HOW BELKOVSKY AND KONCHALOVSKY FIGHT FOR MODERNIZATION
The building of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RUIA) on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment has only one main entrance. To get into the building one must pass through the heavy oak-wood atrium door. TV crews are installing cameras right in front of it ignoring frowns from of Oleg Deripaska’s bodyguards and curious glances from Valentin Yudashkin admirers. Experts eager to get to the roundtable held by RUIE Board Member Victor Biryukov show varying skills trying to avoid the cameras and mikes of ardent reporters.
As a result, the beginning of the 9th Biryukov Roundtable on Modernization was delayed. So, it was wise from the key reporter, political scientist Stanislav Belkovsky, to be late. However, his main opponent film director Andrei Konchalovsky, turned out to be even “wiser” and arrived when Belkovsky was closing his report ”Modernization, democracy and nationalism.” In this context, the “wisest” perhaps was Biryukov himself who instead of attending his roundtable preferred to meet with Vladimir Putin at a forum in Mordovia .
Sarcastic as ever, Belkovsky started his report raising and answering the question: What is modernization? According to the Kremlin, it is “an expanded version of innovation, i.e. providing the Russians with as many iPads and iPhones as possible and a total computerization of rural schools.” However, “if a village school lacks teachers and its roof leaks computerization will hardly solve all problems.”
“Theoreticians” working for the Kremlin have a different understanding of modernization. For them it is “an endless pursuit of the developed nations in some economic and technological parameters.” However, in this unipolar world the gap can only grow because the West is not interested in sharing modern technologies with Russia and inevitably it may get only outdated models.”
In point of fact, “modernization is the construction of ‘modern’ or ‘a modern society’ in a given country under given historical conditions.” Originally, this type of society formed in West Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and had the following specific features:
“In a pre-modern society, a person as a social individual is reproduced inside a family, which is a social corporation, sort of, isolated from other families and social corporations,” the reporter shared his conclusions. “In a modern society from early childhood an individual is incorporated into a lager system of socialization: pre-school, school higher school education, army service, and joins the system of social protection which is also of mass character. All these systems are unified. A situation is impossible where one school teaches that at the end of WW2 the Soviet Union liberated Central and East Europe while another school – that the bloody regime established dictatorship there.”
Therefore, education in a modern society and the society in general are inevitably ideologized and, hence, all appeals for de-ideologization are in fact anti-modernization.
Nation in the phase of devising
A great number of mutually isolated speech communities also hamper modernization: integration into a modern society demands the mastering of a common language used by almost all mass media. Slightly differing from one another, media’s ideological messages “concentrate around certain basic values, the most important of which is the existence of the given type of society and the given state.”
Motor highways bear the same transnational and integrating character. More than one third of Russian villages have no access to hard surface roads and have no road connection either with district centers or with each other. This is another obstacle on the path of modernization .
And, finally, the most important condition for the construction of a modern society is... democracy. According to Belkovsky, “in a traditional society God Almighty is the source of power. Powers of emperors, kings and so on are from the Lord.” Therefore, authorities are unaccountable to society and social disparity emerges that depends on closeness to the authorities.
“In the modern society, nation is the source of power,” the political scientist insists. “And this fact as such dictates the necessity to create this nation and ensure political and social equality of its members. In the modern society social disparity vanishes remaining in the past: all the citizens are equal. Otherwise they cannot form a nation that is the source of power. Consequently, it is exactly in the modern society where nationalism originates as a complex of theories forming a nation. A pre-modern society has no nations in their pure form.”
Therefore, modernizers simply must be nationalists. They are to cement together the dispersed strata: “at first, nationalists appear who devise nations that then emerge in the history. Under this concept nation and ethnos are not identical the former being a complex of all ethnoses or their part on the territory where a national state emerges. There is no more any common DNA but there is a feeling of equality, a feeling of belonging to a socially and culturally homogeneous community. In a modern society, a Russian may not have a drop of Russian or even Slavic blood: “the Russian nation is currently in the phase of its devising.”
