Russian foreign policy and human
rights: Conflicted culture and
Sergei V. Chugrov
Two political myths concerning human rights in Russia are widely aired in the West. According to one of them, Russia historically followed the lead of the West towards liberalism, and only the 1917 Bolshevik revolution resulted in mass repressions and the negation of all human rights in the Soviet Union. The other myth stipulates that Russia has never developed the conditions for human rights and is hardly able to develop them now. Both arguments appear to be wrong. For centuries, Russia was torn by two cultural traditions. One of them, the Westernizing one, considers rights of the individual to be its cornerstone. The other, Slavophile, one accepts authoritarian government and severe restrictions on human rights, while seeing the source of the country's further development in its own particular traditions. The Westernizing tradition embraces universal rights, while the Slavophile tradition emphasizes cultural relativism and national particularism.
The first tendency pushes Russia towards the West, while the second one results in Russia pursuing a policy of self-isolation. The Westernizing tradition has always been weaker than the Slavophile one. This does not mean, however, that the seeds of liberal freedoms were eradicated from the national political culture; they were always there and remain so today. Rather, they are emerging from their suppression.