Thursday, May 16, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s Regime Resembles Brezhnev’s but Russian Society isn’t Soviet Anymore, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 16 – The way in which media controlled by the Russian government have played up the recent spy case makes one feel that the country has “returned to the 1980s model of the USSR,” an Russian opposition figure says, but the briefest of reflections leads to the conclusion that the regime may have but that the population hasn’t and won’t.

            In a commentary on his blog yesterday, Gennady Gudkov says that as someone who grew up in Soviet times, he immediately caught the message of these government stories: “Hostile ‘voices’ paid for by the CIA are again conducting ideological diversions against the fortress of communism, and a traitorous ‘fifth’ column … is besmirching the bright image of our Motherland” (

            The financiers of the opposition remain the same – the CIA and the US State Department – with only the names of “the chief enemies of the Soviet (forgive me!) current powers” changed from Academician Sakharov to people like Boris Nemtsov who “was a supporter of Boris Yeltsin who made Vladimir Putin his successor.”

            The Russian government media now as the Soviet media did 25 years ago, the opposition figure continues, are still promoting the very same message: those who protest have suffered “a  moral collapse” and are selling Russia to its “accursed” enemies for small change.

            In order to convince the Russian audience of this, the government media make use of people like Andrannik Migranyan, “who is more well-known in the Russian Federation for his talent at a necessary movement to repeat the news that is necessary to necessary people,” again a pattern familiar to those who remember Brezhnev’s times.

            The government media now offer no discussions or debate or even nuances. They put out only “naked” propaganda, “crude lies, and open slander,” again just as the Soviet media did in the past. But whatever those in power who order this kind of thing may think, Russians and Russia now are not what they were a quarter of a century ago.

            First of all, Gudkov says, the Cold War is over; Russians have travelled and studied abroad and even own property there. They thus have the basis for comparison between what the regime says about the West and what the reality there is that their Soviet predecessors often did not.

            Second, the regime’s continued reliance on such propaganda shows that it wants to rely not on the most educated and most informed part of the population but rather on the least. That raises the question: “what kind of a country are we building, a country of fools?” Or is it just that the regime has been fooling itself.

            And third, Gudkov argues, it appears that the powers that be do not recognize something else, that their propagandistic approach is driving the country into a dead end, one in which “civil conflict will become the single means of resolving the contradictions that have been building” in the very different Russia of today.

            The top leaders clearly do not remember what happened to those like Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn whom the Soviet regime persecuted. Today, they are “the first names” of the country and there are even streets in Moscow named in their honor. And they appear not to be able to imagine that the same pattern could repeat itself.

            According to their limited understanding, “the extra-systemic (that is, real) opposition is preparing a ‘color revolution’” by promoting dissatisfaction with the regime. But a revolution is not something that is cooked up in that way, Gudkov argues. It is “a spontaneous phenomenon like thunder or a storm.”

            No one can order it up, but it can only be avoided by “wise agreements” or be prepared for, especially if the situation in a country is deteriorating as it is in Russia today. But those at the top of the Russian regime do not understand that either and remain prisoners of “the illusion that they have total control over the political situation.”

            That too recalls the final years of the Soviet Union. Then too the Politburo and its hangers’ on thought that they were in full control and would remain so. “A very sad parallel,” Gudkov concludes and then asks “perhaps it is still not too late” to avoid yet another cataclysm with all that that would entail.

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