Vienna, March 12 – Twenty-five years ago today, Mikhail Gorbachev became CPSU general secretary and, in response to the problems that the Soviet Union then faced, launched the policies that collectively came to be known as “Perestroika” and ended with the demise of the communist system and the Soviet Union as a state.
Now, on this anniversary, a Russian analyst argues, the Russian government finds itself in a bind that recalls the one Gorbachev felt himself and the Soviet system to be caught in, simultaneously wanting to maintain an authoritarian government and to launch the kind of economic reforms that could allow for economic progress.
But given that the Russian powers that be and the Russian people both have the experience of Gorbachev’s time and have a new and more powerful kind of glasnost, both are fearful that any radical change in course now could easily have just as a radical and unwelcome set of outcomes as reforms promoted by the first and last Soviet president’s did.
On the Delfi.ee portal today, Fyodor Krasheninnikov, a political consultant who gained notoriety for his dystopian novel, “After Russia,” notes that “few remember” now how perestroika reflected this tension and in fact grew out of the Andropovite idea of “acceleration” (rus.delfi.ee/projects/opinion/article.php?id=29719581&l=fpOpinion).
In his first months, the Russian commentator notes, Gorbachev pushed his program by arguing that “socialism is of course the best system and it is developed, but it is necessary to speed things up for a time and then finally there will be butter and perhaps even sausages on the shelves.”
“If one speaks in human language,” Krasheninnikov continues, “then the situation [at the start of Gorbachev’s time was] very similar to the present-day situation regarding modernization.” The powers that be now recognize they cannot afford to leave current economic arrangements where they are but they do not know what specifically they should do.
That is because “the chief condition of the Andropov-Gorbachev policy of acceleration and the present-day Putin-Medvedev policy of modernization is not to change the basic foundations of the political system” even as the former and the present rulers feel themselves compelled to consider reformation of the economy.
“It must be said,” the Russian analyst continues, “that in the middle 1980s, acceleration didn’t go further than slogans.” And relatively quickly, these slogans gave way to the ideas of glasnost, perestroika and democratization, although none of those ideas was directly presented by Gorbachev at the start of his time in office. And glasnost proved to be the most powerful.
In many ways, the analyst says, today there is a similar process, but there is one big difference: “No one among us had to declare glasnost as a policy, but it exists and in levels which in the mid-1980s simply could not have been possible.” This is the result of the Internet, he insists, and it is not something the powers that be can control or avoid.
More and more people turn to the Internet for news, and this focus has forced even the channels of information under the control of the current regime to take note in many cases of what the Internet sites and bloggers are saying, even and perhaps especially when the latter are featuring stories critical of the regime.
That marks a major shift from the mid-1980s. At that time, the smallest breakthrough in reporting was “a sensation,” even though those sensations now would be viewed as barely worth noting. And “no underground samizdat or Western radio stations could even come close to competing with what the Internet is doing today.”
Again, Krasheninnikov stresses, Russians “are dealing now not with glasnost declared from above but with glasnost spontaneously arising from below which no one permitted and therefore no one will be able to prohibit.” And from that he concludes, no one should expect that another round of “perestroika” will be something declared from above either.
Today, the official news outlets may be able to ignore some protests, even though almost everyone knows about them because of the Internet, “but this is only for the time being. As soon as this barrier falls, then everything will begin.” Some had thought that the programs in the regional elections might be the trigger.
“But what elections” are people really talking about when the only thing people are focusing on is “what difference there will be between the percentage of the vote United Russia received and what percentage the marionette opposition does?” That’s what Sunday’s vote is about, a vote that resembles “the last Soviet-era elections of 1984.”
That vote did not matter for the future of the Soviet Union, and the upcoming elections do not matter to the future of Russia, Krasheninnikov insists. But thanks to glasnost declared from above after the former and now the glasnost that has arisen from below, there have been and more important will be again “different elections and an entirely different history.”