Notion of a Special Russian Path ‘Irresponsible and Dangerous,’ Liberal Authors Warn in New Book

Kremlin and River

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, April 29, 2018)

Four leading Russian liberals, Aleksandr Obolensky, Dmitry Travin, Gennady Aksyonov, and Viktor Sheynis, warn in a new book that the Kremlin’s promotion of an idea that Russia has “a special path” is an ‘irresponsible and dangerous” dead end that has no basis in reality.

The new book, ‘A Special Path’ of the Country: Myths and Reality (in Russian, Moscow: Mysl, 2018, 172 pages; ISBN 978-5-244-01205-7), is partially available on line – the first 40 pages, including the introduction, can be found at liberal.ru/upload/files/Sonderweg_p1-40.pdf and further described at liberal.ru/articles/7235).

In the introduction, Obolensky explains that this book arose as a result of discussions at a Liberal Mission seminar last summer and that there is general agreement among the participants that “the conversion of the concept of ‘a special path’ into an instrument of political manipulation is socially irresponsible and dangerous for the country.”

It is being used, he says, to erect serious barriers to a serious study of “the negative sides of the historical past and is returning us to the censor’s logic of the times of Nicholas I” and has combined with the currently fashionable “uncritical idealization of patriarchal forms and institutions essentially blocks the prospects for modernization.”

Moreover, Obolensky continues, “history is hardly some ‘unavoidable’ fate” but rather something one can learn from in order to avoid repeating mistakes. All countries are affected by their pasts, but these pasts however horrific need not be a barrier to change. Proclaiming that Russia has “a special path” gets in the way of escaping the evils of the past.

The book, he continues, contains the essays of four writers. Yevgeny Yasin who also took part in the seminar plans to lay out his views in a separate volume. “To a certain degree,” the essays in the book vary by style and methods of argument and also consider sometimes coinciding and sometimes various aspects of a very broad set of issues.”

“The authors,” Obolensky says, “intentionally at time shift from formal academic standards of dry dispassionate presentation and one of us even from the use of the many available footnotes. However, we consider this not a shortcoming but a quality of the book because it will make the understanding of its basic ideas easier.”