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Regular version of the site

Vladimir Lukin: ‘Russia Remains a European Country’

On December 23 2014, the inaugural lecture by Vladimir Lukin, Professor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs took place at HSE. The former Commissioner for Human Rights spoke about politics, diplomacy and why Russia remains a European country.


Vladimir Lukin started his career as research fellow.  After graduating from the Historical Faculty of the Lenin State Pedagogical Institute he worked at the State Historical Museum and then at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations. In the middle of the 1960s he worked in Prague, but after he spoke out against the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he was recalled to Moscow. For almost 20 years he was engaged in research work at the Institute of USA and Canadian studies, part of the USSR Academy of Sciences, and then in 1987 he started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR. In 1990 he began his political career. Soon he became one of the founders of the ‘Yabloko’party. From 1992 to 1994 he was the Russian Ambassador to the United States, and following that he was twice elected to the State Duma. From 2004 until 2014, he served as Commissioner for human rights in the Russian Federation. Since 1997 he has been head of the Russian Paralympic Committee.

About his generation

I consider myself a person of the sixties. We admired the older generation that won the war. Our ‘war’ was different – we looked to liberate our country from tyranny and ourselves from our complexes.

Did we succeed? We did and we didn’t. We didn’t win because we don’t live in the country we dreamed about; we failed to get rid of our complexes. But we also succeeded as the country has changed. We managed to expand our horizons – both those around us and inside ourselves. We have given a scoring pass to the new generation, and the way they use it is entirely up to them.

The greatness of country

What are the criteria that can define a great country? Greatness is not a real condition, but a matter of perception.

In the 21st century, our understanding of geopolitics is changing. The importance of military factors is decreasing; the development of a high-tech economy is the priority. There is no great country without an advanced economy. China became great not during the Cultural Revolution, but over the last 35 years as the country’s economy has developed.

The greatness of Russia is traditional and it has always been associated with expansion towards the West. But there was a lack of development in education and technology, which was masked as a Russian peculiarity.

Between West and East

Russia has always been, and will remain, a European country.  Our development should go hand in hand with that of Europe. It’s a long journey, but this is the only way that will make Russia a great country and at the same time will help it to keep its identity. It doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have tactical alliances with China, but China’s culture is different. It’s not better or worse than ours, but it’s just different.

Russia and Ukraine can solve their problems if they consistently move towards Europe. Many people may say that the European vector is a kind of utopia. But who in the 1970s could have predicted that Germany would unite, and the USSR disappear?

The move towards isolation from everyone and everything so that they consider us a dangerous empire is just an escape from reality, merely a fantasy. Unfortunately we often confuse our dreams with strategy.

Russia needs to develop social capital. We need not just money and investment, we need people who are active, self-reliant and not dependent on the state. The concept of human rights is not alien to our country. As an ombudsman, I managed to do some things, and I also failed to do some other things, for which I publicly apologized.

I’m an optimist in general. So I remember the words of Mao Tse-tung: ‘From defeat to defeat, to the final victory’.

Photos by Mikhail Dmitriev




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