Staunton, October 18 – Russians assumed they would quickly become as rich as people in the West if they copied Western institutions, ignoring just how long it had taken Western countries to create these institutions and then give them content, Dmitry Travin says. When the expected transformation didn’t happen overnight, Russians blamed the West as such.
The professor at St. Petersburg’s European University offered that observation among others at an online Sakharov Center conference on “Has Liberal Democracy Lost?” Other participants focused on Eastern Europe or the former Soviet bloc as a whole, but Travin focused on Russia in particular (https://www.rosbalt.ru/moscow/2020/10/18/1868599.html).
He observes that the most difficult thing for democratically inclined Russians to accept is “the trauma arising from the impossible of creating the society they had dreamed of” and that instead of the version of Russia they had hoped for, they now must watch “’the resentment’ of contemporary Russia” about that failure.
This evolution reflects not so much the mistakes of the reformers themselves, he argues, as in the fact that the Russian economy was dominated by a handful of enterprises “which could not create workplaces with good pay” and thus was not in a position to offer the majority of the population the kind of incomes that would convince them that progress was taking place.
According to Travin, “Russian society did not at any point recognize the lengthy nature of the process of modernization in Western countries.” Instead, they “though and many think this even now, that Germany was born to such wealth and success.” In fact, it took the Germans 150 or even 180 years to achieve what they have.
And because Russians did not recognize this time element – and although he does not say so were not encouraged to recognize this harsh reality – when they felt they had suffered, “copied Western institutions” and hadn’t achieved what they felt had been promised them, their response was to conclude that “’the West deceived us!’”
And they began to conclude that the Western model was a deception more generally because of the success of “’non-Western and non-liberal capitalism,’ above all Chinese” at exactly the same time. Russians thus have become convinced that the West is not the best model, laying the foundation for a turn away from the West and toward domestic populist promises.