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Brookings Institution

March 9, 2012 by staff 

Brookings Institution, The election was held. Putin was elected, or reelected, or re-reelected. “Glory to Russia,” shouted the new president, a tear running down his cheek. But, amidst the officially-stimulated joy, questions quickly rose about the legitimacy of the election. “Fraudulent,” some charged. Predictably, protests erupted, pro- and anti-Putin protests. And now what?
Russia is at another crossroads in its fascinating, turbulent history. For most of the 20th century, Russia lived under a suffocating political system, communism, which did one thing very well, however: it made people literate. The point was to stimulate popular understanding of the communist way of doing things. But a literate people are not a herd of cattle, moving generation after generation in a certain direction. At a certain point, they want a role in shaping the future. That point is now.

Russia is struggling for a new idenitity. This is not a new struggle. Literally, for a hundred years, Russians have looked both east and west for their political and cultural inspiration—sometimes in both directions at the same time. They have been divided into Westerners and Slavophiles, their politics subdivided along these lines: Westerners, marinating themselves in the poetry and politics of Paris and London; Slavophiles, believing that Russians constitute a special species, different from east and west, able to contribute to world civilization in ways distinctly slavic.

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