From an interview – 4

Yuri Felshtinsky: Where I see the main problem, of course, is that the government hoodwinks the people and the people go along with it. In other words, the people have no objection in principle to such an approach. I personally don’t like it, but on the other hand I find myself imagining someone who fell asleep in 1988, say, during perestroika, waking up in 2001 or 2008, under Putin, anyway. And this person had slept through the whole of the Yeltsin era, slept and didn’t even know that the Yeltsin era had ever existed. Imagine newsreels where someone just took a pair of scissors and cut out all the Yeltsin-era material from 1990 to 2000. And actually, let’s be honest, the picture we see today is absolutely wonderful, if we compare it with the Soviet era, or the period  of 1988-89-90. There’s no Communist Party, or at least, the CP exists only as one of numerous political parties. There’s no ideology. There’s a market economy, there’s freedom to travel abroad. The elections can’t really be called elections, of course, but that’s only if we compare them with elections in France, or America, or Britain. And if we compare them with the elections there were in the Soviet Union, the elections in Russia nowadays are simply beyond one’s wildest dreams. Both at a local and at a national level.

There is absolutely no freedom of speech, of course, let’s be frank about that. Nevertheless, there is a sort of opposition press, there’s Novaya Gazeta, there are some journalists, there’s Latynina. Yes, journalist are killed from time to time. But even so, we’re not talking about the millions of people who lost their lives in the purges of the Stalin era – we can speak, we can have different opinions, these statistics are always sad, and some of the people who’ve been killed were my very close friends, Anya Politkovskaya, for example (that was a personal loss) but we are nevertheless talking about 200-300 journalists being killed,  not about total political control.

And while there is absolutely no question that some politicians have been murdered, there is no global political terror of the kind there was in the former Soviet Union.

So you know, it all depends on how we compare those different eras. And perhaps we really need to agree that yes, Russia is not capable – at this point in history, at least. and we’re not talking about 10-30 or even 50 years – Russia is not capable of becoming some European, civilized, democratic country, it’s not ready to become that yet.

Russia is still trying to find its place in history and its path in history. Another thing is that, as history shows, Russians must constantly pay for this quest. Russia’s search for its path in history is an expensive venture in the world of today. Of course, I would prefer it if Russia and the Russian people, or the Russians, would calm down and realize that they don’t have a path of their own in history.

Mikhail Sokolov: A special one.

Yuri Felshtinsky: They have no special path.

From an interview

Mikhail Sokolov: Have you noticed that they’re still trying to work out some kind of [national] ideology? There’s this “Shoigu Law”, which really threatens anyone engaged in research relating to the Second World War that doesn’t fit in with their view of it – that’s a form of ideological activity.

Yuri Felshtinsky: Yes. Though I don’t think it’s dangerous, because I think it’s all rather absurd. For example, I never believed – and this goes back to the discussions there have always been among the émigré community, at least since the years when I first came over here in 1978, that there would be fascism in the Soviet Union or Russia. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. I never believed that there would be nationalism in the Soviet Union, or now in Russia. Because Russia really is a multi-ethnic state. And the numbers of Russians, who have never been counted, and especially of pure ethnic Russians, whom it is absolutely certain that no one has ever counted, are not critical enough for Russia to have a hard-line national government.

And Russians themselves probably see one another more as people who are soft rather than hard-line, more disorganized than organized, more slovenly than focused on certain ideas and rules.

Russia is an enormous state. For all the attempts to remake it and build a centralized “vertical of power”, you and I know that the power ends at the Ring Road. And in fact there are many who would seriously assert that it ends at the walls of the Kremlin. Beyond the walls of the Kremlin, none of that centralization and “vertical of power” works any more.

The decline of Russia’s intellectual community

Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia has a link to an interesting essay by the Russian historian Irina Pavlova which examines the way in which Russia’s intellectual class has declined under the influence of the Soviet past and the readiness of most Russian intellectuals to put power before moral and ethical principles. Excerpt [my tr.]:

I am struck, for example, by the image that has emerged of Vladislav Surkov as the cleverest man in Russia, to whom the members of the Academy of Sciences listen with servile attention. And the “talking heads” Sergei Markov and Maxim Shevchenko, who have never done any historical research, but who give instruction to historians in how to study the famine of the early 1930s. And the specialists, rendered wise by experience, who support the chairman of the recently created Historical Memory foundation, Alexander Dyukov. With enviable fervour this young man is bringing to life a new prison-guard conception of Soviet history that is based on blind faith in the documents given to him from the archive of the FSB. And the liberals, who are placing their hopes in a new democracy led by President Medvedev. And the abuse and invective hurled at the Russian people, who don’t want democracy and support the current government. All this, in my opinion, is evidence of a profound intellectual and moral crisis, which is no less dangerous than the economic one. Whom God wishes to punish, he first deprives of reason.

