Monday, November 9, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Russia Today Increasingly Recalls Tsarist Regime’s Final Days, Krasheninnikov Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 9 – Both because of the “fatal” political mistakes Russia made in the 1990s and because of the failure of the Russian powers that be to learn from the more distant past of their country, the author of the anti-utopian novel, “After Russia,” says, Russia today recalls the political situation during the last days of the tsarist regime.
Fedor Krashenninikov, a political commentator who has gained notoriety in Moscow for his sharp criticism of the existing regime and apocalyptic predictions about the future of the country, drew this analogy in two articles posted at the end of last week on the Estonian Novosti portal ( and
In the first of these, the Russian author drew an explicit comparison between politics in Russia today with the politics of the last years of Tsarist Russia. A century ago, “there were no means for political struggle, and therefore anti-government elements (moderate and immoderate liberals, political radicals, and offended national minorities) were driven into the underground.”
There, often against their will, these groups began to cooperate because of one overriding goal: the overthrow of the regime, and in that situation, they made the obvious but often dangerous calculation that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” not only domestically but internationally as well.
Such tactical approaches, Krasheninnikov continues, are not morally attractive but are understandable given that those who adopt them are confronted by people who are “generously financed from the state budget and in general make use of all kinds of ‘administrative resources’” to maintain their position.
That in turn highlights something that too few Russians are prepared to recognize: “in any revolution the guilty parties are not so much the revolutionaries as the preserves of the current order who have led the country into such a situation that even a handful of people are able to seize power and destroy everything.”
Moreover, Krasheninnikov continues, there is another dimension to this possibility: if the current opposition does succeed and destroys the current regime, “the surviving supporters of Putin after a few decades will write books and make films about how … [wonderful] Putin’s Rus was and how foreigners and their hirelings destroyed its undefeatable army.”
Whatever one may think of Krasheninnikov’s analogy and predictions, his enumeration of what he calls “the fatal political mistakes” of Russia in the 1990s and the conclusions he draws on the basis of them represent a useful checklist for considering the various elements lying behind Russia’s current situation.
The first mistake or at least “misfortune” was the rise of Boris Yeltsin to lead the post-Soviet state, the Russian writer says. Because he was part of the apparat, Yeltsin could never completely escape it, and while he could govern, he was not equipped to do it “democratically,” something that should have come as no surprise given his work in the old apparatus.
The second – and this was “the first, main and fatal mistake of Yeltsin” himself – was his decision not to call for “immediate reelection of the soviets at all levels at the end of 1991. Had he done so, he would have had a legislature with which he could work and more important one which would have reflected where Russia was heading rather than where it had been.
The third mistake was the failure of the Russian government to engage in lustration and de-communization, steps that would have been impossible in Russia because of Yeltsin’s past – he would have had to go. Thus, Russia lost the opportunity that some of the countries in Eastern Europe seized upon.
The third political mistake 1993, a year that “in a certain sense was fatal for Russia” because of the clash between the old Soviet parliament and Yeltsin’s government, because the issue of the banning of the communist party was not carried through to the end after those events, and because of the authoritarian constitution that was written and rammed through.
The fourth mistake was the discrediting of parliamentarianism when Yeltsin increasingly relied on executive orders after his supporters suffered a defeat in the first post-October 1993 elections. The fifth was the fraudulent elections of 1996. The sixth were the moves to bring the media and especially television back under government control.
The seventh was the Chechen war. And the eighth was Yeltsin’s decision to select Vladimir Putin as his successor. As “a former state security officer,” Putin could not approach “the deconstruction of the heritage of totalitarianism” in a European manner. And thus Yeltsin, who constantly proclaimed himself to be a democrat, left power to someone who is not.
If Russians are to learn from their past and avoid a recapitulation of the tragedies they have already gone through, Krasheninnikov argues, they need to move toward a parliamentary system in order to reduce the concentration of power and avoid any attempts to modify democracy “even in the name” of establishing it.
Unfortunately, the anti-utopian writer concludes, if they do not do so – and the historical record suggests that the odds against them are very, very long, Russians today are likely to discover that they are recreating the conditions that “will inevitably lead to totalitarianism in the future.”

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