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Conservative Modernization

After United Russia held its convention in St. Petersburg on Nov. 20-21, in which “Russian Conservatism” was the main motto, skeptics have been questioning whether conservatism is compatible with President Dmitry Medvedev’s modernization program. In my opinion, the two can be combined quite easily.

Countries adopt their own types of modernization programs based on their own specific political culture, values and history. In Britain and the United States, for example, economic development was driven by liberal modernization. But that approach won’t work in Russia. If the country opens its economy too much to foreign players, it would be highly detrimental to domestic producers and could lead to the loss of Russia’s sovereignty. Stalinist modernization is also not an option for the country, because the human cost would be too high.

But Russia could look to the conservative modernization model of Germany’s Christian Democratic alliance after World War II, the traditionalistic Liberal Democratic Party in Japan or the Christian Democratic Party in Italy. Russia can also look at its own history and conservative modernization under Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II.

Conservative modernization is attractive to Russians for many of the same reasons that a conservative investment strategy is attractive to conservative investors. They both provide stable growth with minimal risk.

Russia’s history is filled with revolutions. Post-Soviet Russia categorically rejected communism. Communist Russia categorically rejected the Russian Empire and tsarist Russia. And tsarist Russia categorically rejected the Grand Duchy of Moscow. But Russian conservatism defends the country against another revolution by focusing on preserving the country’s traditional values: stability, law and order and the importance of family-based morality and religion.

Russia’s conservative tradition also includes a strong state and national identity, as well as the importance of preserving the country’s sovereignty. The state plays a particularly important role in providing national unity and in resolving conflicts between different social groups and classes because it acts as the arbiter and protector of the national idea.

From the conservative perspective, socialist doctrines lead to too much confrontation between various classes and social groups, whereas liberal doctrines lead to conflict between the interests of individuals and society as a whole. By contrast, conservatism helps unite these groups. Russian conservatism is still in the process of more clearly formulating its principles on human rights. The Russian Orthodox Church, under the leadership of Patriarch Kirill, may play a key role in defining these principles. The church is attempting to link human rights with morality, uniting them in the concept of a person’s inalienable rights and human dignity.

But United Russia and the country’s leaders cannot focus only on these exalted values. They must offer concrete solutions to concrete, everyday problems. The economic model of Russian conservatism needs to be further developed, but it should build on previous centrist policies and the firm leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as the head of United Russia. Putin’s conservative values include the ideas of order, law, moral legitimacy, family, property ownership and religion.

After living through the chaotic 1990s, it is understandable why Russians seek comfort in the conservative model. They are tired of endless political instability and economic crises. Now, the country must adopt a modernization program to develop society. With its backwardness, internal conflicts and enormous territory, Russia might not survive the struggle for resources against other major powers that have long ago developed and strengthened their development models.

Now Russia must decide on its own model for conservative modernization and devote the necessary resources to build it.

Sergei Markov is a State Duma deputy from United Russia.

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