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Russia’s Greatest Thinkers

Who are some of Russia’s greatest thinkers?  Whomever they may be, they got left off a long list by the magazine Foreign Policy.  Blogger poemless has a good long post running down some of the potential names from the Russian brain trust from across the ideological spectrum.  Check it out and put in your vote.

What Russians could be on a list using FP’s bizarro criteria? The other, far more interesting question, who are Russia’s leading intellectuals? The answers are not obvious to me; I rely on journalists like those at Foreign Policy to tell me these things! Also, being an American, living in America, I can’t pretend to have any special insight about the intellectual movers and shakers in a far away land. Although I suppose the fact gives me a clearer grasp of their global influence than their compatriots might have. I’ll give it is a go.




Sergei Lavrov/Dmitri Rogozin/Vitaly Churkin: When peoplesay, “Russia demands a seat at the table,” these are the guys at thattable. They are fierce and unapologetic, yet surprisingly reasonable.Respectively, they have a household name, an Internet phenom andserious Charlie Rose credentials.

Alexander Dugin: I don’t know if his terrifying and crazynationalist philosophy is a reflection of or an influence on thecurrent Russian Zeitgeist that has the rest of the world worried, butit appears indicative of it.

Mikhail Gorbachev: He’s the only person I know of who caneffectively address US-Russian relations without being dismissed asbeing in the pockets of either the Kremlin or D.C. And sharp as tacs, Itell ya.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky: Well, c’mon FP, here’s yourpersecuted dissident. He’s arguably the one of the most influentialindividuals when it comes to Russian foreign relations, since a meetingcan’t be held without an obligatory mention of his imprisonment. All hehas to do is sit in a cell. Instead, he’s writing manifestos aboutsocial democracy.

Andrey Kurkov: Brilliant Ukrainian-Russian novelist with acult following in the West. He’s a thinker, and one of the few who havesuccessfully broken the barrier between contemporary Russian lit andthe West.

Dmitry Medvedev: Not just because he’s a leader or cerebral. Because of things like this.

If his big ideas don’t bring about real change, it’s only because therest of the world is stuck in a rut. Influence is questionable.

Nikita Mikhalkov: He’s not just a film-maker. He’s anpropagandist/psychoanalyst/nationalist historian filmmaker who has aworking relationship with the Kremlin and an Oscar. After the Island and Tsar, Pavel Lungine may also qualify.

Oleg Orlov: Head of Memorial, the organization devoted todocumenting the atrocities in the USSR and in Chechnya, championinghuman rights and democracy, despite the very real danger it places themin. Memorial was this year’s winner of the Sakharov Prize for Freedomof Thought,

Other Russia/Solidarnost (Kapsarov, Limonov, Kasyanov, Nemtsov…take yer pick): Does yourpolitical rabblerouser fringy write-in candidate and organizer ofpolitical protests have a column in the WSJ? Does the outcome of yourlocal mayoral election cause international outrage? Is a person’sinterest in your political career inversely proportionate to theirproximity to your country, and hence possibility of being representedby you? These guys are the Russian political David Haselhoffs.

Lilia Shevtsova: A critic of Putin and senior associate atthe Carnegie Moscow Center, people in the West seem to actually listento her. If her ideas, like that a relationship between the US andRussia based on “common interests and common threats” would constituteobjectionable realpolitik (here), are not big enough to be influential, she’s only herself to blame.

Vladimir Sorokin: Sorokin is the kind of bad boy the nextfellow on this list wishes he were. Another Russian literary author whohas broken through in translation, he is postmodern, dark, depraved,grotesque (for those who watched it at my urging, he wrote the scriptto “4″), he’s pretty talented too. He’s been targeted by theauthorities in the way any dangerous intellectual should be. Everysociety needs a Sorokin.

Vladislav Surkov: Managed democracy. Sovereign democracy.Tandemocracy. This man has come up with at least 3 new politicalsystems in less than a decade and no one is convinced he’s finished.And you say there are no big ideas in Russia! As the Kremlin’s “greycardinal” and creator of Nashi, he also wields crazy influence. In hisspare time, he writes. Thoughts, ideas, influence. I think he has hisbases covered.

I am aware that FP’s list is for the Top Thinkers of 2009,and that some of the figures mentioned above may be more notable for,say, what they did in 2008. For 2009, FP lists Vaclav Havel at #23 forthe reason that he “remains fiercely engaged in political debates.”(Impressive. By that standard I should be on the list.) So I’m not terribly worried about it.