma in terms of Slavophiles and Zapadniki. The Slavophiles, according to the political scientists are nationalistic champions of Russia's unique culture. The Zapadniki, often called Westernizers, argue that unless Russia updates its culture to be more like the rest of Europe, it will be at a significant disadvantage.

Dr. Wood would probably cringe at the use of those terms since there are specific 19th century historical examples described by them.

Nonetheless, these terms have shown up in this blog before.

Putin in July (or the fight for Russia’s soul)
The shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 has put Vladimir Putin in a bind, evidence that he has unleashed forces in Eastern Ukraine that he cannot entirely control. But he may have also unleashed forces in Moscow, which, while still not very strong, are beyond his control. The liberal Russian intelligentsia, which has been grumbling for months on Facebook, now seems to be marshaling an all-out attempt to persuade the regime to change course…

Political analyst Andrei Piontkovsky described the split in the elites between what he calls the “global kleptocracy” and the nationalist one. Even leaving aside his use of the inflammatory term “kleptocracy,’ he makes it clear that Putin can no longer continue to sit on both chairs at once as the two elites are diverging. While the nationalists would be happy to return to a Soviet era with closed borders, the globalists have been quietly expressing their terror that Putin will make Russia a complete pariah in the international world.

The economists, including and especially Alexei Kudrin, are saying that sanctions would wreak havoc on economic growth in Russia… he has also said… that if the country has to re-arm to keep up with NATO, they could see a 15-20 percent decline in their standard of living. Both of these arguments were published in the official news agency ITAR-TASS, suggesting that they have the support of at least some major players in the Kremlin…

In Russia, rulers do not fall easily. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that Nikita Khrushchev fell in large measure because of his overextension into Cuba. In 1990-1991, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to maintain a delicate balancing act between westward-looking liberals and isolationist hardliners, an attempt that directly contributed to his downfall when the hardliners decided to overthrow him in the August coup.
In the end, the internationalists with Boris Yeltsin at their head were able to come to the fore, but it was the attempt to placate both sides that fatally weakened Gorbachev. In each of these cases (Tsar Nicholas, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev) public figures warned the rulers that they had overextended themselves. What the Kremlin leaders today will decide to do is anyone’s guess at this point, but it appears that Putin is once again in the spotlight within Russia as Russian elites themselves choose to focus on the dire consequences of continued war, even as much of the country succumbs to war hysteria.

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