Saturday, January 8, 2022

Restorationism in Russia Today Typical of Countries that have Undergone Radical Change, Emil Pain Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 18 – Many Russian liberals are inclined to blame the restorationist impulses now on view in Russia on some special nature of the Russian soul or on some artificial imposition from above by the dictatorship of its values, but both perspectives are demonstrably wrong, Emil Pain says.

             The ethno-sociologist points out that “restorationist processes are not connected with any particular Russian mentality. The combination of growing tiredness of the masses, their seeking after the revival of some customary forms of life combined with the exploitation of such spontaneous conservatism by politicians … has appeared many times in world history.”

             And such periods of counter-reform, Pain continues, “always were longer than the periods of reform or revolution,” often by an order of magnitude both across Europe and in Russia as well (

             But at the same time, he argues, “eras of reaction were not unlimited in scope. Their length most often did not exceed the lifespan of one generation,” a period averaging 30 years; and they were ended by the death of a leader, a change in his own approach, or the upsurge of new popular strivings for radical changes to address fundamental problems.

            A return to more progressive development is impeded in Russia, however, by the inadequate understanding of Russian society that is shown by many who want to bring change. Many Russian liberals act as if what they are seeing is somehow inevitable or that when change comes again, it can be total and forever. Both notions are wrong in Russia and elsewhere as well.

             Russians have shown their adaptability to change repeatedly, and if a liberal did come to power in that country in the future, he or she would almost certainly soon face a pattern of development much like Russia experienced after the death of Stalin and again after 1991, Pain suggests.

             If Russian liberals are to be effective, they must recognize that their own views about Russian culture are not only problematic but wrong, and they must “more than now consider the particular features of the cultural foundations in the country.”  They must stop being contemptuous of the population and convinced that a new elite can change everything.

             Those committed to reform must realize that they cannot succeed without the support of the majority of the population, and “reformist parties should speak in the name of the people” rather than in the name of this or that idea and they should even consider including the word people in their titles.

             “An orientation toward mass support presupposes the adaptation of the political rhetoric of the reforms to the cultural conditions of their country,” the ethno-sociologist says. Reformers can do that easier and more quickly than they can achieve a change in the values of the population, but doing the first is a requirement for doing the second.

             In short, Pain concludes, “it is time to abandon the elitist, squeamish and biased view of Russia as ‘a land of slaves’ and ‘a bastion of patriarchal traditionalism.’”  And he goes on, we liberals should more often than now express our respect for Russia’s great culture and emphasize that its citizens are not only worthy but quite capable of living by modern European standards.”


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