Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Historical Analogies Matter in Russia Because Lessons Aren’t Learned, Crimes Aren’t Punished and Mistakes Aren’t Overcome, Pavlova Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 25 – Unlike in Western countries which have law-based states, historical analogies are particularly important and suggestive in Russia because there “the lessons of the past are not learned, crimes by the state are not punished, and mistakes are not overcome,” according to commentator Irina Pavlova.

That reality, she argues in her latest commentary, makes especially worrisome “the essential similarity” between what is going on in the Russian political system now and what took place in Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1937, the year that opened the way to what is often called “the great terror” (

In advance of the December 1937 elections to the Supreme Soviet, Pavlova notes, Andrey Zhdanov, then a candidate member to the Politburo, said it was necessary to achieve “the furthest most strengthening of the political activity of the masses and the inclusion of new strata of the toilers in the work of the administration of the state,” adding that the Bolshevik Party must “guarantee its leading role in the front of ‘social organizations and the society of the toilers.”

Two weeks ago, in advance of the Duma elections scheduled for December 2011, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the establishment of an All-Russian Peoples Front and said in Volgograd [formerly Stalingrad] that “namely the United Russia Party must lead the preparation of the masses for the elections.”

Several days later, Putin said that “we are creating the All-Russian Peoples Front in order that there will be a demand for all constructive ideas” from various parts of society and that there will be “an additional chance for the immediate direct participation [of the masses] in the development of the most important government decisions.”

In 1937, Pavlova continues, “only ‘social organizations and societies of toilers’ could nominate candidates for the Supreme Soviet, and the chief jurist of the USSR at that time, Andrey Vyzhinsky, said that these groups are those which put “as their task the active participation in socialist construction of the USSR and also the support of the strengthening of the defense of the country.”

Those qualities at the time deprived groups like religious parishes “which were permitted to exist only for ‘the satisfaction of their religious requirements,” of a similar right to nominate candidates.

At present, Pavlova says, citizens “inclined toward opposition” are similarly excluded. Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary, said that opposition figures like Eduard Limonov, Mikhail Kasyanov and Boris Nemtsov could not join the new peoples front because “as far as I am aware, these persons do not share either the strategic or tactical goals of United Russia.”

“In 1937,” Pavlova continues, “mass popular enthusiasm was observed.” That enthusiasm was then directed against Stalin’s opponents. Indeed, it was at the same party plenum that a decision was approved to “transfer the cases of Bukharin and Ryzhkov to the NKVD” and to go after regional leaders who displayed “a cult of personality.”

During the 1937 election campaign, there was much talk about “wreckers” and “enemies of the people.” Now, the “main” subject, according to President Dmitry Medvedev is “the struggle with corruption,” a struggle that is supposed to involve, just like its predecessor, “the most varied forces” and be directed at those viewed as the opponents of the Kremlin.

Pavlova points out that as a result, “in 1937, the mass election campaign became a cover for the conduct of a government policy of repression.” Today, there are differences, but the current situation “ever more recalls one before a storm” that must “somehow or other” break out as part of a resolution.

Obviously historical analogies do not explain everything, Pavlova says, but she asks a series of pointed questions on the basis of her comparison: “Will the struggle with corruption turn out to be a new edition of the cadres reform of 1937?” Will the current leadership which is riddled with thieves be replaced by “young ‘nashists,’ ready to struggle for modernization?”

And even more seriously, “will ‘a cadres reform’ of the 2011 model develop in such a way, if it does take place, that it will lead to a broad struggle with ‘extremists,’ ‘extra-systemic liberals’ and other citizens” the regime’s leaders view as “disloyal.” The danger is real enough, she suggests, to justify real alarm.

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