Russia and the Russians. By Geoffrey Hosking

19.10.2011

ABOUT: The book was published in 2011 by the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. It is the second edition of Geoffrey Hosking’s “Russia and the Russians,” first released in 2001. In the revised edition, Hosking also analyzes Russia’s most recent history – through to the past decade – and makes forecasts of the country’s future. The book is intended primarily for readers with little knowledge of Russian history, but may also be of interest to experts.

A product of in-depth research into the Russian state’s history from the Kievan period to the modern days, it contains descriptions of key historical events, complete with the author’s personal commentary, as well as profiles of historical and political figures and an analysis of the Church’s influence on Russia’s civil society, and of the state of Russian society at certain points in history.

Not only does Hosking provide facts from the history of the Russian state, he also offers his own interpretations of the events, searching for their root causes and their implications. He also tries to identify the reasons behind the ambivalent attitude of foreigners toward Russia and of the Russians to the history of their own country.

The author’s view of historical processes in Russia is informed by two factors, mentioned in the introduction to the book, that he believes largely defined the nation’s course: geography and mentality.

Hosking cites numerous historical facts to corroborate his main point: Given its unique geopolitical position, Russia was bound to serve as a bridge between Europe and Asia. This is what pushed the Russian Empire toward territorial expansion and absorption of neighboring communities. Expansion was not informed by the country’s defense concerns as much as an awareness of its historical mission.

Russia’s empire status (and the Russian nation state has existed almost throughout its history as an empire) has caused lot of problems, such as a development gap between the country’s center and its multi-ethnic outskirts, perpetual conflicts between the capital and the provinces, and the unsustainable use of natural resources. Those problems have impeded the nation’s development.

According to Hosking, it was imperial policy that molded some of the Russians’ idiosyncratic behavioral patterns. Among the prominent features of the Russian nation, the author singles out the pronounced sense of national identity and the acute awareness of the value of the Russian language and culture.

Hosking expresses his amazement at the flexibility and adaptability of Russian society. Throughout its history, Russia repeatedly found itself in extremely difficult – and at times intolerable – circumstances, but each time it managed to overcome those circumstances only to reemerge as a major world power.

The book closes with an analysis of the past decade. Analyzing the ruling “tandem” of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev, Hosking says that the leading role in it surely belongs to Putin, whom he sees as a strong strategist and politician. But while admitting that, with Putin at the helm, the country has made much progress economically, he argues that its political system has become undemocratic and that the extremely high level of corruption in Russia has risen further.

Still, in his forecasts of Russia’s future Hosking is decidedly upbeat. He believes the country has every chance to achieve prosperity, given its natural wealth, which can be sustainably exploited with modern technology, as well as its favorable geopolitical position and the absence of threats from neighbors.

Prepared by the Valdai Club Staff

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