Russia Has Not Yet Created an Attractive Identity Model

If there comes a time when Russians want to live in Russia, or people in other countries want to live as people in Russia live, this will mean that Russia has become the most influential country in the world. And no American, European, Chinese or Arab model will equal it. interview with Nikolai Zlobin, President and Founder of the Center on Global Interests in Washington, D.C., member of the Valdai Discussion Club.

The Valdai Club comprises both Russian and international experts from many countries. How, therefore, do you see the role of the Valdai Club in developing the Russian and global agenda?

This highly beneficial initiative was advanced 10 years ago. Opinions about the Valdai Club differ both in Russia and in other countries, but I believe that it is a very effective platform.

We hold open, incisive, interesting and even provocative discussions. I think there are not enough platforms like it, in fact. I would say that the Valdai Club is the best example of good organizational skills. The understanding of the logic behind Russia’s actions has certainly improved, because when political analysts and experts get an opportunity to talk with global politicians, they get a chance to receive firsthand information.

The Valdai Club is breaking down the traditional view of relations between politicians and experts, politicians and journalists, and experts and journalists. In this respect, it is a unique, effective and highly stimulating platform for politicians and experts.

Has the Valdai Club influenced the Kremlin’s policymaking in any way over the past 10 years? Do you think that the Russian political leadership is ready to listen to experts, including foreign ones?

If we look at the history of the Valdai Club, we can see that we managed to formulate some ideas clearly and tried to convince Russian politicians of the fallacy of their solutions, or at least to make them consider different scenarios.

If you look at our meetings even with Vladimir Putin, who has made a major contribution to the Valdai Club over the past 10 years, you will see that I have sharply criticized his policies and continue to do so. I must say, though, that Putin can take a punch.

Even if you do not receive a good answer to your questions, you stimulate political thought in Russia simply by asking them, as you can see from the Valdai Club’s practice. The main thing you expect from a politician is an agreement to look at the situation from a different angle. The more angles from which an issue is considered, the better the chance of a correct decision.

Should the West contribute to the development of a Russian pro-liberal identity if the Russian leadership views such efforts as infringement on its sovereignty and these efforts only enhance conservative anti-Western rhetoric?

There are some global trends, and a country that wants to succeed must adapt to these trends as much as it can. If it moves against them, it will be pushed to the sidelines of global politics. As we know, Russia has been in such situations before.

In the 21st century, a country or countries, a group of countries, which manage to become a role model, will be a superpower. The United States is now the only superpower, though it has its drawbacks, because it is the only country in the world to have become a role model. Neither China nor Europe has set themselves this task. Instead, they are adapting the US model to their own requirements.

Russia has created a model which no other country wants to emulate. If Russia remains unattractive, its global influence and its chances of regaining its regional status and a global superpower status will be zero. The Soviet Union was an attractive power for part of the world; it created models which others emulated. Russia has not yet created an attractive model.

Multiculturalism seems to be failing in the West. What lies in store for Russia as a multinational state?

Russia has accumulated vast experience as a multinational country, which is not known well enough in the world because Russia has not promoted its experience on the global stage. In fact, Russia is losing part of its influence and part of its historical prestige because it is not promoting its century-long traditions, for example the tradition of Christian and Muslim coexistence, which it has had for centuries.

I believe that the division of Russia into national territories is a huge time bomb. I’d like to remind you that the Soviet Union split along so-called national boundaries, and no one can guarantee that this will not happen to Russia.

As for multiculturalism, I believe that it is not multiculturalism that has failed but the attempt to apply it politically in the form that was developed in the West after the Second World War. The political course turned out to be unsuccessful. But the idea of multiculturalism will not wither away.

The upcoming meeting of the Valdai Club will focus on a Russian national idea. But should we be searching for it at all, considering that national ideas develop within nations irrespective of targeted political programs?

The national idea must not be formulated by politicians. I would not trust anyone in the Kremlin to come forth and say: And now I will explain the Russian national idea to you.

Everyone has his or her own Russia, and everyone sees what they want in it. The fragmentation of Russian society and the Russian elite has reached a dangerous stage. There is no unity. Any state needs its elites to be united, if only initially and only on fundamental issues, and it also needs a degree of national consensus on these fundamental issues.

According to recent studies, Russians are happy with their country’s power and influence in the world, its strong army, and so on. Yes, they seem to say, we may not be rich, but we have the strongest army in the world, and all other countries are afraid of us. Maybe we should use this for a national idea? But then, this was the Soviet Union’s national idea, and it did not work very well, as we know.

If there comes a time when Russians want to live in Russia, or people in other countries want to live as people in Russia live, this will mean that Russia has become the most influential country in the world. And no American, European, Chinese or Arab model will equal it. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.