Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Putin’s ‘Conservatism’ a Parody on the Real Thing, Commentator Says

Paul Goble
            Staunton, January 1 –President Vladimir Putin’s “conservatism” is a combination of the ideas of the Russian radical right of the early 20th century and Stalin’s notions of “traditional values” which the dictator used to cover repression and fool the west, according to a Moscow commentator.

            In short, Pavel Protsenko argues in “Yezhednevny zhurnal” this week, it is “a parody” of the real thing and conceals a political agenda which will destroy any possibility for the future development of Russia as what it once was, part of rather than opposed to European civilization (

            Few political terms have been abused as much in recent years as conservatism, and so it is perhaps not surprising that many people have been prepared to accept Putin’s recent efforts to define himself as a follower and promoter of that set of ideas, but Protsenko suggests that to do so is to fundamentally misunderstand what the Kremlin leader is about.

In two recent addresses, one to the country’s literary establishment and another to the Federal Assembly, the commentator says, Putin invoked conservatism not only in his capacity as the most important leader in Russia but as “an expression of the official ideology” he wishes to define and make use of.

            Putin’s understanding of conservatism, Protsenko says, can be summarized in the following way: “Russia is the guardian of traditional values. More than that, it is the defender of these values from ‘the so-called tolerance, sexless and fruitless,’ which has triumphed in the Western world.”

            “Liberal tolerance there,” Putin suggests, “has passed all limits and been transformed into a dictatorship which has destroyed morality, equated good and evil, and thus become a threat for the existence of humanity.  Moscow, having become the defender of ‘the moral foundations of civilization,’ has become an outpost of the struggle for ‘genuine human live,’ including for religious life and the values of humanism.”

            Putin’s statements and his claim that “the policy of the Russian government” is one that reflects this “’conservative position’” has attracted support around the world.  “But,” Protsenko points out, as Nikolay Berdyayev pointed out, “’the meaning of conservatism is not that it blocks movement forward and upward but that it prevents movement backward and down.”

            Before accepting Putin’s assertion at face value, the Moscow writer says, it is worth enquiring just what his “conservatism” consist of.  It is clearly not the conservatism of tsarist Russia which was “close to the conservatives of Europe and the so-called civilized world.” Indeed, until the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, “Russia was an organic part, albeit on the borders of the Euro-Atlantic world.”

            After seizing power, Protsenko continues, “the communists immediately began a war against national traditions and against the foundations of civilization.”  Not surprisingly, this approach led “very quickly to the moral degradation of society” and even forced the Soviet regime to pull back.

            “In the intervals between the waves of terror, under conditions of a growing demographic catastrophe called forth by mass repressions, Stalin prohibited” much that the Bolsheviks had allowed earlier, such as abortions. But Protsenko points out, “this return to ‘traditional values’ was not a rehabilitation of the values of Christian culture.”

                Instead, Stalin exploited the imagery of “the former empire and the former culture” to stupefy people and cover his repression. The Soviet dictator, with some success, “used the dead forms of Christian ethical norms for the radicalization of totalitarian repression of the personality” inside the USSR and “with the goal of blinding Western society.”

            But one penetrating observer at that time, Bishop Varnava, who was in a Soviet concentration camp, noted that what Stalin was doing was “a Soviet playing with traditional values” and nothing more than a deception,” a kind of “Trojan horse dragged into the camp of [the communist regime’s] ideological opponent.”

            Conservatism in both the Eastern and Western Christian traditions while drawn to conservatism is “at one and the same time the basis for creativity,” according to Protsenko who draws on the writings of Berdyayev, who noted that those who call themselves conservatives but seek to block this creativity are “a parody on genuine conservatism” and will be responsible for “future revolutions.”

            Even though he cited Berdyayev, Protsenko points out, Putin, “by linking the struggle for tradition with the army and fleet involuntarily, according to Berdyayev, reveals the anti-Christian roots” of its ideas.

            But that is not the worst part of Putin’s misuse of conservatism.  Despite his use of that term, Putin made use of “the terminology of the radical right publicists of the beginning of the 20th century” who were anything but conservative and talked about combatting what they and he called “the amoral international” by “mobilizing the masses” against unnamed enemies.

            Not only did he take a leaf from those who helped inspire the Black Hundreds, Protsenko argues, but the current Kremlin leader “followed Stalin in exploiting the traditional values of Russian society for its enslavement and for the deception of the world outside” as a means to dividing and weakening it.

            “Stalinism will not return,” however much some “current bureaucrats who came from the KGB” would like to see that happen, the Moscow commentator says.  But Putin’s false “conservatism” is nonetheless “extremely dangerous and does not allow contemporary Russian society to have a worthy future.”

            Russia does need “a return to the great experience of Euro-Atlantic civilization, part of which it is,” Protsenko says. But that return is highly problematic when the “goal of the ruling nomenklatura has become the destruction in the country of the atmosphere of freedom which for European culture is the chief virtue and motor of development.”

            Putin’s “conservatism” instead of promoting a return to European values simply is a pastiche of worn-out Soviet ideological clichés which are “cut off from the main paths of the development of humanity.” But “the errors and sins of the West” to which Putin refers “cannot be the basis for a return” to the Soviet past.

            In his speeches, Putin says that Russia and other countries must “return” to traditional values and then “move forward.”  But “forward to what?” Protsenko asks. “The dreams of the veterans of the security agencies? From Lenin Street to Stalin Square past the monument of Dzerzhinsky under church banner holders with icons singing Mikhalkov’s hymn?”

            Such a path, the Moscow commentator concludes, one “where by definition there are no values at all,” conservative or otherwise.


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