In his Policy Review article “Russian Power, Russian Weakness,” Konstantin von Eggert offers an insightful and quietly poignant view of how his native land has fared since the demise of Communism. He confirms much that I have learned about Russia since college, including a stint in Eastern Europe following the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. Put simply, Russia failed to make the transition of other former Marxist states. “As opposed to the Czechs, Poles, or Lithuanians,” von Eggert writes, “Russians could not conceive of these new, transitional tasks as things to look forward to. For the peoples of Central and Eastern Europe shedding the communist skin meant, first and foremost, liberating themselves from a foreign occupation.” By contrast, says the author, “The death of the USSR had such a long-term painful effect on the Russian mind because very few people wanted it to disappear.”
This was a disappointment to young Western-oriented reformers like the author. Communism was too closely intertwined with old-fashioned imperialism (thanks to Stalin’s bloody but astute sense of nationalism) and the lack of sufficiently robust traditions that could survive and transcend the Soviet state. This has left the country in the hands of opportunists, cynics and gangsters. Going beyond current events, it seems that the Russian dilemma is not “merely” political or economic. It is existential. There is a sense of identity that is missing or seriously flawed. The article touches on, though does not examine too deeply, Russia’s philosophical and religious life. We are left with the question: what impact have these things made (or failed to make) on its recent history? Needless to say, these problems go back not decades but centuries.