Moscow’s Ideologist-in-Chief

Andreas Umland, on the rise and rise of Ivan Demidov, the Kremlin’s new ideologist:

Demidov has professed to be under the influence of a particularly extreme brand of Russian imperialism known under the label of “neo-Eurasianism.” This ideology has been principally developed, in hundreds of articles and books, by the neo-fascist Russian theoretician Alexander Dugin (b. 1962), and constitutes perhaps the most radical anti-democratic ideology that has gained acceptance within Russia’s political establishment today. In a November 2007 interview for Dugin’s website, Demidov stated that “doubtlessly, a crucial factor, a certain breaking point, in my life, was the appearance of Alexander Dugin.” The two men have been cooperating for a while now within Demidov’s “Spas” TV channel where Dugin has his own show called “Vekhi” (signposts). To be sure, Demidov has repeatedly stated that his various patriotic propaganda projects are designed to deprive russophile ultra-nationalists of their control of the nationalist agenda and thus aim to fight the increase of xenophobia and hate crimes, in Russia. He announced that “the words ‘Russian’ and ‘fascism’ are antonyms,” and that he and his associates will “fight against the infusion of the term ‘Russian fascism’ into mass consciousness.”

However, in 2007, Demidov, with explicit reference to Dugin, also acknowledged to be a “convinced Eurasian.” This is oddly the same phrase that Dugin had used 15 years earlier to describe the political beliefs of Reinhard Heydrich (1904-1942), the infamous chief of the SS Security Service and one of the planners of the Holocaust. Dugin sees his Eurasian movement as the follower of a secret “Eurasian Order” that existed for centuries, and included, among others, various German ultra-nationalists. While, at times, strongly distancing himself from Hitler’s crimes, Dugin has, throughout the 1990s, repeatedly expressed his admiration for certain aspects of the Nazi movement. For instance, he called the theory sector of the Waffen-SS an “intellectual oasis” within the Third Reich, and admitted that National Socialism was “the fullest and most total realization” of the Third Way that Dugin advocates until today. In one of his numerous pro-fascist articles of the 1990s, Dugin gets excited about the prospect that, after the failures of Germany and Italy, there will, in Russia today, finally emerge a truly “fascist fascism.” In the new century, to be sure, Dugin’s rhetoric has become more cautious. Now a frequent political commentator on various TV shows, he often poses as an “anti-fascist” and describes himself as a “radical centrist.” Dugin tries to draw a line between the inter-war right-wing intellectuals whom he admires and those who supported Hitler. Yet, as late as 2006, Dugin admitted that among his models are the ultra-nationalist German brothers Otto and Gregor Strasser who got into personal conflicts with Hitler in the early 1930s, yet had also played a crucial role in making the NSDAP a mass party in the 1920s. In March 2008, his WWW site confirmed that Dugin has still sympathies for the Strasser brothers.

Political murder

If any fresh example of fascistic rhetoric emanating from the Kremlin were needed, a clear and plain one could be found in President Dmitry Medvedev’s recent characterization of Georgia’s President Mikheil Saakashvili as a “political corpse”. Coming from the leader of a state which has lately specialized in political murders of the most despicable kind, the sheer crudity and cynicism of this remark definitely stand out.

One to be remembered.

The Stockholm speech

It’s now starting to be time for all the Western commentators, the op-ed writers, journalists, political analysts, academics, businesspeople and sundry Kremlinologists who acclaimed the “New Russia” that supposedly emerged after the fall of Communism to publicly admit that they were wrong – that what really took place was a co-ordinated attempt at a gross deception intended  by a cynical post-Soviet elite to make the world believe in a manifest falsehood. There were reasons for this willingness to be duped. The liberated nations of Eastern Europe, the states of Poland, Hungary, Czechia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were genuinely liberated, able to begin the return to the democratic traditions of their pre-1939 existence, and many people in the West rightly greeted this with relief. In Russia, however, no such return took place, for the simple reason that there had never been any democratic traditions in Russia to begin with. A euphoric mood of “let’s make believe” took hold of many Western observers of the Russian political scene.

Yet if they took a closer look, they could see that in essence nothing had really changed in the halls of power within the Kremlin. Sixteen years ago, on December 14 1992, Andrei Kozyrev, the foreign minister of the newly-fledged Russian “successor state”, made a speech in Stockholm – in connection with the then newly developing Balkan crisis – which outlined the true nature of Russia’s foreign policy. Though Kozyrev treated his audience to a theatrical turnaround in which he claimed that his statement was a “rhetorical device”, intended to show the power of those who opposed the supposedly “liberal” tendency of the new government, experienced observers realized what was afoot. The speech went as follows:

I am obliged to introduce corrections in the general direction of Russian foreign policy. I wish to inform you briefly about these to the extent that they concern CSCE problems.

