Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Khabarovsk Protest ‘Peasant War of 21st Century’, Pastukhov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 8 – The protests in Khabarovsk are fundamentally different than last year’s demonstrations in Moscow by the forces driving them and the way the powers that be are responding, Vladimir Pastukhov says; and they suggest that Russia may again be heading against the grain of history with Khabarovsk being “a peasant war in the 21st century.”

            The Moscow protests “were small and elite. Only a small fraction of residents, primarily residents of the educated classes took part,” the London-based Russian commentator says. “The Khabarovsk protest is massive, with a significant share of the population taking part, including representatives of the most varied strata” (mbk-news.appspot.com/sences/rossiya-v-ozhidanii-atatyurk/).

            “The Moscow protest was ‘mental;’ in it was a marked ideological and political vector with on the whole a clearly expressed liberal (in the Russian sense of the word) profile,” he continues. “The Khabarovsk one is ‘emotional,’” without those characteristics but driven by the widespread feelings about the situation.

            Because the Moscow protests was small and reflected an alien group as far as the Kremlin is concerned, Pastukhov says, the powers that be knew what to do and repressed it quickly and brutally. But because the Khabarovsk ones are large and reflected the views of its own constituency, the Kremlin has been far less certain about how to respond.

            In Khabarovsk, “the Putin majority became agitated,” the very same group which six years ago completely backed the Kremlin’s “neo-imperial course.”  One could even say that last year’s protests in Moscow were those of “the 14 percent” who oppose that course, while this year’s in Khabarovsk are “a protest of the 86 percent” who backed it.

            That is why the events in the Siberian city are so “dangerous for the Kremlin,” Pastukhov argues, and why it has responded so slowly and as it has.

            Khabarovsk is not something entirely new, he suggests; it is only something so “archaic” that few have drawn the appropriate comparisons.  This isn’t a 1917 or a 1991, this is a peasant rising like those in earlier centuries.  And because it is so, the current demonstrations have both “strong and weak sides.”

            Peasant risings have always seemed to come out of nowhere and grow with extreme rapidity, only to collapse largely on their own when the wind changes course.  That much Putin and his team understand, and they have thus adopted a wait-and-see approach, biding their time until intervention will work for them rather than make the situation still worse.

            The powers that be are right to think that this peasant rising like most of its predecessors will fail, but there are exceptions – and it is far from clear whether today’s Kremlin has thought about the possibility that this may become one of them.

            The exceptions have occurred, the historian says, when peasant uprisings link up with urban revolts. Indeed, if that happens, the powers that be have typically been incapable of responding adequately or even surviving.  Alone, Khabarovsk doesn’t threaten the Kremlin; together with protests in the capital, it could prove decisive.

            The Khabarovsk demonstrators reflect “the road of the tribe,” as V.N. Muravyev of Vekhi fame wrote a century ago.  Responding to it will require more than “’the stabilizing repression’” the Putin regime has used up to now. The political game has changed, and the Kremlin is clearly uncertain what move to make next.

            The Kremlin can’t decapitate the Khabarovsk protests because there is no “head” there. And even though Khabarovsk may fail, it has opened a new era, one in which “today, practically any region is a potential ‘Khabarovsk.’” Putin and his team have often talked about wanting to meet up with “the deep people.” But the new events show they won’t like what they find.

            It is possible that Vladislav Surkov is correct that “’the deep people’ do not dream about a kingdom of freedom, do not share liberal values, and do not understand why they need democracy [and that] they believe in a tsar.”

            The problem for the Kremlin, however, is that they may be seeking “a different tsar” than the one now on the throne. They may want one that is even more consistent in rejecting modernity than Putin is and more ready to have Russia move back to the world of Purishkevich and the Black Hundreds movement of pre-1917.

            It is also possible, Pastukhov says, that “the masses in Russia are not ready for a national or a legal state. It is possible that the idea of autocracy is closer and more understandable to them than the idea of a constitution.” But today “they want change – and this is the main thing that Khabarovsk shows.”

            Putin came to power as a restorationist, “but the time of restorers is passing. The masses want changes and movement. They are unconsciously seeking a Russian Ataturk who will pull the tribe from its past and lead it into the future,” and that future “won’t correspond very closely to liberal ideals.”

Russian Democrats Outnumber Imperialists But Have More Fears than Hopes, Belanovsky and Nikolskaya Say


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 8 – Russians divide into three groups ideologically, Sergey Belanovsky and Anastasiya Nikolskaya says, but both their relative size and specific content as to hopes and fears remain unclear because up to now, there have been few studies that allow for conclusions about either.

            Building on research the two sociologists have done in the past, they conclude that ideologically democrats are the dominant group, with 44 percent of the population, those who have not made an ideological choice are almost as large at 39 percent, and imperialists third with only 17 percent (ridl.io/ru/ideologicheskie-segmenty-rossijskogo-obshhestva/).

