Kohl Helps Answer What Is to Be Done

A colloquium was held in Berlin last weekend under the suggestive heading "Russia: What Is to Be Done?" The official organizer of the event was the Alfred Herrhausen Foundation for International Dialogue, which is named after Deutsche Bank's former head, who was killed by terrorists in 1989. There are few conferences, apart from, perhaps, the World Economic Forum in Davos, that could boast such influential guest speakers. Even the organizers of the colloquium were surprised when German Chancellor Helmut Kohl readily agreed to speak.

And as soon as it became known in Moscow that Kohl had accepted the invitation, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also confirmed that he would take part. The enthusiastic organizers had worked out a schedule whereby the German chancellor could meet one-on-one with the Russian prime minister outside the framework of the colloquium. But they certainly did not expect that Chernomyrdin would arrive with a delegation of 25 other high-level officials.

On one hand, the presence of Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin, Deputy Prime Minister Yakov Urinson, State Duma Deputy Speaker Alexander Shokhin, First Deputy Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Sberbank President Andrei Kazmin and Alexander Livshits, the deputy head of the presidential administration, did nothing to make discussions during the colloquium any more productive. But on the other hand, this unexpected arrival did add to the importance of the event and flattered the organizers' self-esteem.

The name of the colloquium, which was taken from the novel of the 19th-century Russian writer Nikolai Chernyshevsky, reflected a certain philosophical mood that prevailed during the discussions.

Kohl spoke of how Russia was trying to participate in the integration of Europe, and he even proposed that Russia become at least an associate member of the European Union. Of course, he did not mean this would occur tomorrow, but sometime in the future. Kohl added Germany is only now beginning to see how difficult it is to overcome the legacy of the East German communist past despite Germany's economic might. How much more difficult must it be for Moscow, St. Petersburg and other Russian cities. In his slightly sentimental speech, Kohl called on Russians to learn to tolerate the difficulties in overcoming the transitional period.

Chernomyrdin made criticism of the indecisiveness of German investors in Russia the main theme of his talk. At the points where he tore himself away from the text and spoke impromptu, his eloquence rivaled that of the German chancellor. He reminded the German audience, for example, that the specter of communism was born in Germany, but only in Russia were there to be found people "clever" enough to allow themselves and the nation to be haunted by this specter for 70 years.

As for Russian-German economic relations, there was nothing particularly new or deep that was discussed. Perhaps this is inevitable. The higher the status of officials, the less substantive the discussions usually are. But the colloquium did determine the readiness of both the Russian and German sides to find an answer to "What Is to Be Done?" In all likelihood, no more than this was expected to come from it. And this is already something.

Mikhail Berger is economics editor of Izvestia.