Articles of the research programme for Russia and Eastern Europe of the Academy of Finland. Perhaps inevitably, students of Russia tend to emphasize the uniqueness of their object. That is, one way after all, of possibly justifying of their own existence. What varies is how the specificity of Russia is actually seen in the West. Here, Russia has the habit of betraying foreign expectations. Gorbachev's perestroika perhaps proved that the Soviet Union was not the kind of totalitarian monolith that had been depicted in much academic writing. In just a couple of years, the Evil Empire gave way to the great expectations of democracy and a smoothly operating market economy. But again, by August 1998 at the latest, such expectations were pronounced dead and the Russian transition was declared a failure, perhaps even the biggest scam in human history.
Understanding Russia requires an understanding of its self-understanding, and this is the crux of the problem. All efforts to make sense of Russia are doomed to fail, if one does not know how it makes sense of itself, how it defines itself. Self-understanding is, naturally, based on culture, which, in turn, consists of constantly renewing interaction between the own (svoe) and the alien (chuzhoe), and between culture and non-culture.
During the transition period, the economies of former socialist countries have become increasingly exposed to global competition, responding with varying degrees of success. Country-specific factors as well as the character of the transformation process itself have shaped each country's path from socialism. High economic expectations associated with the change process in former socialist countries have seriously underestimated the complexity of the transformation process and the potential for catching up (Pavitt 1997). Indeed, these countries have to manage multiple transformation processes at the same time.