Valdai Index 2013: Political Trends and Identity Issues

The negative trends revealed in the survey of Russia’s political system indicate a fundamental challenge to the Russian government as well as Russia’s nation-state building. In retrospect, the most substantial damage caused by the disintegration of USSR is in the area of Russia’s national and political identities.

Negative Political Trends and Identity Issues

The negative trends revealed in the survey of Russia’s political system indicate a fundamental challenge to the Russian government as well as Russia’s nation-state building. In retrospect, the most substantial damage caused by the disintegration of USSR is in the area of Russia’s national and political identities. In all modern nation-states, there are two inter-related levels of political identity that are essential to political stability and legitimacy of the political system. The first concerns people’s identification with their nation: “I am a Russian!” The second concerns people’s identification with the state, or the political system: “I am a Russian citizen.” If the two levels of identity overlap, the nation-state is stable and its political system also enjoys a high level of legitimacy. But in the event that these two levels of identity are weak, there would be great risks in terms of national integrity, and the state would also suffer from a low level of public support. The former USSR, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia were examples of this. When the political system collapsed in these countries, so did the nation-state, because strong and overlapping national and political identities were never really established in these “former” countries. The less than desirable level of trust and confidence in virtually all Russian political institutions indicate that the “peoples” in Russia nowadays are yet to develop strong and overlapping national and political identities with the Russian nation-state.

There are generally two approaches to overcoming this challenge. The first approach is the one we observe in countries like United States and Singapore, where the governments have endeavored to promote and strengthen people’s identification with the state (the political system). As a result, people identify themselves as American citizens or Singaporean citizens. And then on such a foundation emerges their identification with the nation. In a word, they see themselves as citizens first, and because of that, they are Americans or Singaporeans.

The other approach is the example presented by countries like China and Japan, countries that usually enjoy a long history of civilization in a relatively isolated context. In China, for example, there are substantial problems preventing the Chinese people from fully identifying with the state, i.e., the current political system, which remains a major challenge faced by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). But historically, there is a strong national identity in China: the Chinese people strongly identify with the Chinese nation. This provides the Chinese government with a strong base to promote and strengthen political identity among the Chinese people.

Given the historical context and the reality that Russia is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country, it seems that it is more urgent, and practical, for the Russian government to promote and strengthen people’s political identity with the Russian state and political system. There need to be effective measures to enhance the self-consciousness and pride of being a Russian citizen. Only on this foundation can we expect enhancement of Russia’s national identity.

Negative Economic Trends

It is fortunate for Russia that energy prices have remained high in the past two decades. This has benefited Russia and its economy

tremendously. On the other hand, it seems that this economic “fortune” has also contributed to slowing down the much needed restructuring of Russia’s economy. To this date, Russia’s economy is still largely dependent on the energy industry (and to certain extent, the defense industry), despite the very solid foundation of a comprehensive industrial system established during the Soviet Union period. The absence of necessary economic restructuring has resulted in three major problems in Russia’s economy. First: the lack of transparency in economic decision making. This can cause substantial damage to the confidence of foreign investors, which in turn undermines FDI into Russia. Secondly, the oligarchy still carries a certain weight in Russia’s economy, which has become more and more unfavorable for economic development in Russia. Last but not least, Russia’s economy today is not as open as it is supposed to be towards the global economic system. Given the irrevocable economic globalization, it is a great challenge for Russia to integrate its economy into the global economic system, which will not only make Russia’s economy more market-oriented, but will also help Russia to restructure its economy for more comprehensive and even-handed development in the future.

A Rising Star in International Affairs

The most encouraging development in the past three years is the increasingly proactive role Russia has played in international affairs. Russia has not only enhanced its own capability to secure national sovereignty and integrity, it has also played a very positive role in the international security system, especially in the Middle East and the Asia Pacific. And this positive role is recognized and appreciated by international communities, as well as Russian citizens. That is why we are seeing a very significant improvement in Russia’s role in regional and global security. Because of this, Russia’s diplomacy is also gaining world-wide respect and high appraisal, as reflected in the index: the score of Russia’s diplomatic activity has grown to 0.1 this year.

Another important development: Soft Power

A positive result of Russia’s Soft Power was registered for the first time in four years. This positive development, however, is essentially caused by Russia’s proactive role in international affairs. It is Russia’s hard power that provides her soft power with a vehicle to the outside world. By playing a positive and proactive role in regional and global affairs, Russia’s soft power and its effectiveness have both increased, as shown by the index.

Improvements to Achieve

Overall, the survey indicates that Russia should endeavor to make improvements in three major areas. First: to continue to reform its political system so that the political process will be more inclusive, transparent and open, which in turn will encourage greater political participation of Russian citizens. The aim is to increase the political identification of Russian people with the existing Russian state, thereby improving the national identity of Russia. Secondly, Russia needs to make substantial efforts to restructure her economy for a more competent and even-handed development. After all, the current energy-dependent economy is not sustainable. Russia has a solid industrial system with vast resources, which provides Russia with a good foundation to restructure its economy. In this regard, the way in which Russia’s Siberia and the Far East will be developed is essential for the restructuring the country's economy. Not only will the development of Siberia and the Far East provide the Asia-Pacific with necessary energy and resources, it will also generate momentum and dynamics for Russia’s economy to be further integrated in globalization. After all, Siberia and the Far East are indispensable strategic assets for Russia, not liabilities. Last but not least, Russia should endeavor to increase its influence and responsibility in international affairs, especially global security arrangements. Recent developments in Syria and the Asia Pacific have demonstrated that Russia has a role to play, and this role can be very positive in terms of regional and global peace and stability. If Russia continues to behave as a responsible power, it will not be surprising to see a further increase in Russia’s soft power in global affairs.

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