Friday, July 3, 2020

Putin’s Referendum Provides Fresh Example of Banality of Evil, Anthropologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – Russians voted for the Putin amendments less because of any fear that not doing so would have negative consequences for them than because of a sense that voting no would not have any consequences in a situation in which the public space is not something they control but must simply live within, Dmitry Dubrovsky says.

            The Higher School of Economics anthropologist says this is the latest example of the phenomenon of the banality of evil that Hannah Arendt described in her book about the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem more than half a century ago (

            Russia is not a totalitarian state and does not control people entirely by fear, Dubrovsky says. Instead, it is a certain kind of “’hybrid non-democracy,’” a place where some people truly support the regime, others oppose it, but most go along out of a sense that it is useless to resist the state’s demands, because they are the new norm and violating it can have real costs. 

            People will take risks when they believe it is required by their profession or when they believe that doing so will achieve something. Thus, doctors treat those who are dangerously infectious because that is required by their job; and that is what citizens do when they have a sense that their actions can achieve something.

            When citizens become convinced that there is no chance to achieve that, they not only go along with the demands of the state but more or less fully integrate what the state wants as the basis for their public behavior, the anthropologist says. As a result, for example, they may not steal in their private lives, but they come to tolerate theft in the public sphere.

            Over time, especially if there is targeted repression, people will be ever less inclined to take risks without hope of change and will go along. That is what Putin is counting on and so far with enormous success. And those who do accept his norms are surprised when anyone suggests that what they are doing is wrong, just as Eichmann was in Arendt’s telling.

            A major reason that this pattern is not widely understood is that most people expect their fellow citizens to be more rational and consistent than they in fact are. “An individual is a complex thing and he is not required to be consistent in everything.” Most can live in at least two worlds, a private one where two times two is four and in public one where it is five.

            That so many Russians today find themselves in this position, Dubrovsky argues, reflects not just the efforts of Putin but the continuing influence of the Soviet past.  Many Russians continue to live according to the paradigm that was imposed on them in the past, and as a result, they are quite prepared to accept its more recent return.

            What the country needs, the anthropologist says, is “decommunization, not in the sense of a struggle with red flags, although that too wouldn’t be a bad thing but rather in the sense of a long conversation” about what happened to people under that system. But even if that conversation occurred, one should not “demand too much from people.”

            “The individual with his small life in general is not required to be a hero, a fighter, or a revolutionary.” There are simply too few such people, and those who would like to see their numbers grow so far have not understood the situation well or developed messages that will cause others to join them, Dubrovsky says.

            That is clear from the behavior of Russians during this laughable constitutional referendum, the anthropologist concludes. “This is in fact an absolutely ritualistic action,” one individuals can’t affect however much they may be affected by results decided upon in advance by those in positions of power. 

Today’s Vote Marks ‘Death of First Russian Republic,’ Skobov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – “The first Russian Republic has fallen,” Aleksandr Skobov says.
“It lived out the three decades of its life very poorly,” never had a period of flourishing and “from the very beginning suffered from traumas which were not very compatible with its existence.”

            Instead, it featured “innate and almost immediately acquired deformities,” the Moscow commentator says, one that has now led away from a republic to a form of ‘’presidential autocracy,’” the unfortunate outgrowth of the criminality and banditism, and “the dirty imperial war” it conducted against Ichkeria proved mortal (

            Russians never loved the republic, Skobov continues. They used it for enrichment and to make careers, “but they did not love it. From its birth, it was hated by a large part of its ‘political class.’” They included the name republic in the country’s title, but “it was ‘a republic without republicans,” an unloved and deformed child.

            But despite this, “in the depths of its soul, in the first two parts of its Constitution, it was a good thing.”

            “The Roman Republic lasted several centuries and its agony lasted an entire one. In contrast, the First Russian Republic suffered a death agony for 20 of the 30 years it existed.” It constantly was subverted and directly attacked. But today’s vote,” the commentator continues, “means that it has suffered “death from asphyxiation.”  

            That conclusion is justified, Skobov argues, not because the amendments extend Putin’s time in office or the other changes but because the vote itself has “annulled elections as an institution” in Russian life. Voting isn’t simply “an electoral procedure. This is the mystery of the Republic.” 

            Rulers can falsify elections but while some rules remain, people can challenge those and the republic can be revived. The votes of each at least potentially matter, and there is a chance that the republican principle of rotation in office can be restored or established. But Putin has destroyed that at least for the time being.

            “Putin voting creates the precedent of ‘an electoral procedure’ without rules,” something that is far worse than falsification.  Under this “procedure,” “a vote no longer has any importance” and therefore the Republic “has breathed its last.”  What has been done today will simply be extended to all events formerly known as elections.

