Vienna, January 23 – The Russian government may find itself under increasing pressure from within and beyond its own ranks to pursue “a more radical national imperial policy,” Igor Klyamkin says, especially because at present, there are no obvious forces there or in society at large capable of “forcing” the regime to move toward democratization.
Klyamkin, the vice president of the Liberal Mission Foundation and a widely respected Russian expert on social and political transitions, was asked by Moscow’s “New Times” to draw on his expertise of developments in the post-communist countries and discuss the potential for “regime change” in Russia (newtimes.ru/magazine/2009/issue098/doc-60489.html).
As the journal noted, between 1946 and 1996, there were 133 regime changes around the world, some in the direction of greater democracy and others away toward a new authoritarianism. But it turned to Klyamkin out of the belief that the changes in Central and Eastern Europe a generation ago are perhaps more instructive for the future of Russia.
Klyamkin agreed that the experiences of the Warsaw Pact states are “useful” for those thinking about Russia. On the one hand, these regimes were not “classical authoritarian regimes” lacking an ideology even though economic activity remained almost entirely “under tight political control.”
But on the other, he continued, “they were no longer totalitarian either: at a minimum, there was no institutionalized force as an instrument of administration, petty private property was allowed in places, and in places there was even the veil of a multi-party system,” even though the single dominant party in fact ran the show.
According to the Moscow analyst, despite all the variations in the way these regimes were transformed, “the catalysts of this process were the same” for all: a serious economic crisis
“in the empire, that is, in the USSR,” which as a result did not send tanks to defend the elites and “a crisis of administration” which these elites could not overcome within the existing system.
In his response to the journal’s query, Klyamkin identified five “variants” of development in Eastern and Central Europe, none of which is exactly equivalent to the situation which exists in the Russian Federation but each of which contains elements that may be suggestive of the direction in which Moscow might move.
Variant Number 1, Klyamkin said, is provided by Romania, “the only country” in the region where the transfer of power occurred as the result of one group within the ruling elite took power from another by exploiting street protests. There are two other aspects of regime change there that remain noteworthy, the Moscow analyst suggested.
On the one hand, “the army refused to come to the aid of the dictator but the special services – the [Romanian] Securitate – on the contrary shot into the crowd. And on the other, Romania was the only country in the region where the former chief of state was physically liquidated in what might be called “the Latin American variant.”
Variant Number 2, he continued, was provided by Poland where “an organized non-elite force” – in this case, the Solidarity Movement – put so much pressure on the regime that General Jaruzelsky understood that he could not keep a monopoly of power and thus entered into discussions with those who wanted to oust him and his regime.
Klyamkin added that an analogous development occurred in the Baltic states, “where there was no pact of the elite but where in the course of perestroika were formed ‘peoples fronts’ – mass movements, organized by the anti-communist and anti-imperialist elite, in whose ranks were both old politicians and new ones united by a desire to gain state independence.”
Variant Number Three, he said, occurred in Czechoslovakia where spontaneous and largely unorganized demonstrations pushed those in power to conclude an agreement with them once the old leadership recognized that they could not hold on to power in the face of the “spontaneous street.”
Variant Number Four, according to Klyamkin, was provided by Hungary where “there was no serious pressure from below” but where both the extraordinarily serious economic situation forced Janos Kadar to recognize that he no longer “mastered the situation” and thus had to yield.
And Variant Number Five took place in Bulgaria, where the elite split, with one group hoping to gain support from Moscow to maintain communism but not having received any decided that it would have to talk to the opposition, especially because the country “wanted to be included in Europe.”
Asked by “New Times” whether Russia would follow one of these variants or move along its own “special path,” Klyamkin said that “the catalyst of the process if it begins will be similar factors” such as an economic crisis and the loss by the government of its capacity to administer the country.
As anyone can see, he pointed out, Russia is in the midst of an economic crisis, and, according to Klyamkin, “the power vertical already now is working very poorly.” He gave as evidence of that President Dmitry Medvedev’s apparent and quite public inability to extract even information from the ministers in a timely fashion.
Klyamkin continued, “the powers that be [in today’s Russia], fearing a repetition of the fate of Gorbachev, in every possible way opposes any politicization of the population” because “it fears the radicalization of opinions which can occur if the crisis turns out to be accompanied by a collapse.”
These things all recall the events in Central and Eastern Europe of 20 years ago, but there is one key difference: At that time, the people in these countries strove for democracy, and there was very little “mass demand for politicians of a radical nationalist and populist direction. They existed in all these countries but they could not really influence any of them.”
In Russia today, however, “after an experiment with democracy, we have landed speaking conditionally in a ‘Weimar situation,’” Klyamkin said. “Ineffective democracy has already lead Russia to authoritarianism, but it is completely possible that there will be a demand for a national-imperial policy more radical than the one now in evidence.”
“Under conditions of a crisis, this street may intervene in the course of events,” the Moscow analyst said. And whom it might bring to power, no one knows. But what if the street will [continue to] stay quiet?” In that event, “the firmness of the current powers that be will become clear when their money runs out.”
“It is possible that the clan in power will do what in the 1980s the communists in East European countries did” and surrender power to others. “But,” Klyamkin said, there are no obvious forces which could make “the regime move toward democratization.” Instead, he suggested, there are forces both within and outside the elite pushing in the opposite direction.