Staunton, February 6 – When the 1993 Constitution was drafted, Igor Yakovenko says, “democrats, dissidents and human rights activists” had no problem agreeing to give the Russian president virtually unlimited powers because they were infected with the belief that such a figure could realize “a good empire” in place of a bad one.
They thus laid the foundation for the repressive and aggressive Putin dictatorship of today, the Russian commentator says; and many of them appear to continue to believe, even if they oppose Putin, that all that is necessary to have “a good empire” is to have a good president with the same powers in his place (yakovenkoigor.blogspot.ru/2018/02/blog-post_5.html).
“Not one of the participants of the Constitutional Convention” had any fears about what they were agreeing do, “despite the fact that in that body were a group of representatives of local self-administration led by Boris Zolotukhin, representatives of the regions headed by Sergey Shakhray, and … such well-known democrats as Anatoly Sobchak and Viktor Sheynis.”
It is important to recognize that “the legal foundation of the present Putin empire was laid by people who were completely sincerely convinced that they were laying the foundaitons of a democratic state in which the supremacy of law, the division of powers, human rights and the free development of the regions would be guaranteed,” Yakovenko says.
“It is difficult to suspect” Boris Zolotukhin or Viktor Sheynis “of imperial sympathies. Yet nevertheless, even they did not see anything terrible in giving the president super-dictatorial authority, in the absence of guarantees of the rights of the regions, and with the right of local self-administration simply hanging in the air.”
According to Yakovenko, “utopian ideas about the possibility of ‘a good empire,’ just like dreams about ‘a correct dictator,’ have constantly been reproduced among democratic society,” with the most often favored models ranging from Chile’s Pinochet to Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew.
In 2003, Anatoly Chubais even advanced the idea of creating “’a liberal empire’” explicitly and three years later, Mikhail Kasyanov even spoke about his project for Russia’s future as “’an empire of freedom.’”
The idea of “a liberal empire” is “not new, Yakovenko points out. That is what France was called under Napoleon III and the British conception of “the white man’s burden” is rooted in the same idea. But the problem for others and for Russia in particular, is not whether an empire is good or bad but rather that it is an empire.
The times of “’good empires’” if they ever existed “have passed. Today any empire is evil. An empire in present-day Russia is being reduced in part as a result of the existence of the imperial man within each of us” regardless of where he or she is on the political spectrum otherwise, Yakovenko says.
“The imperial man is convinced that good ideas can and must be introduced by overcoming the resistance of bearers of bad ideas, including if need be the use of force. Therefore, the imperial man calls for the concentration of power in the hands of ‘a correct dictator’” instead of an “’incorrect’” one, without recognizing where the problem really is.
“The imperial man is convinced that there are ‘wise’ peoples and ‘stupid’ ones, ‘progressive’ and ‘backward,’ and therefore the meaning of the liberal empire of Chubais was that ‘wise and progressive Russia’ lead behind itself ‘stupid and backward’ countries of post-Soviet Russia.”
Yakovenko recalls a conversation he had with ethnographer Sergey Arutyunov who observed that the smartest peoples in Russia were “the Chukchi and the Eskimos because they better coped with the conditions of their lives than we do with ours and also can live in our conditions while we cannot live in theirs.”
And “the imperial man is convinced that there exist simple and one-dimensional responses to complex and multi-faced problems of the current world and that it is sufficient to replace poor people in power with good ones and life will begin to right itself, that the country can be run from a single center” despite the enormous variety of the regions of the country.
It will be far more difficult for Russians to expel the imperial man from themselves than many imagine, the commentator says – at least as hard as expelling the slave was earlier. And there is another question: “will anything remain in a Russian if the imperial man is expelled from within him.”