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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Gazes At National Idea, Navel

A government commission charged with coming up with a national idea, or statement of Russian national identity, issued its first report last week. Not surprisingly, the commission turned out to have no idea at all.

Not to worry. It's the process of debate that's important, we're told.

"World and historical experience has shown us that it is not just the national idea that is important, but the process of finding it, too," said Georgy Satarov, a Kremlin adviser and member of the National Idea Commission, at a press conference Friday.

In other words, wherever you go, there you are. Or perhaps the Kremlin is leaning toward the Buddhist notion that the journey is the destination. Whatever the commission's report said, it was well-documented with incomprehensible bar charts and other learned analysis.

Somewhere in all this hot air, a serious issue lurks. National identity and ideology are important things. Russia is now agonizing over its history, its relations with the West, its ethnic identity, religious freedom and much more.

But it is far from clear that the government should be trying to come up with all the answers. It smacks a little of the old Soviet obsession with a single dominant ideology.

The process of forming a national idea -- if such a thing be needed at all -- should be something that occurs organically in the press, in conversations on the street and in the way people live their lives.

Even accepting that officially sponsored public discussion on the big issues is a positive thing, the document that Satarov produced after a year of cogitation and navel-gazing scarcely advances the debate much.

Rather than point Russia in the direction of a national idea based on pluralism or tolerance or something even slightly concrete and controversial, Satarov carefully avoided saying anything in his report.

It appears that he and the other rarified intellectuals on his commission were too scared to risk offending anyone. Instead, in the worst traditions of Russia's blighted intelligentsia, they have preferred to blather simply for the sake of it.

In the process, they have wasted Russian taxpayers' money and also confirmed their irrelevance to Russian politics and life. A good public opinion pollster or advertising agency would have done a better job.

Ordinary Russians will continue to get up in the morning fully possessed of whatever identity it is they need to take care of their daily business and without thinking overmuch about it. Maybe official Russia could take a tip from them. This is one late-night kitchen table discussion that will still be going in the morning.