Elena Dunayeva, Senior researcher at Center for Middle and Near East Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, sat down some days ago with IRAS for an interview about social trends in Russia and her perception about Iranian's view on Russia. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
For years, it seems the Russian political establishment prefers the interests of the State (Государство) rather than the interests of civil society and the individuals. To exemplify, after Stalin’s massacre of his dissidents, it appears that President Putin is about to follow in Stalin’s footsteps. Why do Putin and the Russian political system intend such historically painful experience?)
"I think the personalities of Stalin and Putin should not be compared, because each historical figure acts in his historical context. All the achievements of the Stalin era in Russia are not seen as cruel and negative. Many Russian people still remember events like the victory over Nazi Germany, the creation of heavy industry (the rise of socialism in the third decade), a powerful army and military industry from the Stalin era. We should not forget that Education and Health in the era of the Soviet Union and Stalin won first place in the world. In recent years, tensions between Russia and the West have affected the Russian society, and a particular interest to Stalin’s personality has been created. Now young people do not only remember him as a dictator and murderer.
"Putin aims to strengthen Russia and its economic and military potentials, and make it return to the international arena as an active and effective player. Many people in Russia are impressed by his actions, so that in a survey carried out last year, the President achieved high scores. So in the current modern situation of Russia and regarding the existing social structures, political parties, and civil society, we cannot call him a dictator."
From 18th century onward, Russia has always undertaken in vain broad economic, political, social and administrative reforms. Why would such reforms not take root in Russia?
"It is impossible to definitively talk about the issue that reforms in Russia have failed or are rootless. The feature of all reforms is that they have been started from the upper classes, for example reforms done by the authority (the king and the government) which were at times relatively quick and without considering the consequences and appropriate training (e.g., in the time of Peter I, Alexander II and Nicholas II). They carried out reforms aimed at modernizing and developing the society. The reforms aiming at developing the country boosted the authority (Peter the Great). In the second half of the 19th century, these reforms contributed to the rapid development of capitalism in Russia. During 20 years, thanks to the intervention of state capitalism, Russia achieved its imperialist phase. In other words, while it took 2-3 centuries for the West to pass the way to economic development, Russia passed it in 20 years. Another point is that reforms in Russia were often carried out brutally and with the severe exploitation of people (especially during the time of Peter I, freedom of farmers); therefore, they were faced with resistance from the lower classes of the society."
As you might know, the steady trend of economic, political and cultural reforms had begun after the 1906 Constitutional Revolution in Iran. How do you assess this trend compared with that of in Russia in 1905?
"In fact, the Russian revolution of 1905 and the final period of reforms during Stalin influenced Iran, and served as an incentive for the development of the revolutionary movement and democratic thinking. However, efforts to carry out reforms in Iran were observed in the second half and the late 19th century, and their behavior was a rational need for the further development of the country. (In other words, the environment for reforms was provided in Iran, and Russia only motivated them, however, the reforms were not imported to Iran). The “constitutional” revolution provided more opportunities for its goals aiming at limiting the monarchy and establishing the Parliament."
It is said that the geopolitical nature of Russia along with her multiethnic and multireligious structure require powerful leaders rather than democratic ones. Is such viewpoint correct? All in all, which kind of leaders is more popular: democratic or powerful?
"I think it is true that Russia needs a strong and determined leader to try to protect Russia’s power, unity, independence and interests. I do not believe the Russians are now ready to accept an absolute dictator, but a democratic patriot enjoys the popular support of his country."
You have recently written an article in Sputnik Persian and referred the reformist news website in Iran as anti-Russia. In your opinion, what is the source of these viewpoints among the Iranian reformists? Don’t you think in broader perspective, such viewpoints exits among the Iranian conservatives?
"This question seems a little strange. I never thought that all reformists in Iran are against Russia. At a press conference about the nature of anti-Russian statements during the funeral of late Ayatollah Rafsanjani, I pointed out that there were strong anti-Russian sentiments in Iran; especially the intolerance [towards Russia] is seen among the youth. Some of pro-reform movement sites published materials in which Russia was accused of colluding with Trump against Iran. I think the pro-reform forces are focused on the development of relations with the West, as a result, they accept all the information they receive from their sources about Russia without trying to understand the characteristics of Russian policy and its benefits.
"I have read many websites of Iranian immigrants, and it is clear where they get their information from. Undoubtedly, the anti-Russian sentiments are seen among some Iranian conservatives and hardliners. They often complain about the Russian policy, but their websites show that there is a minimal anti-Russian material in them, and these are the comments that constitute most negative contents. At this time, there are certainly some realists in Iran and among representatives of the first group and/or the second who accept that “eternal allies do not exist”, and each country has its own interests changing under the influence of the internal and external factors. How the tension related to the issue of treaties of Gulistan and Turkmenchay can be eased. However, it was Iran who began the military action, and lost its land. Never can former residents become Iranian, and this is one of the roots of Iranian distrust toward Russia."
To comment on this interview, please contact IRAS Editorial Board