Monday, June 15, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Western Liberals Helping Kremlin to Undermine Russian Liberalism, Moscow Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, June 15 – Despite its increasing authoritarianism, Moscow has acquired “more than a few allies in the West” but perhaps none more surprising than Western liberals who many Russian liberal opponents of the Russian government had long assumed would be their best allies in promoting democracy, according to a leading Moscow analyst.
In an essay posted on today, Irina Pavlova points out that “the post-Soviet powers that be have done everything to revile and marginalize the liberal idea in Russia and those few liberals who were and remain the true supporters of this idea,” something that the liberals themselves assisted by their involvement in the nomenklatura privatization of the 1990s.
But with the coming to power of Vladimir Putin in 2000 and his efforts to demonize that period and “strengthen the regime,” the situation became even more dire for liberals as the Russian government moved in a direction which even its apologists in Russia and the West say is “little distinguished from a dictatorship” (
That the Kremlin should have done so is no surprise, Pavlova continues, but “a particular irony in the situation is that by its very actions directed at the strengthening of an authoritarian regime, the Russian powers that be have acquired many allies in the West,” including those Russian liberals had thought they could count on.
The occasion for Pavlova’s commentary is Anatol Lieven’s article entitled “Russia’s Limousine Liberals” in the current issue of “The National Interest.” In that article, the British writer sharply criticizes Russian liberals for their criticism of the contemporary Russian political system (
On the one hand, Lieven accuses the Russian liberals of failing to acknowledge that the current Russian regime, however much they dislike it, enjoys the overwhelming support of the Russian population. And on the other, he argues they are simply seeking to gain power for themselves rather than to promote the more open system that they claim to want.
The occasion for Lieven’s critique, Pavlova says, was an oped by Lev Gudkov, Igor Klyamkin, Georgy Satarov and Liliya Shevtsova in the “Washington Post” criticizing the Hart-Hagel Report’s for the Obama Adminsitration to “reset” US relations with Russia (
That report, the four Russian liberals said, contains formulations which “surprisingly recall the rhetoric of the Kremlin” and displays “a serious lack of understanding of the situation in Russia and the direction of its development,” shortcomings which they said help to explain the report’s call for Washington to minimize its attention to Russian domestic affairs.
According to Pavlova, Lieven “is a support of such a ‘realistic’ approach to relations with Russia, and his views are in many ways typical for Western liberals as a whole,” a group that “dominates in universities, the mass media, and the expert community, and now in the legislative and executive branches” of the US government.
Unfortunately and as a result, the Moscow commentator continues, “Russian liberals by connecting themselves with Western liberals and hoping for their support, are committing a major mistake, which up to now has not been recognized” -- but should be obvious to anyone who reads Lieven’s latest article.
“Repeating the arguments of the apologists of the Russian regime,” Pavlova points out, “Lieven lays all the responsibility for the policies of the 1990s on the liberals, upbraiding them for ‘having learned nothing’ from that.” As a result, Lieven suggests, “they do not have the right to pretend to be an opposition to the contemporary Russian establishment.”
Why? Because by so doing, he argues, the liberals “are only strengthening the antagonism of society to liberalism. More than that, he considers that if they did not exist, Putin would have to think them up,” and he accuses liberal commentator Andrey Piontkovsky of “McCarthyism” for the latter’s criticism of pro-Kremlin writers.
According to Lieven, Russian liberals are ignorant of their own society and their society’s support for Putin’s regime. After all, in his view, “Putin’s Russia is not so bad; it would be worse if the destruction of the existing political system occurred and in its play came extreme chauvinistic neo-fascist groups.”
But Lieven does not limit himself to criticism of liberals, in Pavlova’s view. He “is in solidarity with Russian patriots like Aleksandr Dugin who has directly called liberals ‘enemies of
Russia’ and called for redress against them. Moreover, he opposes including Ukraine and Georgia in NATO and supporting the territorial integrity of Georgia.
“In these views,” Pavlova continues, “Anatol Lieven is a typical contemporary Western liberal educated on the ideals of the ideological revolution which took place in the West in the 1960s and was directed at a revision of the ideals of genuine liberalism.” Such people continued to call themselves liberals, she notes, but in fact, they should have been called socialists.
Such people “oppose capitalism and support a more just social-political order which in their view the state can provide. They are supporters of a broader interference of the state in business and in social life and for the elaboration of various kinds of state programs” in order to make the economy and social sphere more “orderly.”
In addition, she writes, “over the past decades among millions of Americans and Europeans as representatives of Western civilization has been inculcated a guilt complex before other peoples.” That has led, she said, to the acceptance of the idea that all civilizations are equal and that all political arrangements are justified.
That guilt complex, Pavlova argues, underlies the Hart-Hagel report’s call to respect “the sovereignty of Russia, its history and traditions and to recognize that Russian society will develop according to its own rhythm” and Lieven’s attack on the efforts of Russian liberals to change the direction of their society.
Tragically, however, this kind of tolerance often puts Western liberals “on the side of the most authoritarian rulers.” Thus, Columbia University provided a forum for the Iranian president to speak, and “Time” magazine chose Vladimir Putin as its “person of the year.” And it is why “realists” in the West “do not share the views of Russian critics of the regime” in Moscow.
Such people, Pavlova says, “are more inclined to trust Putin and Medvedev and the reports of mass media loyal to the Kremlin and the commentaries of pro-Kremlin brain trusts.” And guided by such interpretations, she continues, they fail to go beyond the “falsehoods” that the regime is putting out and learn what is really going on.
As a result, “the bitter truth of the historical moment which Russia is experiencing today consists in the following: the chance to change the direction of [Russia] toward liberalism is extremely small.” But if liberals in that country need help, Pavlova concludes, they should not look to “Anatol Lieven or contemporary Western liberals in general.”.

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