Thursday, April 23, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s Rulers Now Act Much as Stalin Did, ‘Disorienting’ Again Many in Russia and the West, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 23 – Dmitry Medvedev’s actions in recent weeks have “disoriented” many in both Russia and in the West, according to a leading Moscow commentator, because such people have failed to understand that in its operations, the leaders of today’s “power vertical” are acting in ways that resemble those of Stalin and his henchmen in the past.
That should be obvious given the simultaneous talk in Moscow now “about the need to improve the image of Russia abroad,” Irina Pavlova argues, and even more the plans to hold a forum in Washington to advance that cause later this month featuring speakers like Andranik Migranyan and Gleb Pavlovsky (
But instead, the Moscow commentator continues, “many are concluding that the powers that be [in the Russian Federation] are sending signals [to their own people and the West] about the beginning of a change in policy direction and perhaps about the coming or a new ‘thaw’ or even ‘perestroika.’”
To think in that way, Pavlova argues, is to be taken in by the regime because “all these conversations about signals testify, to put it mildly, about the lack of any appreciation of how the much-ballyhooed ‘vertical’ of power actually operates,” a failure of perception that is especially sad in the case of those Western scholars who have studied the Stalinist regime.
Were Sheilah Fitzpatrick, the author of “Everyday Stalinism,” to talk about “signals” today, that would be “unforgivable,” the commentator suggests, because the American professor knows on the basis of her research that Russian leaders don’t send “signals,” they show their intent by actions that they have often taken great pains to separate themselves from.
“The real powers that be [in Stalin’s time] acted according to the laws of conspiracy, in secret not only from the people but from their own party and outside the bounds of the Constitution.” Only when people saw what took place, Pavlova suggests, could they begin to divine what the leaders really intended.
Russia’s “present powers that be,” the writer adds, “operate in exactly the same way. Is much known to society now, including the members of the United Russia Party about the secret and top secret directives of the hidden behind the scenes politburo of the FSB, MVD, MFA or the Ministry of Defense which are then presented in the directives of these agencies?”
“It is completely certain that many of these directives are given orally so that it will be possible to reconstruct them only on the basis of the actions that follow.” And thus, the Moscow analyst says, “the inalienable aspects of such a conspiratorial type of powers that be are the lie and conscious disinformation.”
To make her point, Pavlova points out that Russian and Western historians have been “struggling for decades trying to establish Stalin’s intentions in 1939 to 1941.” Even now that some of the archives have been open, on many questions, “there are no traces of [Stalin’s] directive activity even in the ‘special file’ of the Politburo.”
“Was he prepared for an aggressive war against Hitler with the goal of the subsequent seizure of Europe?” is a question those archives can’t answer, Pavlova notes, because “in the traditions of conspiracy, Stalin and Zhukov did not put their signatures” on key documents that might otherwise provide the answer.
“Exactly the same history was repeated not long ago at the time of the [Russian] war with Georgia,” she continues. “Where are those directive documents which came from the highest echelons of power which would reveal its intentions and concrete steps in the preparation for this war?” Only the course of events provides an indication of what this guidance consisted of.
Unfortunately, she writes, “society again believed the words of Putin-Medvedev and thus became again the victim of disinformation.” And “those who do not want to be deceived will be forced to devote a great deal of effort if they are to re-establish historical truth” about the Russian-Georgian war.
Now, as in the past, “blind faith in the powers that be without any indication of its secret directive activity is a particular feature of Russian existence,” Pavlova argues. Many Russians, for example, were “shocked” at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s when they found out even what the Stalin-era archives showed about the leadership.
But tragically, “today those who are deciding for themselves whether to serve or not serve the Kremlin have forgotten about this. They are prepared to trust the powers that be about the decisions of which they do not know and cannot even guess” now and even more so in the future.
Pavlova concludes her essay with the following observation: The situation in the upper echelons of power in Moscow today “corresponds to the period of the 1930s. Just as at that time, the regime was still young but it was strengthening itself and ready for action.” And it enjoyed the sympathy of “all who had decided that this was the best choice for the country.”
And as some people have also forgotten, “in Stalin’s time there were not only repressions. There was also a hidden preparation for war, and a well-fed Stalinist elite which closed its eyes both on the domestic and foreign policies of the [Stalinist] leadership of the country.”

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