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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia's Past Is Not the Key To Its Future

Alexander Solzhenitsyn has now returned to Moscow after seven weeks of riding through the expanses of Russia. One thing is perfectly clear from all that he has said since his return: He did not come here to learn, but to teach. Or, rather, to prophesy.


There is a strong tradition in Russia, stretching back into tsarist times, of popular yearning for some messianic figure to come and, largely by virtue of his righteousness, put the country in order. Now, judging by the Nobel Prize winner's reception in Yaroslavl this week, many ordinary Russians in the provinces hope Solzhenitsyn will return to Moscow and tell the government what needs to be done. And so he will.


But these are not tsarist times, and Solzhenitsyn must also reckon with a pronounced cynicism that has come to the fore in recent years, especially among the young. A large portion of the nation is tired of prophets who claim to have all the answers. It was a rude surprise for Solzhenitsyn to learn that so many Russians had not read any of his books. Ask anyone on the street in Moscow what they think about Solzhenitsyn's return, and most will answer either that they do not care or that he is five years too late.


For a long time now, Solzhenitsyn has been peddling the same batch of ideas: a united Slavic nation, a return to Orthodox morality and a closer bond between people and the land.


On one hand, there is much to be said for these ideas. Solzhenitsyn's vision of reuniting parts of the old Soviet Union in one form or another is now mainstream Russian thought. Moreover, he is persuasive when he talks about the moral damage of communism and the inadequate way that Russians have treated the horrors of their Stalinist past. He is right when he argues that alcoholism, amorality and apathy have done more than anything else to hold Russia back.


But the problems facing Russia are concrete, and they must be resolved on a day-to-day basis by informed economic and political policies that have rational and attainable goals in the modern world. The solutions to Russia's predicament cannot be taken as whole cloth from Russia's past. The last thing Russia needs is another blueprint for the future that can be easily summed up in a few nostalgic slogans.


Perhaps the most important point in all this is that, even if a messiah with all the correct answers did appear, Russia should say "No, thank you." Now is the time for Russia to build a new tradition that relies not on seers or personalities, but on the rational needs of a modern society whose history is a resource and not a straitjacket.