Stephen Hanson – Yes, a Dialogue with Russian Liberals is Possible

Historians have taken a look at liberalism from within Russia and questioned the assumption that all of Russia has an illiberal history from Tsarism to Soviet Union to the current era. Russians themselves have defended what we might think of as liberal values. This allows us to have a dialogue that is mutual (where we question an us versus them mentality) at the Conference “Dimensions and Challenges of Russian Liberalism” in Turin in October 2017.

The conference, organised by Reset DOC in partnership with the University of Turin, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) – George Washington University and William&Mary College, focused on Russian liberalism and its hybrid, multi-faceted character.


Stephen E. Hanson – The Core of Liberal Values. Not Only a Western Version 

Liberalism started with just white, male property owners, then liberal values and ideas extended to a wider range of people. Ultimately to everyone. In a way it’s a beautiful Utopia: Freedom of the individual against state oppression. People are cynical to the idea: as if liberalism is a subordination of their nation to the market. We need to retrieve what’s valuable in the liberal tradition in Europe, the USA but also in Russia, which is not as known for liberalism, but has vibrant liberal traditions.


Mark Kramer – 100 Year of Illiberal Russian Politics with Two Exceptions 

After the overthrow of the Tsarist regime in 1917 Russia lived through some moments of genuine political debate and the rise of liberal parties, says Mark Kramer from Harvard University. The question: will there be a return to reforms that had been underway in the 1900s to establish limits on discretionary power of the State, guarantee free and fair elections and a basic level of civil rights and liberties?


Sergei Medvedev – Russia Lost in Empire 

The nationalist narrative has returned to Europe and also to Russia, a return to history. Russia is the last big empire of modernity, imperial and medieval once again, that wants to build its power on the old images of fear, rather then opening up, says historian Sergei Medvedev from Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. The world is relegating on democratic commitment due to external threats and so is Russia.


Vladislav Zubok – Freedom in Russia: Ideals and Disappointments 

Liberalism for me is about the right of the individual to exist freely and develop the best of our capacities and qualities in a society. A minority among Russians looked into the crucial two key questions that could determine the success of liberal democracy, says Vladislav Zubok, historian teaching at LSE, London: institutionalism and division of power and the question of a regulated market, that would protect the majority from the power of a rich minority.


Ekaterina Pravilova – Liberals and Property Rights

Russian liberalism had this interesting feature: the defence of the rights of society and the public responsibility connected to the private property. The idea of public domain had emerged only in the 19th century and suggested that freedom should not only be individualistic and in property rights. Tolstoy had denounced his property rights. Few reforms Russian liberalists proposed were implemented, the government and conservative thinkers thought that society could not exist separately from the state.


Andrei Melville – Did Russian Liberalism ever Really Exist? 

The conservative shift today is supported by the power itself, by practically all elites and the population in general. Russians associate democracy with the economic collapse of the 90s. This context leaves practically no place for liberalism, liberal ideas and democratic ideas per se. On the long run, says Andrei Melville from HSE University in Moscow, we might need both democracy and liberalism to overcome today’s problems, and to find solutions for tomorrow’s opportunities.


Benjamin Nathans – Human Rights Defenders within Soviet Politics 

For much of Soviet history, the primary language of resistance to regime was the return to the original ideas of Lenin and the Bolshevik revolution. The people of resistance, the dissidents, were no liberals even if they spoke the language of the West, the language of rights. Their struggle for rights was incorporated into a Soviet setting and expressed in a Soviet idiom, later dissidents globalized their movement.