Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Window on Eurasia: A Democratic Russia in Its Current Borders is a Contradiction in Terms, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, January 25 – The Russian Federation is caught on the horns of a dilemma. If it does not democratize, it will fall further and further behind the West in its economic, social and political development. But if Russia does move toward democracy, it will -- just like the Soviet Union before it -- almost certainly fall into pieces, according to one Russian commentator.
In a blog post picked up by the Rosbalt.ru news agency and entitled “The End of History,” a writer who uses the screen name Alexalexxx argues that in an effort to straddle the space between these two positions, Russia has been “condemned to built false ‘democratic’ structures,” again just like in Soviet times (www.rosbalt.ru/2011/01/18/809796.html).
An example of this effort, he says, is President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent call for “the reform of the Federation Council,” an appeal that has no real meaning because there is no division of power and hence the parliament, including its upper chamber, has no real powers to act as a legislature.
“Up to now,” the blogger says, “Russia is an imperial structure at the stage of historical collapse and is capable of existing not with a democratic regime of administration but exclusively in a ‘frozen’ state.” That is because “any democratic Russia will inevitably collapse given the incompatibility of the civilizational foundations of its territories.”
The USSR of course “encountered the very same problem” when it tried to hold together places as diverse as the Baltic states, Georgia, and Moldova. “Nothing connected them except the powerfully passionate character of the imperial idea.” When that weakened and the “totalitarian” controls disappeared, the entire edifice collapsed.
Russia’s time “has still not ended,” the blogger writes, and “it continues to exist in the former imperial regime.” But “its territory is seeking its natural borders within which the centrifugal forces will be balanced by the centripedal ones. But this balance has not yet been achieved.”
As compared to the past, however, there are additional problems. In pre-modern Russia, the center could hold the periphery by “naked force,” but now “in modern times, the historical alternative of democracy has appeared, a regime of maximum effectiveness for economics and social organization.”
Indeed, the blogger argues, “the standards of life in the 20th century are such that without democracy it is impossible to guarantee the development of the personality as well as the level o fhis security, rights and social comfort. “ In short, he says, “only an individual whose rights are guaranteed can make the new economy.”
Put in another way, “a Silicon Valley can be developed only because the creative of the personality is not vitiated by the struggle with arbitrariness or wasted in dealing with an authoritarian bureaucracy.” But “if you do not have independent media and deputies, and if you live under the power of corruption, your possibilities … are approaching zero.”
And because that is so, the blogger says, “the historical imperative of the democratic model of development in the 20th century came into what was for Russia a tragic contradiction given that country’s imperial form.” Competition requires democracy, but democracy is fatal for an empire.
Expressed in the most lapidary way, the blogger says, the choice confronting Russia is this “either the Caucasus or Russian notebook computers and smart phones” – or, put in another way, either a frozen authoritarian system “with imitation democratic institutions” or “democracy with advanced technology but without holding on to the Caucasus.”
Alexalexxx then addresses the issue of the Caucasus in another way. “Thousands of people from Central Russia,” he notes, “have been forced to pass through the school of force in the Caucasus and to traumatize their own psyches, after which on their return they reproduce the feudal level of legal consciousness.”
But whatever some in Moscow may think, it is impossible to “freeze” law “in one part of the country and to allow democracy to develop in the rest of its territory.” If the central government continues to try to do that, it will only exacerbate the civilizational dilemma it now faces.
Clearly, a democratic Russia cannot include the North Caucasus, the blogger says, but just what its actual borders should be is “a separate subject which can become part of the agenda only with a rejection of ‘the imperial’ in the name of development,” something that has not yet happened in Russia.
As a result, for the time being, Alexalexxx says, Russians “are condemned to imitate democratic institutions … following an imperial matrix and forcibly running after ‘the vertical’ of territory in the framework of ‘Great Russia.’” But there is a price for this, and that price is the loss of compatibility with other countries and hence of a comparable standard of living.

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