First: While fully maintaining the policy of entry into Europe, we clearly recognize that our traditions in many respects, if not fundamentally, lie in Asia, and this sets limits to our rapprochement with Western Europe.

We see that, despite a certain degree of evolution, the strategies of NATO and the WEU, which are drawing up plans to strengthen their military presence in the Baltic and other regions of the territory of the former Soviet Union and to interfere in Bosnia and the internal affairs of Yugoslavia, remain essentially unchanged.

Clearly, sanctions against the FRY were dictated by this policy. We demand that they be lifted, and if this does not happen, we reserve our right to take the necessary unilateral measures to defend our interests, especially since the sanctions cause us economic harm. In its struggle, the present Government of Serbia can count on the support of the great Russia.

Second: The space of the former Soviet Union cannot be regarded as a zone of full application of CSCE norms. In essence, this is a post-imperial space, in which Russia has to defend its interests using all available means, including military and economic ones. We shall strongly insist that the former USSR Republics join without delay the new Federation or Confederation, and there will be tough talks on this matter.

Third: All those who think that they can disregard these particularities and interests – that Russia will suffer the fate of the Soviet Union – should not forget that we are talking of a state that is capable of standing up for itself and its friends. We are, of course, ready to play a constructive part in the work of the CSCE Council, although we shall be very cautious in our approach to ideas leading to interference in internal affairs.

It’s time now to go back to the history of those early years of the Yeltsin government and to discover what really happened in them.

The Russian Idea

Marko Mihkelson has an interesting post (in Estonian) about the current rebirth of imperial ideology in Russia. In the context of the Russian invasion of Georgia Mihkelson mentions the “Eurasianist” ideologues of the “Russian Idea” who are now coming into their own – with official encouragement – in their native land, and quotes one fairly chilling example of such writing and thinking, which is widespread now among “intellectuals” in Russia:

“It is clear that we need the kind of idea for which one will not be sorry to give one’s life. And the building of civil society, of the rule of law, of a prosperous society we find uninteresting. Indeed, we would rather squander everything and end our lives with suicide, than scrupulously count the credit and the debit, invest, corporatize, organize on cooperative lines, and so on. We find that tedious. We would rather try to absorb the enormous spaces of Siberia and the Far East, so that the islands of the Pacific Ocean become indigenously ours, we will fight for centuries with Europe for the Baltic States, and with Turkey for the Dardanelles – that is our way.”

Klaus on environmentalism

RFE/RL has an interview with Czech President Vaclav Klaus (a physicist, whose latest book is A Blue, Not A Green Planet), in which among other things he talks “not about global warming but about the opinions that are being imported, thanks to the false threat of global warming, by people like Al Gore and many others” [excerpt]:

RFE/RL: You write in your book that socialist ideology has been replaced by the threat of “ambitious environmentalism.” Could you define what you mean exactly?

Klaus: Let’s keep repeating until we’re weary that one thing is ecology, scientific ecology, a descriptive, positive science that describes real things and phenomena in the world and tries to find connections between them and laws and so on. That’s not the discipline we’re discussing. A completely different thing is this “world view” wrapped up around it that exploits some theories from this or that discipline in order to carry out yet another in a never-ending line of attacks against human freedom and the market economy.

The main attack on the market in the last 150 years has been the softer or stronger versions of what — now that communism has gone — is known as the “social market economy,” basically the official ideology of Germany and Austria and now the EU. In other words, the main attack on the market and on human freedom has been to add the “social” adjective [to the word “market”].

People know how I began my political career and if there’s one expression of mine that’s been quoted most, it’s the early one from the beginning of the 1990s when I said, “a market without adjectives.” In other words let’s not spoil things with any adjectives. So the first attack is social, [either] in the softer version of today’s European system, [or] in the harder version of communism. Now, more and more, [the words] “social and ecologically oriented” or something similar are added. So it’s another attack, [meant to] destroy the market and human freedom and using a slogan — social in the past and now ecological — to do something completely different. And for me this is a fundamental attack on human freedom.

As someone who went through communism, I know what this is about and I think it’s necessary to sound the alarm. I’m not comparing, like some caricatures have me, the threat of communism versus the threat of environmentalism. Communism was probably worse, though I think that with some of those extreme environmentalists we would live to see something similar. They would be cutting off heads, too, but I’m not comparing them.

Putin’s Generation

From Steve Lee Myers’s run-down on Nashi, in the IHT:

“Putin’s Generation” is growing up with a diet of anti-European and anti-American sentiment that could deepen the social and political divides between Russia and the West for decades.

“Today the United States on one hand and international terrorism on the other strive to control Eurasia and the whole world,” Nashi’s manifesto says. “Their gaze is directed at Russia. The task of our generation is to defend the sovereignty of our country as our grandfathers did 60 years ago.”