The restoration of morality in Russia has
been a major theme of the reformers since Perestroika began. Although
this theme is often ignored in the Western press, it lies at the heart
of the "revolution of the spirit" which we have witnessed in
Russia and Eastern Europe in recent years. Alexander Yakovlev, generally
acknowledged to be the inventor of Glasnost, put it this way: "The
final essence of the reforms set in motion by the April 1985 plenum is
the restoration of morality....Life has painfully and obstinately brought
home to us that political and economic successes are ephemeral, whereas
man is eternal and his moral values are imperishable....Education in the
meaning of the dignity of man is probably one of the most urgent tasks.
It is inseparable from the notion of consciousness and the yearning for
self-fulfillment, to fill ones life with spiritual content"
(Source: Basile Kerblay, Gorbachevs Russia, p. 89).
This same perception is evident among key Russian educators. Dr. Pavel
J. Sarkisov, Rector of the prestigious Mendeleev Institute of Chemical
Technology in Moscow, recently argued that it is essential to meld the
skills of moral reasoning with the technical training provided to scientists.
In his judgment, it was the nuclear explosion at Chernobyl which opened
everyones eyes. "In Russia we dont have the educational
system that you have in an American liberal arts college. We prepare specialists
in narrow areas of specialization....But we are trying to increase the
breadth of education to include business training and to make more room
for the humanities. This direction in Russia now is called the humanization
of technical education....It is hoped that through this we will educate
a more well-rounded student; a better, more ethical businessman; a scientist
with a broader world view" (Source: Insights on Global Ethics
Newsletter, July 1993, p. 1).
The Response of the West
In light of these desires to reform Russian society and overhaul its educational
system, what has been the response of the West? Professor Suzanne Massie,
a Fellow of the Harvard University Russian Research Center, accurately
summarized it in these words: "During 20 years of regular visits
to the old Soviet Union, I read daily vilifications of the United States.
The propaganda campaign failed.... What the Communists failed to do in
74 years, we accomplished in three. Today Russians identify us with the
"money disease" that has swept their country, bringing greed
and crime in its wake,...How did we manage to do this?....It lies in an
obsession with economics that often make us seem more Marxist than the
Soviets ever were....In espousing "the market economy as panacea
for all of Russias woes, we dismiss the Russians passionate
search for identity, their striving for the spiritual and the gathering
strength of religion" (Source: Washington Post op-ed, December
31, 1993, p. A21).
The Post-Communist Transition
The difficult struggles which Russia is experiencing now should not deter
us in our efforts to build mutually beneficial partnerships. The daily
news reports can be very discouraging, but we must not forget the unprecedented
nature of this transition of a post-Communist society. Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski,
President Jimmy Carters National Security Advisor and currently
a professor at The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International
Studies, put it this way. "The postcommunist transition currently
affects several hundred million people. It is being undertaken, by necessity,
without either a guiding concept or an exemplary model. The postcommunist
reformers are, in effect, pioneers in virgin territory. No major study
of contemporary economics or of comparative politics contains any systematic
analysis or prescription of how to transform a statist, initially revolutionary
and later corrupt totalitarian system into a pluralistic democracy based
on a free market system. As a clever observer once put it, there are recipes
for making an omelet out of eggs but no recipe for making eggs out of
an omelet. And so far there is also no actual model that is, no
precedent of relevant historical experience on which to base a
comprehensive, long-term policy for a successful transformation"
(Source: Brzezinski, Out of Control: Global Turmoil on the Eve of the
21st Century, pp. 167-8).
And Back in the U.S....
These sobering remarks highlight the critical nature of the changes which
Russia is undergoing, changes which affect the basic structure of future
Russian society. Their crisis is plainly evident. Yet we are experiencing
a similar crisis in this country, but, as Neil Postman has observed, we
have not fully realized it because "we are amusing ourselves to death."
I am convinced that the West has much to learn from the countries of Eastern
Europe and the former Soviet Union. The big question is this: do we have
the eyes to see what is unfolding before us?
Dr. John A. Bernbaum
Russian-American Christian University/US Office,
P. O. Box 2007, Wheaton, MD, 20915-2007