The Berkeley City Commons Club recently heard talks from Dr. Nicolas Riasanovsky, professor of history at UC Berkeley, on political and cultural aspects of historical and contemporary Russia, and from John Fowler, science and Health Editor for KTVU Channel 2 on issues related to the environment and the media.
Riasanovsky commented on the fact that Russian history from the 9th century to the reign of Peter the Great was a variant of European medieval history without the Renaissance or Reformation. The Czar led Russia into European modernization in the 17th century, maintaining a society which was 90 percent illiterate peasantry, ruled by a small educated elite. This structure altered very little, and found Russia under Czar Nicholas II with 50 percent of the population illiterate, and a government unwilling to share power, although a good legal system had developed during reforms in 1861-74. By the eve of World War I, both Germany and Russia were primarily nationalistic, but the German government had the full support of the country’s elite, while Russia’s elite gave no support to its reform government after the First World War.
As Russia’s government moved from provisional to Communist to Soviet, every effort was made to carry out the principles of Marxism, which resulted in the complete failure to develop a foreign policy, since it was assumed that the entire world would evolve into a state of communism.
Dr. Riasanovsky feels Vladimir Putin will never allow a reversion to communism. He lived through two great purges of the KGB under the Soviets and his years as Chief of Security will have given him better knowledge of the condition of the country. The situation may be better than generally thought. People are not starving, and the crisis of 1999 affected mainly the nouveau riches. Putin is not likely to shake things up and cultural variety and student exchanges are bringing Russians a new view of the modern world.
In his presentation, Fowler referred to the completion of the Human Genome Project and the promotion of new health treatment, the development of genetically modified foods, such as tomatoes with longer shelf life, potatoes that resist pests, and salmon which are raised to grow much faster. Fowler posed the question, Are we causing too much change?
Global warming is another phenomena needing more media exposure. Fowler, a practiced scuba diver, mentioned research showing evidence of massive die-offs of the coral reefs of Belize and elsewhere in the Caribbean resulting from the warming of ocean temperatures not seen for 4,000 years. He mentioned several theories accounting for global warming, including burning for fossil fuels and a proposal by Dr. Robert Muller of UC Berkeley that the Earth periodically passes through a belt of asteroid dust which causes global cooling alternating with warming.
He states that the problem for the media involves how much credence to give to these theories, and how to balance the pros and cons so as to educate the public. He pointed out that our need to be able to manage our environment places a great responsibility upon the media to provide information to the public crucial to our understanding of these issues.
– Submitted by Patricia Wilson for Berkeley City Commons
The Berkeley City Commons Club meets every Friday at the Berkeley City Club, 2315 Durant Ave., with a social hour at 11:15 a.m., followed by luncheon and a lecture. For more information, call 510-848-3533.
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