From Homo Sovieticus to Putin’s man

Many Western politicians are still reluctant to acknowledge that there is a fundamental and incompatible difference in values between themselves and the current Russian leadership. At least in Denmark we often hear well-meaning politicians argue that Russia is not really a threat, and that we can continue advocating human rights and democracy while simultaneously pursuing a course of disarmament. But the thing is that from a Russian perspective the very calls for liberal democracy look like a deliberate attempt to destabilize their country, because a large portion of the Russians really don’t want a liberal democracy anymore.

But how did it end there? After the Cold War, most Russians did believe in the Western values, and for a while it looked like we were on the same track. Eva Hartog and Lev Gudkov have an interesting account in The Moscow Times about the sociological development of the Russian national soul from the Soviet Union until today. And it is not encouraging for Western advocates of democracy:

Today in polls, Russians describe the West as coldhearted, lacking in spiritual values, extremely formal and aggressive. Russians no longer believe the Western model is for them — their country has its own “special” path.

If you follow the Russian public debate, it is obvious that there is a fundamental difference in values, and that many Russians don’t want our way of society to influence their country. In order to protect themselves they feel justified in utilizing military means because they perceive our calls for human rights and democracy as an aggressive kind of hybrid warfare. This doesn’t account for the opinion of all Russians, but it does for many. And perhaps as discouraging, most Russians have completely given up on even trying to engage in politics:

But politically active liberal democrats, hardcore conservatives, and communists only make up about 15 percent of the population. The vast majority is completely uninterested in political life. Asked whether they want to be more involved, 85 percent of people say no. Politics, they feel, has nothing to do with them.

So we have a large population that doesn’t want democracy with a leadership that is increasingly skeptical about the advance of democracy in its vicinity. This is a difference in values that is incompatible and will continue to stir conflict because neither the West nor Russia can live with the position of the other.

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