A thoughtful anthology, presenting a plurality of views and explorations of the tumultuous first decade of democratic Russia.
EastWest Institute Vice President Isham (Remaking Russia, not reviewed) has assembled a muscular array of 26 contributors, ranging from academics to entrepreneurs, each distinctly Russian in outlook. Former US ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock sets a high tone in his introduction, revisiting the heady days of Gorbachev’s perestroika and the rapid decline of Russia in Western eyes, noting that many fail to grasp the “enormous damage” wrought by Communism. Other contributions are grouped according to broad categories, reflecting the essayists’ expertise on topics concerning the Russian state, economic transformations, developments towards rule of law and civil society, cultural preservation, and educational safeguards. These essays contain much that runs counter to accepted notions of Russian malaise and entropy, as in government economist Natal’ia Fonareva’s defense of anti-monopoly efforts (“Protecting Fair Competition”). Some present less official, even oppositional perspectives, such as a personal narrative by former Miners’ Union president Alexsandr Sergeev on the travails of labor organizing in Russia’s “transitional economy.” Others capture the voices of social groups that were marginalized under Communism and assess their progress since 1991 (specifically the young, women, the Russian Orthodox Church, the urban homeless, and independent journalists). Similar recent anthologies have attempted to wrestle with the post-Communist chimera, but they usually were confined to economic or political analysis. While Isham includes much of both, he provides some refreshingly unorthodox commentary, as when New Literary Review editor Irina Prokhorova tells “A Sad Tale About a Happy Fate,” reflecting on the travails of operating a small press in the new land of Pushkin. In a similarly rueful vein, Vadim Radaev (Higher School of Economics) concludes “It’s Not Easy Being a Scholar in Modern Russia,” sketching a period of institutional decline and pursuit of sustenance from Western foundations.
A sober, comprehensive volume that variously provokes unease or reassurance, but ought to have something for all interested readers.