Friday, April 9, 2021

‘Rosbalt,’ ‘Literaturnaya Gazeta’ Seek to Promote Dialogue Across Divisions in Russian Politics

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 6 – For most of the 20th century, Russians split on key issues and typically acted on the assumption that their group must destroy others before others could destroy it. But now some members of these various groups are on occasion reaching across these divisions and finding if not agreement at least a language of dialogue for the future.

            That conclusion lies behind a new program, “Dorm Rules,” that the editors of the Rosbalt news agency and Literaturnaya gazeta have launched to encourage discussion rather than diatribes. They are happy to report that they have had some success at swimming against what most assume is the current (

            Russian society remains deeply split. Indeed, the two editorial staffs say, “there is no unity even on the issue of how many parts [Russians] are divided into.” The traditional division – Slavophiles and Westernizers – is clearly out of date; and the editors suggest that a better one is among Orthodox conservatives and imperialists, Soviet loyalists, and Westerners.

            There are obvious points of partial agreement among these groups. The first two agree on the need for an empire even if they disagree as to whether it will be monarchist or communist, and they also agree on issues like sex and feminism because of their conservatism. And even the Westerners in 1991 agreed with the conservatives on restoring some of the pre-1917 heritage.

            Those limited experiences are enough, the editors say, to launch a series of roundtables in which representatives of these various groups can talk if not about all the issues confronting Russia than about those where there is some hope to reach agreements between those who in the past have typically viewed all others as their opponents.

            The first such roundtable has not taken place. It featured Boris Nadezhdin, a St. Petersburg Westernizer, and Moscow sociologist Said Gafurov who represents both the communist and conservative groups. Maksim Zamshev, editor of Literaturnaya gazeta, led off the discussion.

             Zamshev suggested that if each of the groups insisted on its own position rather than seeking to find common ground, that will kill any chance for Russia to escape disaster and develop. Nadezhdin agreed.  He said that after working in legislatures, he “did not cease to be a liberal but began to more calmly relate” to all the other groups.

            “The entire history of Russia in the 20th century was not a search for a consensus but a search for who would destroy whom,” the man identified as the liberal Westernizer of the group says, “In the end, we will learn to talk and listen to one another and understand that we live in one country and are connected by a common history.”

            Gafurov for his part said that he did not want to see a liberal triumph that would lead to the destruction of conservatives. But he said that on this and other questions, “the minority must subordinate itself to the majority,” a principle with which Nadezhdin agreed. The latter said that for him the annexation of Crimea was a decisive event.

            Because it occurred on the basis of a referendum, he argues, it was legitimate even if it ran counter to many Westernizer ideals. And he further suggested that this should be a way forward not only within Russia itself but between Russia and the West which should be induced to accept what happened as legitimate because of the way it was organized.

            Summing up, Zamshev noted that the conversation had been police, even friendly, and he suggested that all the participants felt that they could agree on at least one important rule for future behavior: “Never sign letters demanding the repression of others.” That may appear a small thing, but it opens the way for a total transformation of Russian discussions.

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