Vienna, May 31 – Vladimir Bukovsky, a leading Soviet-era dissident who now lives in Britain, says that many opposition figures in Russia today, even though they did not serve in Soviet-era structures, have “the mentality of the nomenklatura,” a quality that limits their ability to promote political change.
And that is especially tragic, he told a representative of the National Democratic Alliance because in his view, Russia “simply has no state” at the present time. One is being put together, he suggests, but “its general structure is amorphous,” and in the absence of pressure from below it will not be able to “correct” this situation (nazdem.info/texts/117).
Asked what those who want Russia to move toward democracy need to do, the former dissident said that “in the entire world, democracy is born in the streets, and until you win in the street, you will achieve nothing. Therefore, to proceed along the path of creating opposition parties would be a mistake.”
“An opposition party,” Bukovsky continues, “is a normal phenomenon where there is democracy. Even in Yeltsin’s time, it was possible to say only with numerous qualifications that Russia was a democracy. But now asking for the permission of the powers that be to serve as an opposition is laughable.”
What is needed, he says, “is not a party but a movement of people who share common views and in which each does what he can. That is how the dissidents operated: we had not clearly articulated structure. Now, the opposition [in Russia] must become something like KOS-KOR in Poland.”
That was “a dissident group” which served as “a Committee of Public Defense of Workers” and which “coordinated protest activity and helped the workers organize strikes. On that foundation, the Solidarity Movement arose,” and from that came the events which led to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe.
Asked about the combination of democratic and national goals in Solidarity, Bukovsky responds that for progress, “democracy is a necessary but insufficient condition. That was shown by the events of the early 1990s when after incompetent reforms conducted by people who were still Soviet in their psychology, the country in fact returned to authoritarianism.”
That did not happen in Poland, he argues, because there “the democratic revolution coincided with the growth of national self-consciousness and this made secure the conquests of democracy. [With Russians,] this did not take place. [And] now we need a movement of national rebirth if it is possible to express it in that way.”
Russians need “radical changes, above all in their minds” so that they can recover from the 70 years of communist rule during which they lost their ability to “trust one another” and to “work” rather than pretend to. And these shortcomings, Bukovsky says, disturb him because if they are not overcome Russia’s future will remain bleak.
Tragically, like the current Russian state, the current Russian opposition manifests the impact of Soviet-era thinking rather than being a means of overcoming them. When one meets with the Moscow “structures” of the opposition, they are obsessed with “hierarchy” and having “central” bodies like presidiums and political councils.
Bukovsky says that when he has been asked whether he would join “the presidium of a political council,” he has responded that they should “create something simpler and create working groups.” And he adds that it is “surprising” that these “oppositionists” have “the mentality of the [Soviet-era party-state] nomenklatura.”
And that comes through in what these people say. “We will be the central organ and you will be the peripheral organ. In the end, a new CPSU is created, although everyone should view themselves as a regional force” against the current powers that be, whether they are in Moscow or the Urals or someplace else.
“Our task,” the former dissident sums up the current challenge before the Russian opposition, “is not to give orders but to coordinate. The geography of the resistance movement has broadened. Earlier there were protests only in the major centers, but now people are spontaneously going to meetings in small cities as well.”
“To force people to go to a meeting is impossible,” Bukovsky observes. “That means that they themselves want to do exactly that.”