Modernizing Russia. Another great leap forward?
Modernization was the slogan proposed by Dmitry Medvedev. While admitting a vast array of problems, from economic weakness to alcoholism, he painted a picture of a Russia with nuclear-powered spaceships and supercomputers. In short, if Russia managed to modernize, it would once again become a world leader.
Liberal critics quickly pointed out that modernization in Russia is impossible without political liberalization and institutional change. A country with weak property rights and a corrupt bureaucracy, they argued, can invent new ways of extracting bribes and robbing businesses, but not of creating intellectual wealth.
Yet the experience of Mr. Gorbachev’s perestroika − which started with talk of technological renewal but ended in the collapse of the Soviet system − has persuaded the Kremlin to define modernization strictly within technological boundaries. Hence Mr. Medvedev’s warning not to rush political reforms.
In Russian history, it is Peter the Great and Stalin who are considered the great modernizers. As Andrei Zorin, a historian at Oxford University, explains, the efforts of Stalin and Peter the Great involved the forced creation of an educated class capable of generating, or at least replicating, the best Western innovation. In the 1930s leading Soviet engineers arrested by Stalin labored in special prison laboratories within the gulag. Subsequently hundreds of secret construction bureaus, research institutes and scientific towns were set up across the Soviet Union to serve the military-industrial complex.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, once Russia’s richest man and now its most famous political prisoner, replied to Mr. Medvedev’s manifesto with one vital question: “If the political decision about modernization is made in today’s Russia, who is going to carry it out?” Clearly neither the corrupt bureaucracy nor the security services can do so. What is needed, Mr. Khodorkovsky wrote, is “a whole social stratum − a fully fledged modernizing class which sees modernization as a question of survival and fulfillment in their own country.”
The debate in the society has also revealed great discontentwith the present political system among the business elite. Without proper political competition, Russia is destined to waste its resources and cannot modernize.
The main question for Russia, however, is not how to achieve that. Now that the crisis has revealed how weak the Russian economy is, learning to live according to its means, rather than its ambitions, and learning to show more care for human life and dignity, are more important to Russia’s renewal than winning a geopolitical race. A country with a declining population, a frighteningly high rate of birth defects, crumbling infrastructure and deteriorating schools might find a better use for taxpayers’ money.
Ex. 2. Answer the questions about the article:
1) What’s the ultimate goal of modernizing Russia?
2) According to critics, why is modernization in Russia impossible without political liberalization and institutional change?
3) Why was modernization in Russia defined strictly within technological boundaries?
4) What people in Russian history are considered the great modernizers?
5) What social class did they both create?
6) Where did the technical intelligentsia labor in the 1930s?
7) According to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, what is needed to carry out modernization?
8) What is the business elite increasingly discontent with?
9) What is more important to Russia than winning a geopolitical race?
Ex. 3. Complete the following sentences from the article:
1) While admitting a vast ______ of problems, from economic weakness to _______, he painted a picture of a Russia with ______-______ spaceships and supercomputers.
2) A country with weak property _______ and a corrupt ________, they argued, can invent new ways of extracting ________ and robbing ________, but not of creating intellectual _______.
3) Yet the experience of Mr. Gorbachev’s perestroika − which started with talk of technological ______ but ended in the _____ of the Soviet system − has persuaded the Kremlin to ______ modernization strictly within technological ________.
4) Hence Mr. Medvedev’s _______ not to ______ political reforms.
5) Subsequently hundreds of secret construction _______, research _______ and scientific towns were ______ ___ across the Soviet Union to serve the military-industrial complex.
6) Mikhail Khodorkovsky replied to Mr. Medvedev’s _______ with one _______ question: “If the political decision about ________ is made in today’s Russia, who is going to ______ it____?”
7) Without proper political competition, Russia is _______ to waste its _______ and cannot _______.
8) A country with a _______ population, a frighteningly high _______ of birth defects, _______ infrastructure and _______ schools might find a better use for _______’ money.
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