“Transition from imperial to national, from transcendental power with an extraterrestrial source of legitimacy to immanent power with an earthly source of legitimacy means transition to democracy,” Belkovsky concludes. “The emergence of a nation inevitably demands that this nation, a source of power itself, form this power in the framework of democratic procedures. Therefore, modernization, democracy and nationalism (the title of my report) are an integral aggregate dialectical triad where each member is inseparable from the other two.”
Could we do without pensions?
Conclusion: modernization “is possible exclusively on the path of nationalism” i.e. needs the construction of a national state, which presumes “a mental and cultural unification of the national space” while ethnoses that one way or another do not want such unification must stay outside.” “The disintegration of the empire must be completed” because “some parts of today’s Russia under no circumstances will modernize together with the country.
“More than likely, sooner or later the Moslem regions of the North Caucasus will absolutely voluntarily quit the Russian Federation. Previously, some of them were eager to leave,” Belkovsky concluded. Undoubtedly, it will be a painful blow on the Russian soul that “is always willing to expand and never likes to shrink.” However, this scenario might be realized only in case of modernization. But it is still a big question, whether it will be a success or not.
If what he said is true, 1,000 experts headed by Professors Vladimir Mau (the closest associate of Yegor Gaidar) and Yaroslav Kuzminov (the husband of Minister of Economic Development Elvira Nabiullina) are plugging away at a strategy of Russia’s social and economic development up to the year 2020. The analysis of published excerpts of the “Strategy-2020” told Mr. Belkovsky that de-modernization rather than modernization measures are being worked out, “the abandoning of the modern society in all its manifestations including the abandoning of the mass army which is an important element of a modern society.”
In illustration of such denial, Kuzminov (PhD, Economics) allegedly rejects the necessity of transnational road building as too expensive and vulnerable to embezzlement. In his opinion, regional road networks will be enough allowing people to purchase cheap housing about 20 miles from regional centers where they work.
Another example: Mau voiced a proposal that “the state pension system should be replaced by a private pension system.” Just make more children and they will support their aging parents, a perfect solution of the demographic problem. Apparently, the economics guru borrowed this exquisite move from Turkmenbashi Niyazov who at the end of his tyranny canceled pensions claiming the elders must receive support from their children, not from the state . His other gem was a proposal that every aging person have two flats: one to live and the other to rent out.
“Of course, the state pension system will continue to exist for a while simply because the state does not have enough capacity to execute all the pensioners,” Belkovsky sadly joked. “So, I’m positive that the authorities are leading the country along the path of de-modernization. The term modernization is used for purely demagogical purposes: to stress the difference between President Medvedev and his predecessor Vladimir Putin.”
Professor’s finger under moderator’s rib
In author’s opinion, Belkovsky, the master of political tricks, leads the audience to a conclusion that the Russian state should have again Putin at the head. Why? Simply because imitating preparations for modernization, Medvedev is actually carrying out hidden de-modernization. And if he is reelected, “de-modernization will continue not because somebody does not want it, but rather because everybody wants de-modernization.” At this high note, the audience in the Conference Hall burst into angry remarks.
“It is not an easy work to ‘turn’ roundtables,” discussion moderator Yulia Shatova, editor-in-chief of Novy Region news agency, admitted later. It turned out that champions of modernization ideas are predominantly loud-mouthed and undisciplined... “Three of them had their seats behind me and were sticking their fingers under my ribs as they claimed their right to speak. At first I felt shy since they are older than me, such respectable gentlemen... But after the third finger under by rib I went somewhat ballistic” .
Replying queries of these “respectable gentlemen,” the key reporter colorfully described all the “advantages” that the Russians will enjoy from 2012 to 2018. Thanks to high oil prices and the growing demand for natural gas (following the crisis in the nuclear energy sector) this period will be extremely convenient for unpopular reforms “quite in line with de-modernization.” The revival of the Right Cause party is also in line with all this. In case it wins seats in the State Duma, this party will be able to form a coalition with the United Russia party, nominate Medvedev for president, and then will delegate to the Cabinet its “brightest representatives” and first of all Mikhail Prokhorov.
