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The future of political and intellectual freedom in modern Russia may well depend on future Russian perceptions of Western spiritual, economic, and military power, Adam B. Ulam, Gurney professor of History and director of the Russian Research Center, said last night.
Ulam, speaking to an audience of 50 at the Cambridge Forum on "Russia's Failed Revolutions," said concern for Russian strength and glory historically has outweighed the desire for freedom in the minds of most Russians. Ulam added that he finds this concern for Russian strength even in the work of some modern dissidents.
A local public radio station will broadcast Ulam's remarks next week and the national public network will carry it at a later date.
The conflict between nationalism as a stimulus to revolutionary activity and its contradictory effect as a barrier to increased liberalization has defined a constant paradox in Russian history, Ulam said. "The picture today has something to do with a stiffening of the Soviet regime--it is appealing to the national pride of the people rather than attempting reform," he added.
Looking at the prospects for stability within the Soviet government, Ulam said the present ruling elite is "like most old people, who fondly remember the hardships of youth."
He said that the old generation remembers Stalinism and is loyal to that model of government, although without its excesses. "They are a cautious, sedate, conservative group," he said, adding, "Whether the people who come up after them will be equally conservative is a major question."
Ulam denied that communism was exclusively or even largely responsible for Russia's present power. Russia, he said, had been industrializing at the same rate as America before the 1917 revolution, even though Russia had had a much later start in the industrial development. "Under any regime short of complete anarchy," Russia would be at about the same level it is at right now, he said. "Russian communism has achieved a lot," he said, "simply in overcoming its own excesses and crimes."
Of Aleksandre Solzhenitsyn, Ulam said that his writing shows all the anguish of a man who "loves his country and hates his government." Ulam said "he should be listened to, but I don't think that he is primarily a political figure. Ulam pointed out that even Solzhenitsyn recognized the impossibility of "instant democracy" in Russia, and that the writer's feelings towards the West were "ambivalent."
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