Richard Lourie: Restoring Russia's Greatness





Richard Lourie is the author of Sakharov: A Biography and The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin.

Greatness is an odd word because it signifies both quantity and quality. In the case of Russia, the two are easily confused. Even after the huge territorial losses incurred with the Soviet collapse, Russia still accounts for one-seventh of the Earth's surface. Therefore, it has a geographical imperative to think big.
 
Russia is unlike Britain and France, which shrank back to their middle-sized home nations after losing their empires, making the transition to second-rateness with good grace. Russia's loss of empire was more sudden, destructive and humiliating. Russia suffers from the malaise of lost greatness, the gigantic hangover that results when a historical bender comes to its inevitable bad end.
 
Both Britain and France were able to fashion post-imperial identities for themselves. This was facilitated for Britain by English becoming the lingua franca of the age, and by world pop culture figures like the Beatles and James Bond. Russian culture had never much transcended the country's own borders. Kvas never rivaled Pepsi as Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had hoped. The one great exception was Russian literature, where writers like Alexander Solzhenitsyn dwarfed most others in moral range, sweep and depth. But in post-Soviet Russia, literature no longer plays the crucial role it had played for some two centuries. In fact, Russia today proves disappointingly slack in the realm of painting, cinema and literature. That is partly the result of modern conditions, in which entertainment and technology are the dominant forces. But there are also specific Russian causes.
Post-Soviet Russia has been marked by three ongoing failures...


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