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How to Make Russia a Normal Country a book and an interactive Internet-based project

06.04.2001 10:16

Project Foundation: A Book and an Interactive Internet-based project

I have just published my book How to Make Russia a Normal Country (In Russian, 320 pages). This book describes and explains the unique Russian approach to law and state building, explains the history of the Soviet period and the ideology of totalitarianism, discusses the impact of envy and fear on Russian society, and gives a prescription for transition to democracy and market economy in Russia.

In this book I proposed a comprehensive theory that explains Russian twentieth century history. As a consequence, I was able to discuss the workings of the Communist system in a language that is free of scientific jargon and understandable to every former Soviet citizen.

This gives the book a major advantage: not just the scholars, but average readers are able to understand and to discuss the book, to build on the foundation that the book sets up. If so, we can collect comments and suggestions of the book’s readers to continually improve the text of the book and to widen its scope. This could be done by creating several forums on the book’s website.

Thus, the book becomes both a foundation and a catalyst for developing a comprehensive theory of democratization of Russia, a theory that would be developed by the citizens of Russia themselves.

The book is based on democratic principles and on liberal economics, yet both are painstakingly explained specifically to people who have lived their formative years under the Communist regime and both are adapted to fit current Russian political and economic realities.

The book is at the same time relevant to today’s Russia and based on the clearly articulated democratic principles. If so, the citizens of Russia can apply the book’s ideas in their daily life, in their effort to make Russia better. Thus, the book becomes a blueprint for social action.

But if the people are united by the living democratic theory that they themselves helped to develop, if they know what needs to be done and are ready to act, then they can create an organization dedicated to social change in Russia. An organization based on the “living” theory, i.e. theory, that is fully understandable to the Russians and adapted to the reality of today’s Russia, an organization that is democratic, socially conscious, moral, and action-oriented can play a very significant role in the process of changing Russia for the better.

Stages of the Project

First stage:

  • Publishing and distribution of the book. 800 copies have already been published, and most have been distributed free among Russia’s politicians, social scientists, and business leaders. There is a need to publish more copies.
  • Establishing a website. The project is located on the website http://change-Russia.newmail.ru . Interactive website has not been created yet. This website needs to give visitors an opportunity to download the book and to participate in several forums dedicated to major topics raised by the book, such as Law in Russia, Citizen Participation, Grass Roots Democratic Movement, Russian 20th Century History, etc.
  • Selection of Forum Moderators.
  • When the volume and quality of additions warrant, the book is to be reprinted, now under the name How to Make Russia a Normal Country: a book written with readers’ participation.

Second stage of the project would involve the creation of the social and political organization based on the theory developed by the book.

Third stage of the project would involve translation of the book into English and other major languages. Scholars and citizens of other countries may be interested to know what do the Russians think about their own democratization, and indeed may want to share their experiences and give their suggestions. The book should also be translated into the languages of other totalitarian states to trigger and to widen the struggle for democratization in these countries.

Bridging the Cultural Gap: Culture - Specific Translation

The project is set up in a way that could facilitate a culture-specific translation. No amount of American description of baseball games would help the Russians to understand baseball. Since the Russians have never seen the game, there is a need to explain to them the things that Americans take for granted and therefore never explain, such as baseball bat or a catcher’s glove. The same with democracy: the dialogue between Russia and the West cannot be successful until both sides have different unspoken basic assumption. For example, American political culture searches for win/win solutions, while the Russians mostly choose between win/lose and lose/lose.

This cultural bridge building was one of the main themes of my first book,

Understanding Russia: A brief introduction to the psychology of Russian society for the arriving westerner (Moscow, 1994). This book was in English, and I attempted to explain Russia to westerners, i.e. played a role of a Russian who understands the western frame of mind. The latest book is in Russian, and is an attempt to explain to the Russians what do they need to do to build a western-style democracy, i.e. I now play a role of a westerner who knows Russia well. Not surprisingly, while the subject of both books is the same, the books are very different.


The project has received no support from any outside source.

About the Author

Matthew Maly was born in Moscow, Russia in 1958 and emigrated to the US in 1979. US citizen. Studied at Columbia (B.A. ‘84) and Yale (M.A. ‘91). Sociologist. Lives in the NIS since 1992. Worked for the Center for Economic Reform of the Russian Ministry of Economics and for western investment funds.

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