Sunday, July 03, 2011

From Serf to Citizen

Leon Aron, director of Russian studies at the American Enterprise Institute(*), has an article in Foreign Policy on the collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago. He attributes the complete and sudden disintegration of the Soviet state to a change in mindset: Mikhail Gorbachev's liberalization gave space for Russians and other Soviet peoples to think of themselves as citizens rather than subjects or serfs. That consciousness delegitimized Soviet and Communist authority as people began demanding to be treated with respect, as they said, "No More!"
Those who instilled this remarkable "break in consciousness" were no different from those who touched off the other classic revolutions of modern times: writers, journalists, artists. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed, such men and women "help to create that general awareness of dissatisfaction, that solidified public opinion, which … creates effective demand for revolutionary change."

Aron goes on to predict that this same growing consciousness will further transform Russia and many other nations through out the world as people demand to be recognized as citizens and insist on respect. I can't argue with Aron's basic thesis. Aron clearly recognizes that this consciousness is only necessary, not sufficient to guarantee progress. But Roza Otunbayeva, president of Kyrgyzstan, reminds us that the seed exists in each human heart:
"It is the magic of people, young and old, men and women of different religions and political beliefs, who come together in city squares and announce that enough is enough."

Maybe, someday, Americans will do the same.

(*) Usually a suspect organization at this location but I'm willing to listen when they make sense or offer information worth considering.



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