Saturday, September 12, 2015

St. Petersburg Scholar Offers 12 Important if Not Obvious Theses on Russia and the United States

Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 12 – Ivan Kurilla, a historian at St. Petersburg’s European University, offers 12 theses about Russia and America and their relations to each other that are in many cases not immediately obvious but that are more adequate than many of the assertions made in each country about these things (

                The 12 are:

1.      “Russia and America are historically close to one another.” That is, Kurilla says, “both are variants of Europe,” “both use the political language of Europe for building societies” different than Europe. And both see themselves as “’new’” countries who emerged at about the same time in the 18th century.

2.      “America to a significant extent was founded by emigres from Russia and in this part is a projection of Russia and of what it should be in the opinion of the emigres.” From the last quarter of the 19th century, “millions of people, fleeing from a repressive state and from revolution, emigrated from Russia to the US.” They are “an important component of American identity.” At the same time, “the majority of the emigres have retained a sharply critical attitude toward the country from which they left,” and they passed it on to Americans.

3.      “Russia and the US share part of their own history.” Alaska was Russian before it was American.

4.      “At each stage of its own modernization beginning from the middle of the 19th century, Russia operated on the experience and technology of the US.”

5.      “The need to react in foreign policy to one another always was secondary compared to the support of their own identity; therefore, this led to problems and time and effort were required to insert new threats into the existing system of images.” For most of the 20th century, Russia was “the constituent Other” for Americans in terms of defining themselves, and “the intensification of anti-American rhetoric in Russia beginning in 2012 can be explained by the need to find a way out of the domestic political crisis of 2011-2012.”

6.      “The image of Russia in the US has been constructed as a response to tasks of the domestic ‘agenda.’”  Russians view their country as a land of classical literature and music, “but for many American, it is more important that this is a country with a talented people and a repressive state,” albeit one which has been an ally of the US in major wars.

7.      “The greatest rapprochement of Russia by the US has occurred during periods of threat.” Russia has been “a traditional ally of America in her major wars,” even though the two countries have been on opposite sites in regional conflicts.

8.      “The image of America in Russia is complex.”  Each of its components can be accented depending on circumstances good and bad.

9.      “The greatest coming together with the US by Russia has taken place during periods of Russian reforms.”  For both Russian reformers and revolutionaries, the US has been “a model” for their actions even when they did not acknowledge this or hoped to go beyond what the US has done.

10.  “Russian revolutionaries and reformers, just like emigres from Russia ‘insert’ into their idea about the US their own ideals.”  In fact, the image of the US in Russia is inevitably “inexact” for precisely this reason; and that in turn is “one of the  reasons” why Russians become disappointed with the US when they come into direct contact with it.

11.  “Americans in the start of each Russian revolution or reform era experience baseless hopes and then equally baseless but deep disappointment.” That has happened again and again, and every time it does, American put part of the blame on themselves with articles and books entitled “’Who Lost Russia?’”

12.   “In the 1990s, Russia ceased to play the role of ‘the constituent Other’ for the US, but American remains such for Russia.” 

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