Friday, May 12, 2006

Analysis, Not Ethnicity

Given some of the reactions to my recent Los Angeles Times op-ed (see below) and other comments I've made about Russia, Eurasia and the U.S. role, I request consideration under the Josef Joffe standard, as outlined in his recent New Republic essay: "I certainly would want to be opposed on the basis of my analysis, and not of my presumed ethnic loyalties."

Both goals are related, although not in the manner many think they do.

The West's tough stance on democratic development, it's monopolistic interpretation of universal values and its practise of double standards for the sake of economic gains and politial influence influences Russia's path towards democracy but in a negative way.

Democratic values are robbed of their moral appeal. Russians loose their idealism and become pragmatic, valuing the one bird in their hand over ten in the sky.

Authoritarian tendencies in the political arena make use of these sentiments. As a result, western negative commentary is not only a reaction to a rollback on democracy, it is also a cause. Both feed on each other. And the spiral is not taking us in the right direction.

The current administration, i think is quite realistic, it may play on these sentiments domestically - in a minor and quite contained fashion -, and it does not use it openly in the international arena, for it knows this will agrevate tensions. The administration in place is currently the West's best friend in Russia but this can change after the next elections.

The latest polls of Levada are revealing.

Being asked to choose one country/region Russia should orient itself only 8 percent names the USA. the percentage was a steady 13% over the last years. Popularity of the EU declines more gradually from 32% in 2003 to 24% today.
More and more Russians believe the country should orient towards China. (9% in 2003 13% today) Interesting is also the growth of interest in the traditional sphere of influence. Russians are seeking cooperation closer to home.

I think dissapointment with the content of western values as well as continuous non-appreciation of the efforts russians citizens have been making in the last decades to move towards us, does influence popular sentiments and in a democracy this will mean eventually aslo foreign policy.

What is also continuously unappreciated in the West is the price Russians and others in the USSR's successor states have paid and are paying for the breakup of the USSR and the "reforms" in them. There used to be 52 million Ukrainians. There are now 46 million. There used to be 150 million Russians. There are now 143 million. Their combined population declines by 1.1 million a year.

There used to be 10 million Byelorussians. And there still are. Guess which government we vituperate for being "The last dictatorship in Europe." And the West criticized President Putin when he pointed out what a catastrophe the breakup of the USSR has been and continues to be. With this population loss in mind, the renewal of the Cold War by the West as Russia is beginning to recover is really quite instructive. What becomes clear is that the West really has no objection to Russians and Ukrainians dying by the million, and would in fact not mind at all if this were to continue. What the West objects to is that Russia is a strong country that has a foreign policy consisting of more than preemptive capitulation to every Western demand.

the suspicion grows that this was also true when the Cold War was renewed in the aftermath of WWII. If only Stalin had "reformed" the way Yeltsin did, the Cold War would have been avoided!

Lots more Russians, Ukrainians, etc. would have died though...
Nikolas - The Joffe article at TNR is by subscription only and I can't find responses to your own article. But I didn't see any ethnic slant in your LA Times piece; is the criticism that you were too harsh or that you were too sympathetic?

Russia's demographic trends have long predated the events of 1991. But there is no question that for ordinary Russians a more predictable and lawful society is prerequisite to economic and social improvement. The real issue is whether this has to involve the suppression of dissent and an economically dominant state sector. The rentier income of energy exports will benefit mainly the elites who are most directly connected to the state and will create dependence that Russia needs in the long run to reduce. And transparency and private enterprise won't develop without political freedom and accountability.

There are a number of interesting questions about Russia, notably how well its educational system prepares young people for the economic realities and nonstate opportunities that exist, how much Internet access there is and will be, and what role Muslims (in particular the more assimilated groups such as the Tatars) will play if their proportion of the population increases.
Nixon said that US and Russia can never be friends but cannot afford to be enemies either. The current policy of US is, by and large, within the Nixonian parameters.
"Russia's demographic trends have long predated the events of 1991."

Nope. In 1991, births exceeded deaths in the RSFSR by anout 800,000. By 1994, deaths were exceeding births by a similar amount.

The death rate in Russia rose about 30% between 1992 and 1994, and the birth rate dropped by even more. By 1994, Nicholas Eberstadt was writing about sharply higher death rates for people in their *thirties* And Ukraine has gotten it even worse.

In Belarus, the demographic changes have been nowhere near as sharp, which is why their government gets vituperated.
I thought that life expectancy began declining in the Brezhnev era and that fertility rates among non-Muslims began going down after the postwar baby boom in the 1950s. Those are the trends I had in mind. Assuming the data on either side of 1991 are trustworthy, the changes you describe constitute an intensification of these trends. I wouldn't dispute the chaos after 1991 as the cause of this worsening.

It would surprise me if the vital statistics of Belarus are well-enough known to be the reason for the international reputation of its government. I think its political conduct is its problem.
With the government of Belarus, the government's refusal to inflict a socio-economic disaster on its population by "reforming" is the reason for its reputation. After all, the President of Kazakhstan has been in longer than Luka, but that dosen't stop Cheney praising his committment to Democracy. The vital stats of Belarus are merely the indication that its better to have the enmity of the West than to try to gain the West's approval by "reforming".

Putin seems to be moving to that conclusion too.
There is nothing to be said for the oligarchic plunder and social abandonment that occurred after 1991 in much of the former Soviet Union. But these countries are not required to choose between authoritarian socialism and lawless capitalism.

