The Woodrow Wilson Center Press
Russia in Search of Itself
In the turbulent decade since the collapse of the Soviet Union, conditions have worsened considerably for many Russians, and a wide-ranging debate has raged over the nature and destiny of their country. In Russia in Search of Itself, James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress and a noted expert on Russia, examines the efforts of a proud but troubled nation to find a post-Soviet identity. The agenda has not been controlled from the top-down and center-out as in Russia's past. Nor has it been set by any intellectual giant such as Sakharov or Solzhenitsyn.
Billington describes the contentious discussion occurring all over Russia and across the political spectrum. He finds conflicts raging within individuals as much as between individuals and organized groups and finds a deep underlying tension between the Russians' attempts to legitimize their new, nominally democratic identity, and their efforts to craft a new version of their old authoritarian tradition. After showing how the problem of Russian identity was framed in the past, Billington asks whether Russians will now look more to the West for a place in the common European home, or to the East for a new, Eurasian identity. Billington sees three elements shaping Russian culture: Orthodox Christianity; a special feeling for nature; and an intermittent, sometimes excessive passion for imported innovation. Out of this mix, he suggests, Russia must find its own moral anchor for its venture into democracy if it is to avoid falling back on a negative and authoritarian nationalism in order to recreate some sense of common purpose in society.
The prospects for world peace in the twenty-first century depend in large measure on the way Russians decide to define themselves in the next few years. Drawing on his vast knowledge of Russian history, his frequent visits to Russia in the past decade, and his longstanding relationships with Russians from many different regions and segments of society, Billington provides an authoritative exploration of one of the world's most pressing issues.
What People are Saying
"What form Russia will take is of major significance for the world, but of course no one is more interested than the Russians themselves, who are already busily attempting both to divine and determine that future. Russia in Search of Itself allows us to eavesdrop on Russia's national conversation, which ranges from the brilliant to the boozy (and wouldn't be Russian if it didn't).
--Richard Lourie, Washington Post Read the full review.
"James Billington, one of America's greatest experts on Russian history and culture, applies his knowledge of the past to Russia's present. The result is both literate and readable, a book anyone interested in the subject will need to buy."—-Anne Applebaum, author of Gulag: A History
"Russia in Search of Itself offers an indispensable guide to current Russian thinking about the eternal question of Russia's identity and the historic roots of the lively debate in which Russians today are engaged. His study illuminates the moral and spiritual roots for both pessimism and optimism about the path Russia may choose."—-James F. Collins, former U.S. ambassador to Russia
"Jim Billington has reminded us yet again of why he is a giant in the field of Russian studies. His wisdom about what is happening in Russia today—and what may happen there in the future—is rooted in his profound knowledge of its history. To have tackled a subject as complex as Russian identity and the Russian national idea with such concision, clarity, and confidence is a major achievement."—-Strobe Talbott, author of The Russia Hand: A Memoir of Presidential Diplomacy
I. The Long Prologue
1. The Nineteenth-Century Discovery of Identity
2. The Twentieth-Century Search for Legitimacy
II. The Quickening Quest
3. A New Nation in Search of Identity
4. The Authoritarian Alternative: Eurasianism
5. The Travails of a Democratic Identity