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Russian-style Modernization


From the times of Peter the Great, Russia has made several modernization attempts, seeking a radical restructuring and rejuvenation of all essential spheres of the countrys life, from its economy to its political system. All these attempts underscore the significance of competition with the West as one of the key factors in Russian history. Russias three great cycles of modernization were all triggered by this persistent rivalry. Each of the three cycles was initiated from above, by the state, and each was designed to achieve parity or better in the competition with the leading Western great powers.  


However, the problem with all of Russias modernizing efforts was that reforms were launched too late, when the country was already in the grip of a social and political crisis and when the government was under intense direct pressure either from below in the form of mass social discontent or from an external threat or as a consequence of a military defeat.

In such exceptional circumstances and under such great pressure the reforming government was compelled to act quickly and in great haste, often without enough time to think through its new policies and their consequences. As a result, the periodically undertaken reforms were never carried out in a comprehensive and consistent manner. Each generation of reformers inherited unresolved problems from previous reform efforts and passed on its own unresolved problems to the next.

The cataclysms that rocked Russia at the turn of the twenty-first century were no exception. Historical distance will allow future analysts to assess both the Gorbachev and Yeltsin (1991-99) eras more objectively and dispassionately. However, it is clear even now that the price Russian society paid for the post-Communist modernization was very high.

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