On Wednesday, October 26, as part of the 19th Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club, four thematic sessions were held on humanitarian issues - values, communications and technology. During a special session, held as an open discussion, the experts discussed the image of Russia in the world.
The sixth session of the conference (the recording of the broadcast is available on www.valdaiclub.com) was devoted to values in the modern world. Alexander Prokhanov, editor-in-chief of Zavtra newspaper, put forward the thesis that only three peoples in the world – the Americans, Russians and Chinese - were able to formulate what he calls a national dream. If the American dream is a “city on a hill” that dominates others, shows an example and instructs them, then the Russian one is a “temple on a hill”, an ideal state of being with harmony and divine justice, where every human being and every nation is a flower in the Garden of Eden. According to Prokhanov, the Russian dream is incompatible with the American one, since the ideas of dominance and equality contradict each other, but it is close to the Chinese dream of a prosperous world, where China can successfully develop only in harmony with its neighbours.
Vitaly Naumkin, scientific director of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, also pointed out the incompatibility of the American and Russian visions of the world, but for him the idea of a “city on a hill” is associated not with dominance, but with exclusivity. According to him, the idea of exclusivity relieves Americans of a sense of responsibility and duty; they don’t feel compelled to understand the needs of other nations. Russians, Naumkin believes, are driven by a sense of humanitarian mission, a capacity for empathy that promotes recognition of the needs and interests of others.
Yevgeny Primakov, head of Rossotrudnichestvo, also spoke about Russia's humanitarian mission. He drew attention to the fact that the value promoted by Russia in the international arena is support for the sovereignty of partner states; a strengthening of their identity. That is why Russia, when accepting foreign students, does not aim to take the best for itself (namely, this is the American model); Russia sees its task as educating people and returning them to their homeland, to make their countries stronger.
Dimitrios Konstantakopoulos, Editor of Defend Democracy Press (Greece), warned of the dangers of the cultures contraposition in different regions. According to him, the ‘clash of civilizations’ game posited by Huntington is the plan "B" of the globalists: to use the contradictions between nations to strengthen their own dominance.
Ahmed Wiisichong Bening, Secretary General of the Pan African Youth Union (Ghana), spoke about the kind of the world the youth of the continent would like to live in: a world that guarantees freedom and justice, security and stability. Countries that have helped Africans in the fight against colonialism are perceived as friends who can help Africa achieve prosperity.
During the seventh session, experts discussed the role of communications in our world. They stated that the Internet, which was created so that everyone could instantly get access to the entire array of knowledge accumulated by mankind, has become in many ways a tool for manipulating public consciousness. The dominance of American companies in the communications market plays a big role - and here one can draw a parallel with the discursive power of the West, discussed on the first day of the Annual Meeting. In the West it is commonly believed that the world is witnessing a struggle between good (“democracy”) and evil (“autocracy”). Under such conditions, communication cannot serve to achieve a compromise, since a compromise would mean the defeat of good. Whether the non-Western countries have enough discursive power to resist Western domination remains an open question.
Information campaigns conducted through traditional and online media, as well as social networks, are part of the hybrid war of the West against Russia, just like the sanctions discussed the day before. Perhaps an even more formidable aspect of hybrid warfare is the technological blockade, which became the theme of the eighth session.
Russia's dependence on imports means that many technological processes have been excluded from existing technology. We have technological processes that we could use to replace those that we were denied access to, but they’re often a full generation behind. However, the main thing is not to have the best technology in the world, but technology that belongs to us, one of the experts believes.
There are, however, fields in which Russia equals or does better than its international peers. For example, while Russia can only produce obsolete models of internal combustion engines on its own, it has all the components for the production of fundamentally new electric motors.
It should be noted, though, that even without any technological blockade, Russia's ability to independently develop in advanced areas was limited from the outside. Markets were closed to it, and instead of promising domestic developments, ready-made Western ones were offered. One case in point was the transition to IBM hardware, which actually ruined the Soviet school of computer technology. A similar, but less dramatic, fate befell civil aviation: despite the fact that in the 2000s almost all airlines switched to Western aircraft, Russia retained the ability to produce and operate domestic aircraft.
Anticipating the topic of the next session, the experts touched upon the topic of military mobilisation. It was noted that the announcement of partial mobilisation provoked an outflow of scientific personnel from Russia. Measures must be taken to ensure the return of scientists who have left the country. Before our eyes is the example of China, where scientists who worked in Western countries have been returning en masse in recent years. For this, however, scientists need to be given a horizon of 10-15 years, which many of those who have never left Russia cannot boast of.
The ninth session was devoted to mobilisation in a broad sense. In sociological terms, mobilisation means that a significant part of society is preoccupied with the same problems. Such an “assembly” of society leads to its polarisation, when sharp contradictions (including intergenerational ones) arise between people who evaluate the same events differently. Comprehension of what is happening leads to a "reassembly". The attitude of people to such concepts as the West, capitalism and individualism is changing; the idea that the state of the world will be eternal is dying out. The desire to volunteer is growing; the willingness to make personal sacrifices is increasing. This gives rise to a demand for a more equitable distribution of resources and exacerbates the public perception of the inequality problem. Under these conditions, the redistribution of tax and social policy instruments and social support for the affected and vulnerable categories of the population becomes an imperative for development.
At the same time, over the past decade, Russia has created a well-functioning system of social support for the population. This is important amid conditions where a huge number of the country's inhabitants work in low-paid jobs, which reduces domestic demand and hampers economic development.
One of the speakers drew attention to the fact that mobilisation has become a factor in strengthening federalism. In his opinion, this process began back in 2020, when the state had to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. At first it was “Covid federalism”, when the powers of the regions were clarified. Then, after the introduction of unprecedented sanctions against Russia, there was sanctions federalism, when there was an increase in regions powers, and even foreign trade partly entered their competence. Finally, mobilisation federalism gave new powers to the heads of the regions, who became siloviki, in a sense. In general, the Russian state has demonstrated its flexibility; its ability to delegate responsibility to the regions and encourage initiative.
All this does not fit well into the stereotypical image of the Russian state machine as rigid and non-adaptive. A special session was devoted to stereotypes and myths about Russia, that took place in the format of an open discussion. The topic sparked great interest among experts, and the main conclusion of the discussion can be formulated as follows: Russia for years has been investing in creating a positive image for itself in the West, while ignoring the "third world". The result is a vacuum, which the people of the Global South are filling with information from the Western sources. Meanwhile, properly in the Global South there is a demand for Russia, which is largely connected with the legacy of the Soviet period. The Soviet Union projected the image of a strong, just state, fighting colonialism, and today it is most missed by those who are sympathetic to Russia.But it would be a mistake to assume that everyone in the West hates Russia. According to one of the experts, many people perfectly understand why the current situation in Russia's relations with the West has arisen, and do not blame Russia. In other words, some space for dialogue remains, which cannot but inspire hope.