Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Meeting Mr. Panarin

This evening (November 3), at the invitation of the Russian Cultural Center in Washington, I took part in a panel discussion with Dr. Igor Panarin,

former KGB analyst and currently professor at the Moscow State Diplomacy Academy under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Note: In February 2005, Panarin proposed the "creation of a State Commission for Public Diplomacy of Russia (later renamed to a Council for Public Diplomacy)."

The topic of Panarin's discussion at the Center -- billed as a Lecture-Debate -- was his

unique perspective on the future of the United States. Will the world crisis lead to disintegration of the U.S.? What will be the aftermath of the current financial depression for the world's leading economies?
(According to a newspaperman I bumped into on Connectitut Avenue on my way to the Panarin meeting, the Russian community in Washington expected it to have a "circus atmosphere." Good to hear, I thought. I love circuses).

My fellow US panelist was Dr. Edward Hodgman, executive director of Understanding Government, a Washington D.C. think tank and website devoted to improving public understanding of the exectutive bran of government of the United States. The holder of a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Rochester and of a B.A. in Slavic Studies from Harvard College, Hodgman spent a total of more than ten years in Russia, during which time he organized scientific, cultural, and political exchanges, including the first visit by freely-elected Soviet parliamentarians to the U.S. Congress. (I am paraphrasing his bio on the event announcement).

In his opening remarks in Russian, Panarin focused on what he sees as America's current economic decline: its huge federal deficit, increasing foreign debt, unemployment, banking crisis. These will lead to financial and social tensions that will cause the break-up of the USA, he stated. He did not stress -- as factors contributing to this disintegration -- "mass immigration and moral degradation" as he has done, according to the Wall Street Journal, in the past. He did repeat, however, that the U.S. will split up into six different enclaves with foreign powers having influence in them.

Dr. Hodgman made some very perceptive remarks -- tactfully -- about Panarin's contentions. He noted that while Panarin was "charming," his observations left much to be desired from an empirical and conceptual point of view (I am speaking in general terms here, hoping that Hodgman will provide the details of his elucidating remarks on the Internet). Bottom Hodgman line, and I hope I'm not doing injustice to his nuanced remarks: Dr. Panarin, get real -- the U.S., despite its economic situation (which is slowly improving) is not about to collapse and turn into six nations.

Following Dr. Hodgman's remarks I made five points, after praising Panarin for asking "big questions," as opposed to the tendency of much political science research in the U.S. to deal with minor issues and answering them with overly narrow answers.

1) Panarin's "thesis" reflects a conservative world view, which sees change as leading to collapse. In the U.S., we tend to see change -- even a "negative" one such as the current economic downturn -- as an opportunity/challenge to look ahead, to reinvent ourselves for the better -- and not the road to perdition.

2) "Economic stress does not usually lead to the political breakup of democracies," according to the blog Capital Flow Watch. In the Great Depression, Americans stayed united -- if not more so than ever, despite (because of?) economic hardships.

3) In the twentieth-century the U.S. is part of an interdependent world. Other nations, increasingly linked to America by trade, surely don't want the U.S. to fall apart economically, especially the Chinese, who hold so much US debt. If the United States disintegrates and the dollar drastically loses its value, US treasuries held by the Chinese will become worthless -- certainly not in their interest.

4) Panarin's thesis -- especially regarding immigration leading to the end of the U.S. as we know it -- is not that original, and reflects the thoughts of Samuel Huntington's "Who Are We: The Challenges to American Identity" (2004). Fears about the breakup of the U.S. go back a long way in American history (not to speak of the Civil War we actually had).

5) Finally, in a comment -- meant to be humorous -- that got the most reaction from the Russia-savvy audience, I noted that Panarin, in his fanciful predictions, reminded me of Gogol

and his stories, which are full of absurdity (to make my point, not noted in my presentation, even clearer, I perhaps should have said that Gogol jumps from the seemingly "real" to the increasingly "absurb," just as Panarin jumps from the economic crisis in the U.S. to the break-up of the United States).

The Q&A part of the evening was lively and disputatious. Most of the audience did not agree with Panarin's dire predictions, but some did express the view that indeed we are headed for the collapse of the United States, at least financially.

Gallo jug wine was served at the reception following the event -- was it a subtle suggestion by the hospitable Russian Cultural Center that, indeed, the U.S. can hold together, if it can produce wine?

Audio: kindly provided by the Russian Center
VOA Russian account of the event

1 comment:

Curt Yost said...

It was great to hear you speak.

It was striking that in the Q&A a White Supremacist started laying on the vitriol, followed by a Native American who purportedly 'shoots guns for hunting purposes' fired back at him.

In the context of Dr. Panarin's comments on racial conflict, life is not without a sense of irony.