Restructuring Post-Communist Russia

Article excerpt

Restructuring Post-Communist Russia Ed.s Yitzhak Brudny, Jonathan Frankel, Stefan Hoffman Cambridge University Press, 2004

Since 1991, when the Soviet Union finally collapsed, the world has watched events breathlessly in an effort to discern the future of Russia. This latest Cambridge University Press publication, competently edited by three scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presents twelve informative and well-organized papers by the similar number of scholars drawn from different countries. These papers provide us with a wealth of insight into the social and economic changes that took place in the USSR under Yeltsin and, more recently, in the post-socialist period. Thus they cover the break-up of the monolithic Soviet Empire and the subsequent tension between federalism and tangential forces, attempts at the formation of a multi-party political system, the search for a post-socialist national identity, and above all, the problems and goals facing Russian leaders, notably its current leader, Putin.

Analyzing the recent past, the contributors also speculate on future developments. Some authors such as Valerie Bunce, Alexander Motyl, and Anatoly M. Khazanov are skeptical of current economic progress, but a close look at the recent history of Ukraine leads Ilya Prizel to the conclusion that improvements in the efficacy of the Russian state and society are, by comparison, progressing well.

Marshall I. Goldman and Theodore H. Friedgut assess the massive upheavals that have transformed the Russian economy and society since 1991, and Vera Tolz traces the attempts made by politicians and intellectuals to define a new national identity for the Russian people. Political conditions - the parties, the electoral system and results, and the complexities of the federal system - are described and analyzed in detail by prominent Russian scholars such as Andrey Ryabov, Nikolai V. Petrov, and Oksana Oracheva. As for Russian foreign policy, Rajan Menon argues that the country's rapprochement with the United States is likely to be relatively permanent, given the threat to Russia from China and the Moslem world.

Modern Russia sees itself as an independent Eurasian power, bent on rebuilding itself after its disastrous experiment with Marxism, while seeking to avoid the decadence that permeates Western Europe. Its prime quality mineral resources, the source of future wealth, lie in Siberia, but here its weakness is its thin population, which is declining rather than expanding, while its neighbor to the East, China, has a vast surplus of population which continues to expand. Thus, one contributor warns of the flood of Chinese who are entering the eastern Maritime Region of Siberia, and this reviewer has also recently noted reports of Chinese investment and Chinese laborers moving into Kazakhstan to initiate the new agricultural enterprises so necessary to feed the billion-plus mouths of China. The Chinese tend to come as workers, but stay on as settlers. Because Russia, despite its high unemployment, is increasingly short of people to develop its resources, some inside Russia have advocated the import of immigrant labor from China and India. …