“And it is good in a certain way because, unlike Putin, Mikhail Dmitriyevich Prokhorov and his alikes never hesitate to tell people what they are thinking about them and what they are planning to do with them,” Belkovsky noted playing keenly again on Putin’s side and making a dig at United Russia.
And that was the moment for the titans of Russian wise-thinking to lock horns: Mr. Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky entered the overcrowded Conference Hall of the RUIE. His offhand question: Why is modernization in full swing in the Baltic States and why is it hindered in this country? This assertion could be easily dismissed but Belkovsky fails to win a point. Earlier, Biryukov gave a good description of “modernization” in the Baltic States: “The economy built there in the Soviet era has finished. In Latvia a shopping mall towers instead of the VEF giant of electric industry. Estonia has practically halted paper production. In Lithuania, fishing trawlers have been scrapped.” .
Darya Mitina, former MP, reminded the assembly that “the Baltic States today provide a pure, distilled example of de-modernization... European bottom, outskirts... Almost 1.5 million people have emigrated from Lithuania reducing the former 4.5-million population down to just 3 million.”
Quite unexpectedly, the internationalist Mitina received support from the nationalist Pyotr Miloserdov from the municipal assembly of one of Moscow's districts: “a national state as such is not a guarantee of modernization... Lithuania is a state that has never carried out any modernization.”
Tying up enemy forces of the left flank, Konchalovsky approaches from the right flank supposing that all attempts to modernize Russia “over the past three centuries have failed simply because the Russian mentality could not be modernized.”
“If we take 98 percent of population today and at the times of Peter the Great their system of values has not changed,” the maestro insisted with his accustomed vehemence. “Tsar Peter’s modernization failed to change the Russian mentality. As Gershenzon put it, Peter covered Russia with a thin cloak of civilization leaving beneath a huge, ignorant, tremendous mass that is still dozing.”
Konchalovsky is positive: for a successful modernization it is necessary to “adjust” the people’s soul which is quite possible. We only need three generations to create “socially responsible people” who will make up the notorious civil society because “there cannot be any modernization without a civil society.” Otherwise, we will have what we have now: “Kushchevskaya nationwide.” In this situation “to say that modernization is possible is to say that a sick patient needs a haircut instead of medical treatment.”
Surprisingly enough, Yelena Denezhkina from the Russkiye (Russians) movement also spoke in favor of a civil society. She called “to create, parallel to the existing government system, structures of a civil society that would make the nation competitive.” The ardent activist simply preferred to ignore the fact that the Russians are normally inclined towards another type of society – a solidary one. Perhaps the combination of words “civil society” attracted her not by its meaning but rather by its sound, like a Buddhist mantra.
Meanwhile, Belkovsky bites the bullet. He proposes not to over exaggerate the role of mentality in order not to turn its slaves. He rejects assertions that “the Russians have a wrong mentality” and that “the Russian people is not ready for modernization.” According to Belkovsky, “not a single nation in the history was ready for modernization simply because it knew nothing about it.”
“Ideas of modernization as well as any progressive and advanced ideas normally take shape in the elite circles, among certain people numbering no more than 2%–3% of the population. After that, the elite forces these ideas on the nation if sees them expedient.”
In general according to Belkovsky “Russia is ready for modernization” even with its current mentality except people in some republics of the North Caucasus. Failures to complete previous modernizations, Soviet and Imperial, are not a reason to drop the third attempt. The key reporter believes that preservation of the existing backwardness will be the greater of two evils.
Unfortunately, the number of modernization activists has not reached 2–3% of the population, and “if they do not emerge there will be no any modernization.” With 140 million people Russia needs just 2.8 million “modernizers.” Belkovsky nominated himself for this role and said “from today we are starting to gather the other 2,799,999 people. And as soon as we manage to do this we will launch modernization.”
Glass cube at Red Square
Political scientist Andrei Okara supported Belkovsky saying that modernization could be launched at any moment. He also addressed harsh remarks to works of the famous film director. “Is mentality an obstacle for development? No, it is not. Maybe it is an obstacle only for the heroes of the film about the Speckled Hen. Actually, the main obstacle for Russia’s development is its political system.”
