Friday, January 18, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Russian Right, by Ignoring the Past, Condemns Russia to Repeat It

Paul Goble

Baku, January 18 – Contemporary Russian conservatives refuse to acknowledge that many of the tragedies their country suffered in the 20th century were the direct result the insistence of their ideological predecessors that Russia can only exist in the form of an empire and must pursue a special path unlike any other country.
Still worse, according to a Moscow commentator who has prepared a translation of the work of Harvard’s Richard Pipes on Russian conservatism before 1917, those who support these ideas now, including an increasing number in the Kremlin itself, refuse to see that they are condemning Russia to a new round of disasters.
Reacting to a special issue of Ekspert entitled “Russia. Five Centuries of Empire,” Irina Pavlova argues that inspired by the Kremlin’s support for “continuity” in Russia’s national life based on these principles, a “majority” of her countrymen are falling into the trap George Santayana’s aphorism aptly sums up.
“In Russia,” she writes, “there has never been a shortage of discussions” about how the country should be organized. “There isn’t one now.” But at present, most of these debates are not informed by these earlier discussions or by a consideration of the impact they had (
Indeed, to the extent that the articles in Ekspert reflect the state of current thinking about Russia’s future, Pavlova says, it is unfortunately the case that “in all these arguments, there is essentially nothing new.” Pre-1917 Russian writers made identical arguments for the same ideas.
But those authors wrote “before the 1917 revolution which demolished the Russian empire and by so doing thereby demonstrated the weaknesses of their arguments.” Those who today call for Russia to be an empire and to follow a “special path” do not have that excuse.
Unfortunately, as the new issue of Ekspert demonstrates, the current generation of Russian conservatives “write[s] as if there had never been an October revolution with a bloody civil war or a Soviet empire built at the cost of millions of human live positions now but which collapsed in three days in August 1991.”
They do not provide any “analysis of mistakes and crimes” or draw “any conclusions” from what happened in Russia in the 20th century, she says. Instead, they echo President Vladimir Putin’s refrain that “there are far more bright spots in Russian history than dark ones” and that the end of the Soviet Union was “a tragedy.”
Like the Kremlin leader who shares so many of their ideas” and who also has been unwilling to consider the ways in which the continuities of Russia’s past have played out, today’s conservatives are certain that only they really love Russia” and that anyone who criticizes their ideas or their country is a Russophobe and unpatriotic.
And “in reality,” these so-called conservatives “love not the country or its people but rather the Russian government and the powers.” In the “Ekspert” articles, they are even prepared to assert that “Putin’s system of power and Russia are one and the same thing” and that “Russia without Putin is today geopolitically impossible.”
For contemporary Russian conservatives just like their predecessors in the 19th century, Pavlova continues, service to the state is the highest value. Indeed, they often equate that with freedom and democracy, thus subverting the real meaning of both those universal concepts.
And once again, those who claim to care about their country insist that “in Russia, the people exists for the state, not the state for the people” and that “Russia despotism and Russian unfreedom are to be preferred as the highest achievements of Russian history!”
But she continues, “if you really love Russia and not its current powers that be, then on the contrary you will want it to break out of the restricted path of its historical fate and proceed along the road precisely of Western civilization because humanity has not yet thought of any better political organization than democracy.”
That is a hard thing to convince Russians of, she acknowledges. Over the past 15 years, democracy has been discredited in the eyes of many of them. They do not associate it with “order and law but with disorder and illegality,” and neither they nor the political elite appear to believe that democracy, not dictatorship, will produce a state based on law.
“In a law-based state,” she points out, “the people do not fear the police. Business does not depend on the government, and bureaucrats serve to help someone who wants to open a business rather than put obstacles in his path.” In it, the opposition is protected, elections are meaningful, and “the state serves the people” rather than the reverse.
At the same time, Pavlova makes an important qualification. She notes that supporters of democracy are “not against an authoritarian rule for Russia, given its size and the scope of its problems. “ But they can support such a regime only if it works to put the country “on the path to a legal state, freedom and democracy and not to dictatorship.”
But she continues, it is worthy asking whether “the current president of Russia is following this path” or whether any of Russia’s current politicians is in fact “capable of conducting such a policy.” “Do you think,” Pavlova inquires, “such an understanding of state and law was taught at the law faculty of Leningrad State University?”
That puts an enormous responsibility on all those who talk about the history and future path of their country, but judging by what some are saying in journals like the Kremlin, it is a responsibility that most of them have signally failed to live up to. And because many in the Kremlin like their ideas, many Russians are going to suffer.
“Russia will not survive a new despotism and a new empire,” Pavlova warns, and “its collapse will be no less dramatic than it was in 1917 or 1991.” But in the calls for both on the pages of Ekspert, she says, one can finally get an answer to the question of what “the apologists for ‘sovereign democracy’ are thinking.”
And consequently, however much they repeatedly insist otherwise, most of those advocating a new empire and a “special path” for their country are far less concerned “about the future of Russia” than they are “about serving the immediate interests of the current powers that be.”

No comments: