Select Committee on European Communities Written Evidence

Memorandum by Professor Michael Holman, University of Leeds


  Rather than examine in detail the workings of any particular programme or project, I wish briefly to place the current flurry of know-how transfer activity from west to east in a broader historical and cultural context. My view will be macro rather than micro, for only when we understand more about the mainsprings of Russia, how Russians perceive themselves and how they perceive us, will we be able to identify where western know-how can best be made relevant to Russia's needs.

  Russia and Ukraine (both Eastern Orthodox), and the other CIS countries currently coming within the purview of TACIS, are not greenfield sites waiting to be discovered and developed by the West. Long before we arrived with our bustling know-how they were, like us, developing and learning to survive. They were evolving their own traditions, developing operational patterns, indigenous structures and above all attitudes of mind that allowed them to work out their own solutions to their own particular problems. The Eastern Orthodox Slavs have long experience of coping with incursion, whether from the East or the West, whether military, economic or cultural. They pride themselves on their ingenuity. They are masters of improvisation and accommodation.

  Within this overall ability to improvise and adapt, in the interaction of Russians with the Graeco-Roman world of Western Europe over the centuries two opposing, but fruitfully intertwining traditions have developed. The first is the Westernising tradition epitomised by Peter the Great (1672-1725), who three hundred years ago this year came to London to learn, gathering know-how he later put to good use in establishing the new Russian navy. Peter also built St Petersburg, Russia's new capital city, providing the empire with, as Pushkin wrote: "a window cut through into Europe". Peter's tradition looks outwards for a solution to the country's ills. It accepts that Russia is backward, a patient with huge potential but currently ailing and urgently in need of western assistance if it is to be brought back to health and adequately fulfil itself. Peter's therapy was shock therapy: it demanded action and change, the sooner the better, the more the better. For this there was a price to pay. The second is the Slavophil tradition. This looks inwards and is based more on Moscow and the Russian heartland. It has more to do with attitude than with action and seeks remedies within indigenous Russian and Slav patterns of life. There is a price to pay for this too.

  Despite their prescription of contradictory courses of treatment, each with their downside, followers of the Westernising and Slavophil traditions are ultimately pursuing the same proud goal: the sustained and healthy development of Russia. When seeking support and making our current TACIS-sponsored, know-how based, western incursions into Russia, we need to be aware not only of the two conflicting traditions, but also of the common driving force behind them. Diagnosis and prescription today have to be made in sympathetic partnership if common agendas are to be established and an effective plan of action to be put into practice. Only with a balanced understanding of the context within which Russia functions—and this will inevitably mean becoming a little more like Russians ourselves—can we hope to develop programmes of assistance that stand any chance of succeeding.

Michael Holman

Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies

University of Leeds

3 June 1998

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