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A "Divided" Civilization


One of the key factors contributing to the country’s distinctiveness has been Russia’s location in the center of the Eurasian landmass, straddling Europe and Asia. The dual nature of this Eurasian empire has given rise to unending efforts by the Russian political and cultural elites to define Russia’s place in the surrounding world.  

What is the nature of Russia’s mutual relations with the great civilizations of both the West and the East? What should be the orientation for Russia to follow in its political, socioeconomic, and cultural development? These questions have aroused public debates over the last two hundred years. They loomed particularly large at critical periods in the life of Russian society, when a radical transformation of social and political structures looked unavoidable and the country confronted the problem of choosing the path for its further development.

As Russian society entered the post-Communist transition, the traditional cultural schism has once again come to the fore. The invisible line divides Russians into those who lean toward Western values and way of life and think that Russia’s troubles are caused by the insufficient emulation of these values and those who consciously or unconsciously oppose Western influences. One camp sees Western orientation as a single solution to Russian problems, whereas the other professes its belief in Russia’s own distinct path of development.

This peculiarity of Russian civilization has allowed some analysts to describe it as a “divided” or “split” civilization that contains within itself contradictory and conflicting elements. The split goes back to the first Russian state with the center in Kiev. In Kievan Russia of the ninth-twelfth centuries, the eastern and western elements were almost evenly balanced. The eastern element began to dominate during the Mongol domination of Russia in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Having freed Russia from the Mongol yoke, the Russian great princes and the tsars adopted many political and state traditions of the Mongols and created a rigid centralized state dominated by an autocratic ruler.

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