"Modernities Scrutinized: Finland, Japan and Russia in comparison"

An International Symposium organized by Aleksanteri Institute, University of Helsinki
Financed by Japan Foundation and Finnish Centre of Excellence in Russian Studies
In Helsinki 12–13 September 2013

Finland and Japan are both neighbours of Russia, a country with immense potential for both. Combining the resources of Finnish and Japanese expertise in the Russian market creates a win-win-win situation. This was the message delivered by H.E. Mr Kenji Shinoda, Ambassador of Japan to Finland who opened the first international seminar on modernisation in Finland, Japan and Russia, organised jointly by the Aleksanteri Institute, the Embassy of Japan and Hokkaido University Helsinki Office.

The first presenter was Professor Göran Therborn from the University of Cambridge who focused on the conceptual aspects of modernisation. Therborn defined modernity as a time culture: modernity is a project that has a focus on the present and is oriented towards a new, this-worldly future. It does not accept the past as such, but rather either questions or rejects the authority of the past.

Professor Therborn outlined four major pathways to current modernity and two so-called hybrids: Russia and China. Historically speaking, Russia was always part of European history but at the same time there was a strong sense of backwardness. Today, Russia has achieved a return to big power status but lost parity with the US and even the chance of overriding it. The future of Russian modernity looks rather bleak: the economy is fragile and the political institutions are brittle. Russia is clearly in need of some futuristic modernist social project. Whether that seems likely to take place is another question, Therborn concluded in somewhat pessimistic terms.

Göran Therborn and Philip Hanson

Professor Philip Hanson (Chatham House) argued that if Russia wants to catch up in its economy, the list of prescriptions is simple: keep inflation low, invest more, spend less on the military and more on education, healthcare and infrastructure, secure property rights, and so on. Such economic reforms are possible but probably not without institutional changes. Institutional changes, on the other hand, are unlikely to happen, as the elite interests that would be threatened are simply too big. 

Professor Hanson’s presentation was followed by Pekka Sutela who argued that from an economist’s point of view, modernity simply does not exist. Professor Shinichiro Tabata analysed state budgets throughout Russian history and professor Sakari Heikkinen showed that all three countries, Russia, Finland and Japan, have had catching-up periods, but during different times and for different reasons. Ten other illuminating presentations highlighted other political, economic, historical and cultural aspects of modernisation, all in a truly win-win-win atmosphere.

Natalia Kuznetsova

Masaki Nakabayashi: "Peasant Ownership and Risk Sharing: Transformation from the
Community-based System to the Tenancy-based system"

Programme of the Workshop (pdf)