            Ideological democrats outnumber imperialists among younger, more educated and more urban groups, and they even have slightly higher incomes, Belanovsky and Nikolskaya say.  They are far more likely to condemn Moscow’s policy toward Ukraine while imperialists are far more approving. Those who have not chosen sides are more evenly split on that issue as well. 

            But perhaps the most important differences among the groups concerns the emotional components of their views.  According to the sociologists, “Democrats” are filled with more anger and disappointment and have more fears about the future. They have the fewest hopes for the future.

            “Imperialists,” in contrast, are full of hope for the future and much less angry and disappointed about the situation now, although if one totals the share of those who are angry and those who are disappointed, it is almost as great as those who have great hopes for the future of their country.

            Those in between have some hope for the future but at the same time have almost as many feelings of denigration, anger and disappointment.

            On the basis of these findings, Belanovsky and Nikolskaya offer several conclusions. Numerically, democrats are predominant in Russian society, outnumbering imperialists by 2.5 times; and given socio-economic trends, there is every reason to think that their share of the population will grow rather than decline.

            But the groups divide in terms of their view of the future. Democrats are pessimistic while imperialists, although a minority, are full of hopes. That drives much of what they say and do even though the numbers are running in directions precisely opposite to their preferences, the two sociologists continue.

            And that opens up a variety of possibilities, especially given that the dichotomy “democrats-imperialists” is not exhaustive. In the future, they suggest, it is entirely possible that portions of these ideological opposites will combine with those who are in between in new ways and lead to a new ideological center in Russian society.

            A half century ago, Alexander Werth published a volume which he had originally intended to call “Russia at Peace” as the companion volume to his classic Russia at War (London, 1964).  He chose instead to give the second volume the title Russia: Hopes and Fears (London, 1969).

            That reflected his view that Russia was not yet at peace. The new research by Belanovsky and Nikolskaya suggests that as well, and it underscores a second and perhaps equally important point: that country’s future may be defined less by formal ideological positions than by the hopes and fears of those who hold them.   

Ignoring Russian Factor in 1991, Liberal Westernizers Opened the Way for Rise of Putinism, Sidorov Says


Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 8 – Liberal westernizers in the 1990s ignored the Russian factor, thus giving rise the resentments which powered the rise of Vladimir Putin and his authoritarian regime, Vadim Sidorov says. And in their ideas for the future, they continue to do so, thus opening the way for a similar outcome even if the country again comes apart. 

            Because Russian liberals were not informed by Russian self-consciousness but rather looked to Europe, the regionalist commentator says, they promoted outcomes which could only be sustained by the kind of outside force that was unlikely to be offered or sustained and thus set the stage for a return to the past (region.expert/eurasia/).

            Such people forget that the West was not that enthusiastic about the demise of the USSR, and they fail to recognize that its more recent behavior in Iraq, Syria and  Libya shows that it today it is even less willing to support the emergence of new states except under the most extraordinary circumstances, however often the Kremlin says the West wants to destroy Russia.

            They fail to see that when failed states do fall apart, there is very little willingness on the part of the Western powers to support any new ones that appear set to emerge lest that spark a new and more serious round of international conflicts on the territories of the old ones and that this is a major reason why the international community opposes the demise of existing states.

            “Like generals preparing for a future war on the basis of past ones, some radical democrats who were shaped by perestroika are preparing for the destruction of the imperial vertical in the Russian Federation on the assumption that this will occur in a way similar to the relatively peaceful and internationally recognized demise of the USSR.”

            “But before the world recognized the demise of the USSR, it was liquidated by three republics, its creators, and in the first instance by Russia itself as its geopolitical heart,” Sidorov continues. And that happened “not least of all” because Yeltsin did not want to allow the autonomous republics within Russia to be able to exit.

            And as a result, “instead of a decentralized confederation,” he and the Russians around him formed “a more centralized state, albeit of a smaller geographic size.” The outcome in short was not dictated by Gorbachev as some still imagine but by Yeltsin who was pursuing a Russian national agenda that liberal westernizers still refuse to recognized.

            The idea of a federal Russia arose in 1917 and continues to inform Russian thinking, however. And one should not underrate the fact that even though Putin has gutted the meaning of federalism by minimizing the power of the republics, he hasn’t taken the next step and removed federation from the name of the country.

            That provides a way forward, one that can overcome the current hyper-centralist system, but it is one that liberal westernizers have been slow to recognize. They are willing to concede that some non-Russian republics perhaps should have the right to exit, but they aren’t yet ready to support the idea that predominantly ethnic Russian oblasts and krays should be republics.

            If the current country dissolves, there will be a war across its territory, especially because many of the Russians in the oblasts and krays continue to view their only statehood as being that of the country as a whole. Unless that changes and unless liberal westernizers also take up the cudgels for it, the future for Russia is bleak – authoritarianism, war and more authoritarianism.