An international conference Rethinking Russia, organized by the Rethinking Russia Think Tank and the Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies Foundation (ISEPR), was held in Moscow on March 14. The conference was attended by two dozen Russian and foreign experts in political science, sociology, economics, and law, including ISEPR Director Dmitriy Badovskiy, French statesman Ivan Blot and others. The event grabbed the headlines in mainstream Russian and foreign media.
The conference was moderated by Yan Vaslavsky, Director of the Rethinking Russia Think Tank. Ivan Blot, French politician and philosopher, presented the Russian edition of his book titled “Putin’s Russia”. The French one was sold out in less than a month. The participants noted that the book succeeded well in presenting a fresh alternative approach to Russia by a foreign expert. Ivan Blot said that the current situation calls for more books on Russia, which should explain the often-overlooked historical events on the ground, as well as Russia’s national and international goals and motives, to Western readers. Blot considers the still-suggested Western analogy between Russia and the Soviet Union a grave mistake.
The Western crisis of values and identity was one of the key items on the conference’s agenda. Konstantin Simonov, Head of the National Energy Security Fund, delivered a report on affirmative action policies in the West, which sparked the audience’s keen interest. Tatiana Alexeeva, Head of the MGIMO Department of Political Theory, believes that we can witness the erosion of a fundamental concept of Western identity, the right to question and variety of interpretations. It results in ideology – we mean the negative sense of the term- often replacing pluralism.
The discussion on the Western crisis of identity was followed up by considering direct democracy and the current ways of establishing it. Such remarkable events as Crimea’s decision in the referendum to join Russia and Crimean residents’ opinion about peninsula’s power supplies demonstrate the relevance of direct democracy issues to Russia. On the whole, the incorporation of Crimea and Sevastopol into Russia constituted one of the most important items on the agenda of the conference, which marked the anniversary of this development.
The conference’s participants carried out a comparative analysis of arrangements and direct democracy practices in various countries. Andrei Korobkov, Professor of Political Science at Middle Tennessee State University, threw light on the US experience in the context of the more pressing problem of positive discrimination. Christian Vanneste, an ex-member of the French National Assembly, examined France’s initiatives in this realm. Many prominent experts including Richard Sakwa, Oksana Gaman-Golutvina, Peter Schulze and Richard Weitz were actively engaged in the deliberations.
The second part of the conference was devoted to Alexander Pozhalov´s presentation of the report ¨Institutional Development and Capacity Enhancement: Russia’s Political System between Duma Elections of 2011 and 2016”. The ISEPR Foundation Research Director highlighted the analytical paper’s strong empirical evidence and its detailed comparative investigation of Russia’s political and electoral state of affairs between two electoral cycles. These days the report is also being widely discussed at the ISA’s 57th Annual Convention in Atlanta, Georgia.
Moreover, the representatives of VCIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center), ISEPR Foundation, Rethinking Russia Think Tank and the “Platform” Social Design Centre made a presentation of “Surprising Russia’, a joint project representing a multidimensional book with sociological research and analysis of Russia’s political and social life.
The Rethinking Russia conference can be regarded as a momentous event, because it was held in the right place at the right time.