Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Putin is ‘the Epigone of Lukashenko,’ Michnik Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 4 – Adam Michnik, a Solidarity activist who now edits Warsaw’s “Gazeta Wyborcza,” says that Vladimir Putin is not nearly as innovative as many Russians assume. Instead, the Polish commentator suggests, Russia’s Putin is little more than “the epigone of [Belarusian President Aleksandr] Lukashenko.
During his visit to Moscow ten days ago, Michnik spoke to a number of groups. At the third Khodorkovsky Hearings organized by Memorial, he said that while “Russia is an interesting country,” its political system is based not “on an original Russia idea” but rather a copy of Lukashenko’s approach (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/newstext/news/id/1232039.html).
In that sense, he continued, “Vladimir Putin is simply an epigone of Aleksandr Lukashenko. Lukashenko was the first; he was the teacher. [And] if one speaks about Putinism as a system, then this model exists in all post-communist countries,” a pattern that helps to explain much that is going on.
Commenting that he had spoken with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Michnik said that he had asked “openly: ‘Why are you conducting in Georgia and for Georgian society the policy of the Russian president? Why are you behaving like President Putin is for the Russians?”
In a second discussion, this time within the framework of the Polit.ru public lecture series at the Bilingua Club, Michnik, in addition to numerous comments about the recent history of Poland and its relations with the outside world, expanded his comments on the nature of the regimes in Moscow and Tbilisi (www.polit.ru/lectures/2008/10/30/mihnik.html).
According to Michnik, Poles are anything but united in their views on Russia. But he continued, most Poles were shocked by two recent events: the Khodorkovsky case and Russian actions in Georgia. “You may ask: ‘Why Georgia and not Chechnya? When the Khodorkovsky case and not the murder of Starovoitova?’”
And he explained that the reasons for that reflect the following thing: Poles “well know from contemporary history that the path from communism to democracy is not a stroll down Nevsky Prospect. And there will be problems in all countries,” but these two recent events are disturbing because they reflect a dangerous return to authoritarianism and imperialism.
Asked about the reasons Russian leaders talk so much about “the enemies of Russia” and especially about “enemy number one – the United States,” Michnik said that they do so both because of “the anti-American propaganda” of the Soviet past and because it helps them shore up public support for their policies.
In another comment, Michnik suggested that one of the ways in which Russia is different from Poland is that in the latter country “our ‘Putinists have not destroyed a real alternative in politics” whereas in the former that is precisely what has happened. But despite that, he said, “the path to democracy is the only path for Russia.”
And he said that there was a fundamental reason for his optimism in that respect: While “the history of Russia is really the history of empire,” he argued, “the history of Russian thought is the history of freedom” – something that the state, however authoritarian has never been able to completely destroy.
As far as Georgia and its current president are concerned, Michnik noted that he had served “as a moderator between the government and opposition a year ago when Saakashvili closed down the Imedi television company. I had an interesting conversation with him” concerning that action.
Michnik said his exchange with the Georgian leader called to mind Karl Radek’s remark about the difficulty of talking to Stalin: You give him citations, and he gives you exile, an anecdote that plays on the multiple meanings of certain Russian words. “That was the nature of my conversations with Saakashvili,” Michnik said. “He so unbelievably lied.”
At the end of what must have been a most uncomfortable exchange, Michnik said, he told Saaakashvili that he might be operating under the misconception that he, Michnic, came “from Norway or Australia.” But, the old Solidarity activist said, “I come from Poland and I know very well all your little Bolshevik jokes.”
Speak openly and truly, Michnik said he told the Georgian president. “I will return to Warsaw and write in the New York Times about what I saw [iin Georgia] and what I think.” He responded that he would reopen the television station. And he did, Michnic confirms, but only “for two weeks.”

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