What are the biggest misunderstandings about Russia

Misunderstandings: Why We Don't Understand Russia

1. 1985: Departure? Chaos!

When Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary of the CPSU in March 1985 and thus the most powerful man in the Soviet Union, he decreed perestroika (transformation) and glasnost (transparency) on his country. For the West, he became a figure of light who was hoped to reform the system and take away the aggressiveness of the colossus USSR. Gorbachev's compatriots, however, saw the domestic reality and were horrified. The country, dependent on money from oil and gas exports and incapable of reforms, stumbled towards the economic collapse that Gorbachev actually wanted to prevent. He became a figure of hatred in his own country, while the West celebrates him as a reformer to this day.

2. 1991: Liberation? Downfall!

For decades, the citizens of the Federal Republic of Germany and other Western European countries lived in fear, which was in part propagandistically excessive, that “the Russian” could break through to the West at any time. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, the West greeted it euphorically. In Russia, however, the end of the USSR is seen by a majority as a trauma to this day. President Vladimir Putin also serves the desire of the younger generation to restore the lost great power role. Russia is the last bulwark of moral principles and traditional identities that have been lost in the West. This applies to "national, cultural, religious and even sexual" values.

3. 1996: Generous? Embarrassing!

It is now a foregone conclusion in Russia that the country was humiliated after its defeat in the Cold War. Although Western loans saved the country from final bankruptcy in those years. In 1996 alone, the International Monetary Fund lent Russia 10.2 billion dollars, a total of around 40 billion in the 1990s, supported by the EU and Japan. The creditors gave Russia preferential terms on the repayment of older Soviet loans, which prevented Russia's creditworthiness from plummeting. So the “humiliation” was having to accept help from those who were recently seen as “class enemies”.

4. 1999: Security? Danger!

Russia's elites believe their own propaganda from the EU and NATO, which is advancing dangerously eastwards. In fact, it is the westward movement of the Eastern Europeans. Soviet troops suppressed uprisings in Berlin in 1953, Budapest in 1956 and Prague in 1968. That is why the Eastern Europeans wanted to go west after the end of the Warsaw Pact. In 1999 Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary joined NATO. The legitimacy of their sovereign decisions cannot be diminished by referring to Russian special rights in security matters. NATO's alleged promise not to expand eastwards is a myth zealously nurtured in Russia and even Germany.

5. 2001: Less state? No way!

Probably the biggest misunderstanding between the West and Russia is the contrary conception of democracy. In the West it is seen as a means of securing personal freedoms, human rights and the taming of state omnipotence. For most Russians, it's synonymous with the chaos of the 1990s. In 2001, Putin made a commitment to democracy in the Bundestag. But above all he wanted to steer and control them and thus found approval from his subjects. He rebuilt the political system to keep a small clique in power. Basically, the state elite “captured and privatized one of the richest countries in the world,” says the economist Vladislav Inozemzew.

6. 2008: reforms? Technology!

Western Europe has never understood or wanted to admit that Russia's idea of ​​a “modernization partnership”, as announced by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in 2008, has nothing to do with the complex approach of the EU. Moscow saw modernization only technologically. From the German point of view, it was about cooperation in justice, health, the environment, education - and the aim was to strengthen “democratic and market-based institutions with the support of civil society”. However, this objective is pointless as long as the Russian elites view precisely such innovations as an attack on their way of life and do not at least partially share these values.

7. 2014: Talking? Act!

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