March 8, 2012

Summary

The first three articles of this issue of Diplomaatia offer reflections on Russian society before the Russian presidential elections on Sunday, March 4, whose outcome was widely considered to be fixed in advance. Looking at Russia from different perspectives, the authors of the articles appear to agree that although the Russian political system was, and still remains, far from democratic, democratic sentiments among the people are inevitably growing stronger. In addition, this issue features an analysis of the European Union in financial crisis, two articles inspired by the current heightened international attention on Iran and a review of two books on Estonian-Finnish connections.

The first three articles of this issue of Diplomaatia offer reflections on Russian society before the Russian presidential elections on Sunday, March 4, whose outcome was widely considered to be fixed in advance. Looking at Russia from different perspectives, the authors of the articles appear to agree that although the Russian political system was, and still remains, far from democratic, democratic sentiments among the people are inevitably growing stronger. In addition, this issue features an analysis of the European Union in financial crisis, two articles inspired by the current heightened international attention on Iran and a review of two books on Estonian-Finnish connections.

Summary

The first three articles of this issue of Diplomaatia offer reflections on Russian society before the Russian presidential elections on Sunday, March 4, whose outcome was widely considered to be fixed in advance. Looking at Russia from different perspectives, the authors of the articles appear to agree that although the Russian political system was, and still remains, far from democratic, democratic sentiments among the people are inevitably growing stronger. In addition, this issue features an analysis of the European Union in financial crisis, two articles inspired by the current heightened international attention on Iran and a review of two books on Estonian-Finnish connections.
In the opening essay, ‘The Beginning of Decency’, Inna Rogatchi analyses the public mood in Russia between the parliamentary elections in December 2011 and last week’s presidential elections. She shows the stark contrast between the rulers and the ruled, insisting that despite the Kremlin’s policies, which are still far from decent, the Russian people are ready to move forward towards a more decent and civilised society. Rogatchi feels a change in the air, the key sign of which is the disappearance of fear.
The next two essays also describe Russian politics and society before (or rather, between) the elections. Political analyst Nico Popescu characterises the Russian opposition movement, in particular its nationalist and liberal branches, and assesses the possibility of an eventual merger between the two. Popescu expresses cautious optimism that if Russian liberals manage to incorporate and at the same time confine nationalist sentiments, they may succeed in recruiting a wider and stronger front to support their democratic cause. Political scientists Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes argue in their essay ‘The Sense of an Ending’ that engineering rigged elections has not been necessary for the current rulers for winning them, but rather has served as a demonstration of the strength of their authoritarian power. As the people start massively protesting against electoral fraud, the illusion of power disappears. The above two articles have previously been published in English by Open Democracy and Eurozine, respectively.
Mikael Laidre, a civil servant at the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offers a critique of the way the European Union has been trying to solve the current financial crisis. Comparing the EU’s emergency policies to attempts to serve kosher pork, Laidre argues that in order for Europe to be able to solve the crisis, the EU is bound to resort to a two-speed solution, with financially responsible countries moving on ahead of the others.
Two Estonian scholars specialising in Middle Eastern culture turn their glances towards Iran, albeit from very different perspectives. An Orientalist at the University of Tartu, Vladimir Sazonov, presents a comprehensive historical overview of Iranian culture, ideology and history. He suggests that the nation remembers a long history of imperial statehood, that its cultural background was deeply religious and dichotomous long before the arrival of Islam and that its role in current conflicts should be seen in the context of its historical and still ongoing pursuit of superpower status in the Middle East. In contrast, Martti Kalda, a researcher of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures at Tallinn University, focuses on current political debates on Iran and takes a strong position against the rhetoric of those in the West who push for an attack on Iran. Acknowledging Iran’s lack of democracy as well as the country’s support for aggressive Islamist movements in the region, Kalda argues that Iran does not pose a threat due to its limited military capacity.
In the book review section, Erkki Bahovski introduces two books on Estonian-Finnish relations recently published in Finland – Kulle Raig’s Pitkä matka lähelle (A Long Journey to Nearby) and Jaakko Blomberg’s Vakauden kaipuu. Kylmän sodan loppu ja Suomi (Longing for Stability. Finland and the End of the Cold War). Bahovski believes that the two books take a fresh look at Estonia from the other side of the Gulf of Finland and promote understanding between the two Finno-Ugric neighbours. In his opinion, both books should be translated into Estonian for the Estonian reader.

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