Meanwhile, Konchalovsky receives reinforcement. Leonid Polyakov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, noted that Russian modernizations, two abortive and one in question, should not be viewed as links of one chain or a relay race “returning to one and the same point.” Every modernization was launched in its specific situation. “In the first case we may agree that Peter the Great was guided by modernization as by nationalism and democracy. But Bolsheviks were 100 percent not guided either by nationalism and democracy.”
And again Belkovsky fails to win a point forgetting about the construction of a single poly-ethnic Soviet nation which 25 years ago was declared completed: “On the basis of the drawing together of all classes and social strata and of the juridical and factual equality of all its nations and nationalities and their fraternal co-operation, a new historical community of people has been formed - the Soviet people.” .
Veteran Social Democrat Pavel Kudyukin contributed with his revelations: “On the one hand, indeed there were attempts to build a Soviet nation, but on the other hand national elites were shaped out which developed their own nationalisms and as a result formed pseudo-national states on the territory of the former USSR.”
Repelling the attacking enemy, the key reporter admitted that “all the previous modernizations, and not only in Russia, started on the basis of a traditional society under archaic conditions with numerous positive features, primarily family values, stability of certain local social structures and society cells, low consumption level and consumer demands.”
Now, modernization is to be launched “on the basis of a post-modern society where archaic ties are ruined, the traditional society has ceased to exist and the level of consumer demands is rather high with a very low level of labor and accumulation culture.” Apparently, a different basement dictates different models of modernization.
As if it was just what he expected, Polyakov exclaimed: “Then what is the fault of the authorities? Power is not be blame for what it is accused of... Mau thinks exactly about what you’ve said: how to find in the post-industrial society stimuli for at least any modernization?”
“I don’t blame power, no chance, because it adequately reflects interests of the ruling elite, i.e. does what it must do,” Belkovsky parried and started to dream: “If we place professor May in a glass cube on Red Square and from Skolkovo try to read his thoughts, it would be a colossal success at a new cycle of Russia’s modernization... But from all what our honorable theoreticians have wrote follows that they are not going to carry out modernization on the post-industrial basis.”
Sociologist erasing corruption
Instantly, the key reporter gets under fire from political technologist and businessman Alexander Segal: “You’ve just renamed bourgeois states into modern and what you’re telling us are banalities from a history textbook. You’ve just removed the economic ingredient and replaced it with modern, nationalism and democracy – that’s all!” Developing his concept, Segal expressed doubts whether it is expedient to build a bourgeois society in Russia since the global crisis showed that “the commodity society has approached its limits.”
“Red defense lawyer” Dmitri Agranovsky willingly joins the assault on Belkovsky’s apparent methodological setbacks. He contrasts modernization with development: “What is necessary for Russia to switch to effective development? I personally don’t need any modernization.”
Polyakov, PhD, is at hand to explain this paradox: “development is an alternative to modernization seen as westernization. It is development on the own basis. In the 1960s South American countries opted for this model of development.” However, the expert did not elaborate how quickly these models brought juntas to power and their countries to permanent poverty.
“What did they do first?” Vozmitel asked himself. “They liquidated corruption. The task we must set is to liquidate corruption in three or four years. It is quite realistic, I’m positive and I know how this is to be done!”
The latter remark drew laughter from the audience. Meanwhile, the key reporter receives support from his colleague from the Institute of National Strategy Viktor Militaryov who first of all demonstrates an unbiased approach and political correctness: “If the scheme proposed by Belkovsky is correct...” And then follows: “a combination of national-democracy and reindustrialization is the only chance for our country.” But this chance could be used only if Russia finds “high-level industrialists who will be able to unite the ideals of nationalism and democracy with the ideals of the restoration of the home market and the manufacturing industry.”
The debates are very heated but nobody expects a scandal that is already knocking at the door. Political scientist Yevgeny Minchenko takes the floor. Returning to the key reporter’s idea about the unpreparedness of traditional Moslem communities for modernization he warns, “The risk of regional separatism in Russian-speaking regions is to certain extent heavier than in ethnic republics. Current developments in Russia’s Far East, Siberia, are far more dangerous than the situation in Dagestan.
