From Rossiiskaya gazeta, October 18, 2021, Complete text:
Whenever the world used to undergo a shakeup that resulted in a change, it was almost always the result of a major war. Now the world has experienced a major shakeup that has affected virtually everything. In fact, it is still shaking. But will this result in changes? Has the pandemic replaced those major wars, or are they still in the offing?
The topic of this year’s annual Valdai [International Discussion] Club meeting is “Global Shakeup in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values and the State.” The forum’s program is diverse, but the leitmotif, as indicated by the title, is about how everything that has been happening affects mainly societies. A unique feature of the pandemic is that even though the number of casualties around the world is starting to resemble that of a fairly large armed conflict, the cause is not a confrontation between specific countries or blocs. The biggest [changes] are happening within societies, since the virus has dealt the most serious blow specifically to people’s lifestyles, along with their relationships with one another and the state. The global political agenda has actually changed very little in terms of specific conflicts and relationships. Meanwhile, the deformation and collapse of international institutions – processes that started much earlier than the pandemic – gained additional impetus, but did not qualitatively change.
However, what is happening within specific countries has a direct bearing on how those countries communicate with one another. The flip side of globalization has been growing mistrust in governments, which will simply be unable to control events on their respective territories as borders disappear. Until spring , it seemed that these processes were irreversible. [It seemed that] globalization was a natural and objective process that you could not stop or reverse; you could only adapt to it, and try to adjust it a bit when possible. But not change [it].
Then suddenly it turned out that all this great and terrible globalization could simply be turned off. What’s more, on a global scale and in less than two weeks. That is exactly what happened in late March 2020. The world didn’t just lock itself away in its cells: Four main freedoms of movement – people, goods, services and money (i.e., the main drivers of globalization) – were either curtailed almost completely (in the case of people),or restricted to varying degrees (the other three). What’s even more interesting is that the world did not collapse. [The changes created] a slew of problems, but overall, states adapted to the new conditions, even if with some losses. Most importantly, this brings up the following question: Is it really necessary to return to the old system?
Due to the specifics of the pandemic, the shutdown happened everywhere at once. It could not have been otherwise. However, [states] will reopen how and when they see fit. And the epidemiological situation will not be the only or even the main criterion for reopening – rather, it will be political, economic and social factors. This means that there is no return to the prepandemic situation, even though the degree of openness is going to increase compared to what it is now. But it will increase gradually and unevenly.
The Valdai Club report prepared for the meeting is titled “The Age of the Pandemic: Year Two. The Future Is Back.” Why “back”? Because the period of globalization that started after the cold war effectively took that future away – in the sense that it had already occurred. The slogan about “the end of history” implied that from now on, everything would be fine but unchangeable – that what was supposed to happen had already happened (this is a bit of an oversimplification, but not by much). The only question was when this future would encompass the whole world (it would not happen right away, but eventually). The sense that the future is now was further driven by the communications and technology breakthroughs at the start of the [21st] century. Things that were the stuff of science fiction just a few decades ago had either come true, or it was more or less clear when they would.
Then suddenly, this future turned out to be not quite as inevitable as everyone thought. The socioeconomic model of the liberal market economy (there are some variations, but essentially they are just different versions of capitalism) started to feel the strain from all sides. Democratic institutions ended up in a crisis, expressed in part by the victories of “the wrong kind” of parties and candidates. Meanwhile, technological advances that had only recently been hailed as the apex of not just comfort but social progress suddenly became scapegoats. Right now, for example, it’s surprising to see how Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook are turning from the darlings of the liberal-minded public into some sort of monsters and the root of all evil. Suddenly everyone woke up.
The pandemic closed the chapter of predetermination, opening up a future of many possibilities. No longer able to rely on simply following a beaten track, each state will have to independently look for ways to build that future – one that will first and foremost guarantee [that state’s] survival and development in an unpredictable world. And survival and development depend on domestic stability, so domestic affairs and the state of our own society are [now] more important than any international circumstances. Basically, it’s all in our own hands.