Sweden is not perfect but it represents a society close by that values both democracy and social welfare. I see no reason why Russia and Belarus cannot or should not develop into countries more like Sweden.
The histories of Slavs and Scandinavia are very very different. The geography is different. The religions are different. Moving toward an Scandinavian model is neither probable nor possible for Russia, Ukraine etc.
My earlier comment spoke about the responsibility the West has in the dialogue with Russia. My assesment of our achievements is not very laudatory. I however also see positive developments. Energy dependency, - i am refering to EU-Rossia relations here - will require cooperation and despite all the rethoric about "using the gas weapon" i believe that especially because this is about market principles, finances, western companies, its representatives and stock holders will behave sanely and cooperate. We may debate ideologies for years to come, but money is money.

That said, i'd like to tell 'anonymous' that imho s/he is behaving as an excellent example of failure of dialogue from the eastern side. Although i think slavic women and Rossiankas in general are often very beautiful and feminine it is not I who makes them pregnant or not. Birth and dead rates are your own responsibility.

Assuming that a negative trend severed in the middle 1990ties is very plausible. But let me ask you this question. Was the USSR defeated by the capitalist West or did it dismantle itself because and part of the leadership and part of the population considered it to wise to transform their economy? You may see that when you choose the latter, there is little reason to cook conspiracies about a world order determined to slowly choke the Russian people. The choice has been made to put the house in order and the results can be witnessed today. Demography is being adressed by the center- although i'd think periodical financial support would be better for the child than all the money at once - There are several regions boasting they have reversed the trend, not by money but through the creation of a sense of stability as well to as to evoke pride in cultural heritage and present ways to a more prosperous future. I don't think creating this negative atmosphere around an extinction of the people is doing the nation any good.

The other point is that you don't need to move towards any model of governance. There is enough socialist legacy in your own national experience to come to compromise between capitalism and socialism. In western europe we call this the wellfare-state and believe me we're struggling with the balance continuously.
There is no geographic difference between most of Russia and Sweden. Sweden has had more time to evolve a social democratic society but was a highly inegalitarian place a hundred years ago and had a higher emigration rate.

A nation's heritage can be a drag on serious change but if ethnic and cultural determinism were true then democracy would not have taken root in Germany after 1945. Russians will always have a unique identity and will not simply import a foreign social model wholesale. But I think something that has both democracy and social welfare is possible. Russians have a choice between whether to revert to familiar patterns or build new ones. I don't think the choice is predestined by the past.
I disagree, Mr. Billington. The Western Tradition consists of 3 main threads: Legacy of Rome, Western Christianity, and (Personal) Liberty of Germanic tribes of Northern Europe. Russia never had that. The geography of the steppes is vastly different that the (maritime) geography of Scandinavia. The word Slav originated from the Greek “σκλάβος” (sclavos) for “slave” since Slavic people were a source of slaves for the Mediterranean world. And lastly, the 200 years of brutal Mongol domination of Russia has left its mark (there is not a single happy folk song in Russia). Japan, Thailand, Russia, China, Iran, and Turkey have been trying to modernize their polity for more than 150 years. And yet, they are not there. On paper, everything is possible. But in reality, one's choices are severely constrained by Tradition.
I think that we need to come back to the essential question: to what degree does the U.S. need to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries or promote particular political outcomes in order to further its goals? It does seem that American "tinkering" with Russia is unlike to produce a major reorientation. What then is the lesson here for China?
Conservative Realist - The point Nikolas makes about Russia could just as easily be true of China, ie. that greater democracy could result in a more confrontational or anti-American government. But the question is one of timeframe.

We need to weigh the adverse consequences to us of an anti-American electorate in Russia or China against the adverse consequences to both countries of curbing or preventing democratic government in the longer run. In the long run, electorates that are free to change their minds may become friendlier to us. If democracy raises their standards of government and draws them closer to the Western world, then I would see that as a benefit to us.

Dictatorships may also be friendly but whether their tenure promotes domestic stability and serves U.S. interests in the long run is I think doubtful. The really interesting question is whether U.S. tensions with and Russia and China are rooted in something deeper than differing political systems. Nations are more than just their outward forms of government and our policy often seems to assume that it is enough just to change these forms. But it remains to be seen whether antagonisms and other differences are really permanent.

I would emphasize positive assistance, eg. local government exchange programs with Russia and bilateral private ties of other kinds to individual Russians in government and academic life. We might try to forge similar relationships with China.
"That said, i'd like to tell 'anonymous' that imho s/he is behaving as an excellent example of failure of dialogue from the eastern side."

The failure of dialogue from the western side was summarized by President Clinton about a decade ago, when he told Strobe Talbot

"We keep telling Ol' Boris, 'Okay, now here's what you've got to do next - here's some more shit for your face.'" Nothing changed of course.

The real problem we have with Putin is that he no longer puts his face into it when directed, like Boris did. The western side has demonstrated its idea of east-west dialogue, and has shown no great interest in any other basis for it. Don't try to blame the eastern side for not wanting to put up with it any longer.

"Although i think slavic women and Rossiankas in general are often very beautiful and feminine it is not I who makes them pregnant or not. Birth and dead rates are your own responsibility."

Western policy has certainly influenced the suitability of Russia as a place to bring children into, or to live in. It certainly contributed to the catastrophe that was the 1990s. Western financing and political advice certainly helped Ol' Boris recover politically in 1996. There is no ethical way to dodge it.

There are other ways of course.
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