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2008: On Russia

European and Russian history have long been intertwined. Over the centuries, the Russian Tsars tried to turn the Russian people towards European culture. Peter the Great opened a gateway to the West by creating St Petersburg (on what was then Swedish soil). Catherine the Great was absorbed by the ideas of the Enlightenment.

Yet there also linger long term, perhaps deeper, divergences. The influence of the Enlightenment was fairly superficial in Russia, compared to other European countries. The move to the industrialisation was less of a development than a leap – made first during the 19th century, a phase that was interrupted by the First World War, and then later forced through by Stalin.

Could Russia have become part of a similar development that took place in other parts of what we now call the West? On what does the alleged Russian sonderweg actually depend – geographical factors, language, religion, or cultural differences? Russia has not been asked to join the European Union, nor have the Russians themselves shown an interest in joining. Some argue that it depends upon geopolitical factors, or that Russia is too large to become a member, bordering Norway in the west and North Korea in the east, covering eleven timezones.

After the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, so-called shock therapy was applied in Russia in order to rid its people of the communist joke for good. But did the West have the right response? Did relief at the end of the Cold War blind it to potential risks? One might ask if the legacy of Russian history doomed its post-communist experiments, and also what the long-term influence of the Orthodox Church has been on Russia’s relationship to the West at a cultural level.

Today, many observers are alarmed by recent developments. From a Western perspective, things appear to be moving in the wrong direction: away from democracy, free media and the rule of law. Questions abound as to how Russian society may be developing.

In this conference we addressed such issues, focusing on the following broad themes: continuity and change in Russian history and the Russian self-image, recent economic developments, the “near-abroad”, and the implications of the resurgence of the strong Russian state.


Dominic Lieven: Russia as Empire and Periphery

Professor of Russian Government, London School of Economics, UK

Geoffrey Hosking: Power and the People in Russian History

Professor Emeritus of Russian History at the School of Slavonic & East European Studies, University College, London, UK

Catherine Merridale: A View from the Kremlin

Professor of Russian History, Queen Mary College, London University, UK

Andrei Zorin: Westernisers, Slavophiles & Russian Literature

Professor of Russian Literature, University of Oxford, UK

Per-Arne Bodin: The Influence of the Russian Orthodox Tradition

Professor of Slavic Languages, Stockholm University, Sweden

Arkady Ostrovsky: Teaching Soviet History

Moscow Bureau Chief, The Economist, Russia

Anne Applebaum: The Ideology of Putinism

Journalist and Columnist, USA

Vladimir Ryzhkov: Risks of the New Authoritarianism

Independent Russian Politician, Deputy in Russian Duma until 1997, Russia

Andrei Melville: Russia in 2020

Professor of Political Science, Vice-Rector of MGIMO-University of the MFA of Russia

Philip Hanson: The Political Economy of Russian Statism

Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs, UK

Erik Berglöf: (Re­)Building Democracy and Markets in Russia

Chief Economist, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), UK/Sweden

Konstantin Sonin: Is Russia a Typical Oil Exporter? The Political Economics of the Resource Curse

Assistant Professor at NES and Columnist for Vedomosti/the Moscow Times, Russia

Yegor Gaidar: Key Risk for the Stable Growth of the Russian Economy

Former Prime Minister of Russia

Kadri Liik: On the Baltic States

Director of the International Centre for Defence Studies, Tallinn, Estonia

Ekaterina Sokirianskaia: On the Caucasus

Executive Director, Memorial Human Rights Centre (North Caucasus), Russia

Fyodor Lukyanov: On Russian Responses

Editor of Russia in Global Affairs, Moscow, Russia