“Forget Siberia! Many regions hold permanent actions such as Buy Perm-made! Buy Rostov-made! And so on. The website of the Kostroma administration shouts: Buy Kostroma-made! Do not invest money in other regions!” .
“That is because you are a racist!”
As a remedy Mr. Minchenko offered to oppose the centripetal integrative trend to the current centrifugal separatist one positioning the Russian culture as “a supporting structure of the Russian state.” He called to fight for human resources in the post-Soviet states. For that purpose officials must change their “squeamish and condescending attitude to our former compatriots who by a twist of fate found themselves in our former republics.”
This sober idea made Vladimir Tor, an activist from the Russian Public Movement, rush to battle for purity of the Russian blood. He suspects Minchenko of plans to classify Tajiks (horror of horrors!) as our compatriots. “Are we speaking about Tajiks or about Russians from northern Kazakhstan. These are principally different things.”
Mr. Minchenko tried to explain that if “a person is ready to claim his belonging to the Russian culture” he might well be granted admission “to the ranks of Russians as a civil nation.” Apparently, Belkovsky bears in mind exactly this approach when he speaks about the construction of a Russian national state.
However, for Mr. Tor it is shear blasphemy. Like the USSR failed to unite forever Uzbeks and Latvians, today “we lack a construct capable of accommodating together a Tuvinian, an Ingush, a Chechen, a Kabardian-Balkarian and a Russian.” An ardent adversary of a Russian nation made from various ethnoses, Tor is quickly losing his temper and starts to interrupt the renowned scientist in mid-sentence.
Minchenko cannot take it any longer: “I’m looking at you and you don’t look like a Slav to me.” “That is because you are a racist,” Tor, who indeed looks like a Spaniard, has a ready answer. And here we go! Since actually Minchenko is a critic of racism, this duel of “a deaf man and a blind man” threatens to stretch on late. “I propose not discuss each other’s faces,” shouts moderator Shatova and receives quick support from the key reporter himself.
“The growth of new nationalisms – Siberian, Far Eastern and others is associated exactly with the absence of a concept of national state and a single concept of Russian nationalism,” Belkovsky makes the discussion meaningful again. “And therefore, the only alternative to a single Russian state is a number of national states that could emerge in the future on the basis of these new nationalisms.”
Tired of such abstractions, journalist Maxim Brusilovsky jumps into the shoes of his like-minded fellow Tor and speaks about the practical usefulness of “blood” nationalism: “Figuratively speaking, the problem of transport infrastructure in Moscow could be solved for instance by banishment of the infamous shakhid-taxi cabs [obsolete and often unsafe private cabs normally driven by immigrants from the Central Asia]... This issue cannot be solved from any other positions, liberal or social democratic.”
Stealing attention from this touchy issue, futurologist Yuri Shushkevich returns to the discussion of the elite that understands modernization “strictly as the achievement of Western standards of consumption” and that “has already achieved them.” Now they need only “a visa free access to Europe where they keep their real estate and bank accounts.” After this “it could said that for our elite modernization is completed.”
Black hole above the roundtable
Professor Alexey Podberezkin agreed that the ruling elite are not motivated for modernization since they “earn here and spend there.” However, the country still has a modernization resource. It is a thin layer of serious businessmen who want to earn and spend in Russia. The problem is that those people, many of whom he knows personally, do not belong to the ruling elite.
Meanwhile, amid all talks about innovations, over the past ten years the number of implemented technologies decreased from 700 to 650! We cannot be happy even with the fact that our GDP has almost reached that of the RSFSR in 1990 because GDP today is dominated by raw materials and the output of manufacturing industries reaches hardly 20% of the level posted 20 years ago.
The brainstorm at the round table of the RUIE is reaching its climax. It looks like the noosphere in the overcrowded hall is thickening into a black hole. Big guns enter the battle. For a start, Professor Alexei Malashenko from the Carnegie Center snubbed the venerable film-maker who called to modernize the Russian mentality. One way or another, mentality changes itself for example in the process of urbanization: peasant’s soul and the soul of a city dweller are something very different.