            As long as Putin is in power, there won’t be any real elections; there will only be “electoral procedures.”  And if he is not driven from office one way or another, the cancer he has put in the body politic will destroy not only the Republic but Russia as a country, done in as so often republics have been destroyed in the past by those who falsely claim to be its defenders.

            “The First Russian Republic is leaving without glory. Few will seek to defend it. And it is impossible that it will be restored. We need a Second Republic, purely parliamentary and confederal. Let’s destroy this prison. Its wall should not stand for long,” and Russians can ensure that they don’t.

            “The First Russian Republic has died,” Skobov concludes. “Long life the Second Russian Republic, and let the murderers of the First on bear full responsibility for what they have done.”

Federalism Will Help Russia Shift from ‘People for the State’ to ‘State for the People,’ Advocates Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 1 – While Vladimir Putin is promoting constitutional amendments that will make the Russian Federation ever less federal and ever more authoritarian, federalist thinkers are arguing that only by the creation of a genuine federation can Russia survive and relations between the state and the population change.

            Up to now, the Russian people exist for the state as far as the country’s rulers are concerned; but if Russia is to become a modern country or even last over the coming decades, the state must serve the people rather than the other way around. Federalism is a necessary precondition for that shift.

            The Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal under the leadership of Vadim Shtepa has long been promoting attention to the value of federalism not just as an end in itself but as a means to bringing freedom and law to the Russian Federation. Now, the site is encouraging regionalists to come up with programmatic documents.

            One has now been offered by regionalist writer and theoretician Artur Tushin ( It is not intended as a final statement but rather as the basis for further discussion and debate.  Nonetheless, its arguments are important; and an informal translation of the statement is given below:

            “In earlier historical periods, Russia has had a tradition of authoritarian regimes which have always sought to concentrate all power in one set of hands and one head, an autocratic model of administering everyone and everything from the center (capital) under which without the direction of the center, nothing can happen, a model of ‘the individual for the state’ and an imperialist system of the power ‘Vertical.’

            “Such models of ‘the individual for the state’ dominated the entire world for many centuries, but with historical development and the recognition of the value of man as an individual with rights ands freedoms, societies began to shift to the progressive models of ‘the state for the individual,’ to a system of ‘horizontal’ power, one that rejects the archaic models of ‘the individual for the state’ and ‘the Vertical.’

            “Post-Soviet Russia, it seemed, made the first step away from this empire-centric model when it proclaimed itself a Federation. However, the centuries of authoritarianism again brought to power the forces of hyper-centralism which gave rise to a unitary empire-centric Vertical.

            “As a result, a situation arose in which Russia did not shift from the model of ‘the individual for the state’ to the model of ‘the state for the individual. And this failure prevented our country from developing in step with the times and with prospects for the future. Those caught in the past have no future.

            “We are federalists. We consider that it is time for Russia to replace the empire-centric system of power of a Kremlin-centric Vertical with a federalist Horizontal, where priority will be given to the thousands and thousands of living direct ties between the subjects of the federation. The empire-centric system of the power ‘Vertical’ is simple, understandable, harsh, hard, but weak. And each time it falls apart, under its remnants the country is destroyed, drowning it in a sea of blood, tears, suffering and loss. The Federalist ‘Horizontal’ is complicated, multi-faceted, and flexible because the majority of citizens are involved in it.

            “We federalists consider that the individual with his natural, inalienable and holy rights and freedoms as featured in the Declaration of Rights and Freedoms of Man and Citizen is the highest value. And therefore, on this basis, must be arranged all governmental and municipal institutions.

            “We federalists assert: a Federation is voluntary.

            “We federalists call for the convention of a Constituent Assembly at which authoritative and freely elected representatives of the subjects will define the ways in which Russia will be reordered on the basis of an agreement among the regions.

            “We federalists hold that the Federative Treaty must become the basis for a new Constitution.

            “We federalists believe that all subjects which create the federation must have the same state-legal status as Republics. (Oblasts and krays are administrative units of a unitary state but not of a federation.)

            “We federalists stand for the idea that precisely the subjects of the Federation organize the federal center which they impose upon a number of obligations for the fulfillment of their will rather than having the center dictator to the regions how they are to live.

            “We federalists consider that the capital of the Federation cannot be a subject of the federation. The capital of the Federation must not be located in Moscow, a city which for centuries has existed according to the paradigm of Kremlin hyper-centralism. The location of a new capital will be decided upon by participants in the Federative Treaty.

            “The 21st century msut become for Russia the era of final liberation from the empire and the victory of federalism across its territories. It is time to build a federalist Horizontal and time to cast the empire-centric Vertical into the trash. Otherwise, Russia will end its path in history.”