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 fell, the world has watched events breathlessly in an effort to discern the future of Russia. This latest Cambridge Press publication, competently edited by thee scholars from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presents twelve informative and well-organized papers by a number of competent scholars drawn from different countries. These provide us with a wealth of insight into the economic changes that took place under Yeltsin, and more recently, social changes in the post-socialist period, the break-up of the monolithic Soviet Empire and the 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 Putin.

Analyzing the recent past, they also speculate on future developments. Some authors such as Valerie Bunce, Alexander Motyl, and Anatoly M. Khazanov are skeptical of current trends, but a close look at the recent history of Ukraine leads Ilya Prizel to the conclusion that improvements in 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. Changes in the political structure - the parties, the electoral system and results, and the complexities of the federal system - are described and analyzed in detail by a number of 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 from China and the Far East.

Modern Russia sees itself as an independent Eurasian power, not closely associated with the decadence that permeates the West. Its prime mineral resources and 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 writes a warning note about the flood of Chinese who are entering the eastern Maritime Region of Siberia. They come as workers, but stay on as settlers. Because Russia, despite its high unemployment, is increasingly short of people to do the work, some commentators advocate importing workers - including Chinese. Yet, throughout its history, Russia has experienced an out-flow of people, not immigration, and Russians exhibit strong xenophobic sentiments. …