Then Malashenko, PhD (History), lamented the negative role played by the Orthodox Church: “no modernization of mentality comes out of there. Everything looks quite on the contrary, especially when we listen to [Orthodox Church] speaker Vsevolod Chaplin.” And what is most important, Malashenko warns that modernization costs money and it is absolutely unclear who is ready to pay for it. Even if there is 2–3% of “modernizers” in the Russian population, which according to Belkovsky is enough to launch the process, nobody of them will want to pay. However, there is no time to wait. Both the Tsarist Russia and the USSR had enough time for modernization. The contemporary Russia does not have it. Meanwhile, the alternative to modernization is “non-survival.”
“The Soviet Union showed very well what comes out of the absence of modernization. We all saw this,” Mr. Malashenko reminded and predicted a new disintegration of the country. “We will gather in another 20 years and see that nothing has left.”
Not long ago, Dmitry Trenin, director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, rejected any possibility of reintegration on the post-Soviet space because “it is necessary to pay for any empire” but “Russia does not want to pay for anyone.” . It is absolutely so from the standpoint of the consumer society with its trend towards total estimation of everything. But apart from the consumerities epidemic there are other values which the Carnegians prefer to ignore. Moreover, the consumer society is not eternal, as Segal has said above.
The key reporter rejects all Malashenko’s arguments. “People who are ready to pay for it will implement modernization,” Belkovsky said. He also did not agree that the Orthodox Church hampers the updating of the Russian soul. “Today, this esteemed public organization has zero influence on social processes and the image of our society.”
His final remark Belkovsky addresses to his main opponent Konchalovsky: “Although Andrei Sergeyevich has understood nothing from what I was speaking, he broadcasted an idea that the elites are not responsible for the situation on the territories entrusted to them because the people itself is responsible. Something should be done with the people but nothing could be done because of its total inertness and inability to change. I reject this assertion as wrong because government people must bear this responsibility. Irresponsibility of the elites in my opinion is the most important problem of the country’s development.”
Strange enough, but nobody from the participants in the heated debates in the RUIE did not ask the key reporter whether or not a separation of a part of the North Caucasus from Russia will be another senseless sacrifice on the way to the modern society. What if later on someone says Yakutia or Mary-El is redundant and unmodernizable? Twenty years ago, Russia aspiring prosperity alienated union republics. Neither Russia nor the former fraternal republics have managed to implement modernization. Will it be a disaster again in a new cycle of history? Maybe it’s time to think about a transition from the weak federal state to a strong unitary one?
Mr. Belkovsky himself gives only a passing mention to this theme: “One of the most important problems in the USSR was the impossibility to build a national state, i.e. the impossibility to transfer to nationalism.” Kudyukin’s remark sounds like a sentence: “the Russians are notable for their very weak ethnic identity resulting from their imperial past.”
However, time is running out but things go no further than just statements. Many experts attending the Roundtable, irrespective of their ideological inclinations, simply receive no time to speak (such as People’s Artist of Russia film director Nikolai Dostal and theater director Konstantin Bogomolov) or limit themselves to brief remarks (Sergei Obukhov, MP and PhD, Politics and Akop Nazaretyan, PhD). Nevertheless, according to the rules established by Biryukov, if a guest is not given a chance to speak he is automatically invited to the next roundtable meeting .
Finally, participants in the Roundtable are leaving the RUIE building to the gentle smiles of ruby stars looking at them from Kremlin towers. Involuntarily Belkovsky’s words come back to memory: “in terms of the modern society the Soviet Union progressed significantly in the creation of systems of socialization and unification.” In other words, “totalitarianism is the supreme and last stage of the modern society where a person becomes an absolute hostage and slave of systems of socialization.”
“In the society where all main social communications are ruined totalitarianism is impossible,” the key reporter said straight from the shoulder. “Therefore, when Putin’s Russia is branded as a neo-totalitarian state it makes me strongly doubt and then laugh. There is no state in the world that is less totalitarian! The state absolutely does not care what you are doing and what you are thinking. It is absolutely your own choice. The main goal of this state is to minimize any problem that citizens might have with the state.”
Surely there is no room for argument here.
Photographs by the author
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