July 5, 2010

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia focuses on topics related to Russia.

This issue of Diplomaatia focuses on topics related to Russia.

English summary

This issue of Diplomaatia focuses on topics related to Russia.
In the opening article, Vladimir Jushkin, the director of the Baltic Centre for Russian Studies, analyses the recent changes in Russia’s foreign political behaviour. According to him, the current, ‘softer’ line by Moscow is largely inspired by Russia’s economic needs. Russia’s rulers have understood that without innovation and modern technology, the country is destined to stagnate and be marginalised; and that new technology is easier to acquire if relationships with the world’s advanced countries are not too bad.
“Self-confidently, and with little concern for (domestic political) losses, Russia is clearing the way for better relations with the EU,” writes Jushkin. However, he warns that the change is not deep enough and may not be permanent. Even though both President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin seem to understand the need for new behaviour, many diplomats in the Russian foreign ministry find the change hard to accept: “Many Russian diplomats think that Russia must make foreign policy radical demands and stick to them for years. So it will not be easy for them to adopt the ‘modern direction’ of foreign policy.”
Even more important, however, is the relationship between domestic and foreign policy: “Domestic policy always has priority. Foreign policy is based on domestic policy. It can have considerable independence, but it cannot go against domestic policy … Before one starts to speak of a change in Russia’s foreign policy, one has to be firmly convinced that Russia’s domestic policy has changed.” Jushkin implies that the latter is far from certain.
Kaarel Tarand, the editor-in-chief of Sirp writes about the demographic situation in Russia, basing his article on a recent study by Nicholas Eberstadt from the American Enterprise Institute, which examines Russia’s demographic trends, including people’s health, the aging population and the effectiveness of education, and reaches gloomy conclusions. “As far as the statement that people are a precondition for economic activity remains valid, it is hard to understand on what Russia’s economy will be based in 2050,” Tarand writes. According to the study, demographic decline will also make Russia’s international behaviour less predictable -which may produce a need for outsiders to intervene at some point in the future.
Maria Mälksoo from Tartu University writes about disputes concerning history and the links between memory and security, asking if a pan-European consensus on the interpretation of the Second World War and its aftermath in the eastern part of Europe is realistic, or even desirable. She asks, “How effective is a militaristic approach to memory that stresses not just the importance of acknowledging communist crimes, but also requires the condemnation of communist ideology and communist political thought in its entirety?”
Analysing several aspects of the question, she concludes that for Estonia, it would be wiser to give up the ideal of reaching a consensus on memory politics. “While critical analyses and history research open the possibilities for different understandings, then political declarations on memory tend to close discussion,” she writes.
Memory, politics and power also feature in a piece by Edward Lucas, the east European correspondent of the Economist.
Lucas analyses Moscow’s interpretation of various historical events. Even though the rhetoric has changed recently, one still can spot lies and half-truths among its acceptance of genuine truth – which leads one to think that Moscow’s thinking on history is shaped more by political and economic needs than historical truth. The overall picture is thus increasingly incoherent and confusing.
“This smoothing over of historical rows is a potential game-changer,” he writes. “For 20 years, it has been an article of faith for people in the region and their friends that laying the ghosts of Soviet history was both a moral and political imperative. Those efforts have failed. Stalinist and neo-Soviet versions of the past have not died. They have revived, albeit in dilute form. The rest of the world -and many in the former communist world -seem increasingly ready to accept messy compromise, woolly words and half-truths in order to have normal relations with Russia. Resisting that tide is going to be tough. But it is worth it – not least because of solidarity with those Russians who do care about the past. The Gospel of John (8:32) says, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. It is only by facing the blackest parts of our own history that we can talk about them freely. And having done that, we can make real friends with old enemies.”
Journalist Igor Taro gives an overview of the recent municipal elections in the Republic of Georgia. President Mikheli Saakashvili’s National Movement was successful all over the country – even in the traditional stronghold of the opposition, the capital Thbilisi. According to the OSCE’s judgement the elections suffered from several problems and violations, but by and large were fair and honest. Taro concludes that the main point about these elections, however, is that they lay the ground for Georgia’s parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 and 2013. Who will succeed Saakashvili and what will he do after he has left the palace on the banks of the Mtkvari?

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