On the surface, the former Soviet Union has a history of sudden, radical change and transformation -- in 1917, the czarist regime was toppled and Bolsheviks ruthlessly seized power. In the early 1990s, communism collapsed, Russia ceded superpower status to the United States, and democracy supposedly was victorious.
But as I have observed in two trips to that fascinating and mysterious land, in many ways, below the surface Russia has not changed much since czarist days. That famous prayer of Topel in "Fiddler on the Roof": "God bless and keep the czar...far away from US!" still represents many Russians' historic view of politics -- political involvement brings mostly trouble.
You will find far more Russians who exhibit 19th century values, who are more nostalgic for the past than looking forward to the future, than you'll find Americans who exhibit 19th century values, who would choose a return to the past over the future.
Ironically, arch-conservatives in the United States, ostensibly suspicious of foreigners and particularly disdainful of former communists, may actually find today that they are sympathico and share values with Russian aparachniks, former communists, about the desire for ORDER, respect for TRADITION, comfort with funneling contracts and largesse to "our kind of people," an elite, establishment class of friends and cronies who have always run things, who are far less concerned with giving equal opportunity to new people, minorities, people of color, far less interested in economic democracy and political diversity than progressives in the United States.
Perhaps this explains why President Bush gets along so well with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. . . . I was able to get a sense of his soul." Bush famously said of the former KGB head.
I was struck by what a basically CONSERVATIVE society Russia is, how slowly real, broad systemic change occurs, how tightly the citizenry holds on to their own notions of "traditional values." In my first trip, in the late 1970s, when anyone who visited the Soviet Union was suspected of being a radical leftist, I noted ironically that the Russians I met were as apolitical and indifferent to political activism and civil rights as the most conservative, change-averse traditionalists in the United States.