The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture

The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture

The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture

The Rebirth of Russian Democracy: An Interpretation of Political Culture

Synopsis

How could the West have better prepared for the fall of communism and gained a clearer picture of Russia's new political landscape? By cultivating an awareness, Nicolai Petro argues, of the deep democratic aspirations of the Russian people since Muscovite times. Petro traces the long history of those aspirations, recovering for us an understanding crucial to our formation of successful foreign policy toward Russia. Petro's analysis includes many surprising and incisive observations. In a look at the Russian Orthodox Church, he details its long history of support for opposition sentiment during both Tsarist and Soviet times and its support for democracy today. He also explores the character and power of contemporary Russian nationalism and traces its origins to the neo-Slavophile national identity that took its shape as a challenge to Bolshevik oppression. Delineating Russia's postcommunist political parties, the author reveals their roots in prerevolutionary times and explains how this continuitymakes Russian political aspirations far more predictable than is commonly assumed. Awakening us to Russia's historical involvement in the democratic quest that lies at the heart of Western values, Petro opens a path for a more meaningful, more productive, understanding of modern Russia.

Excerpt

Coming to this country as a young college student, I remember being surprised by the widespread portrayal of Russian history as somehow uniquely authoritarian, and by the equally common view that Russians saw the repressive communist regime as legitimate. Having been raised in Europe and exposed to several generations of Russians in exile, I had been brought up with a rather different view, and was frankly puzzled by the uniformity of American perceptions of Russia. My curiosity soon led me to take every course that I could on Russia and the Soviet Union at the University of Virginia, and finally to write an honors thesis on dissent under the firm but encouraging tutelage of the late Professor Thomas T. Hammond. In 1979, Professor Hammond even encouraged me to offer a seminar on the history of dissent.

Subsequently, I decided to learn more about my adopted country, the United States, and so in graduate school chose to concentrate on the workings of U.S. foreign policy, under the wise guidance of Professor Kenneth W Thompson. The idea of attempting a thoroughgoing revision of the standard presentation of Russian society, however, never completely left me. If anything, it became stronger after a brief exposure to government service facilitated by the Council on Foreign Relations. Thanks to an International Affairs Fellowship, I was able to spend a year as special assistant for policy at the State Department's Office of Soviet Union Affairs, including a month in early 1990 as political attaché with the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Those hectic weeks were spent reporting on political developments and meeting with Russian nationalist leaders around the country.

Government experience reinforced my conviction that the major stumbling block that remained to improving relations with a rapidly changing Russia was our inability to recognize the historical roots of Russian aspira-

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