Staunton, May 13 – Many still say that the Putin regime lacks an ideology, but in fact from the very beginning it has had one, Andrey Illarionov says. It is sislibizm, a contraction of “systemic liberalism,” that refers to the use of ostensibly liberal rhetoric for the justification of a fundamentally anti-liberal regime.
Specifically, the Russian commentator writes on the Kasparov.ru portal today, “sislibizm is an ideological trend which uses quasi-liberal and completely liberal rhetoric for the justification of illiberal political practice and the strengthening of an anti-liberal political regime” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5AF7BEAF84D46).
According to Illarionov, “the most important aspect of sislibizm is a servile attitude (passing at times to deification) of the state in general and the current Russian state in particular. The supporters of sislibizm are distinguished by a rare ability to distort facts” and to misread situations always to their own benefit.
If this were only an intellectual trend, it would be unfortunate but easy to dismiss, the commentator continues. But unfortunately, it is wrapped up with state policy in ways that mislead many as to what the state is actually about and how Russians and others should react to it.
He develops his argument by examining the works of Moscow scholar Yekaterina Schulmann in general and her discussion of the Cossack attacks on demonstrators in Moscow and in the regions. The latter is far more immediately important and instructive as to how Russians should evaluate the regime and react to its increasingly authoritarian actions.
According to Illarionov, Schulmann confuses here readers by conflating two different means of the term “paramilitaries.” Some like the militia and the police are “undoubtedly completely legal formations.” But there is another kind, not recognized by the state and even in conflict with it, like the Ichkeria forces in the 1990s or the Caucasus imamate more recently.
And then there are the Cossack groups “which beat demonstrators on the streets of Russian cities on May 5 of this year … Naturally, they were legal from the point of view of the current authorities which not only did not conduct military actions against them but even provided them necessary support.”
The key fact is this: “In a free society, people simply aren’t beaten. If people are beaten … then this is not a free society and not a hybrid regime as Schulmann likes to assert. This is an authoritarian regime.” And if the Cossacks are acting without reference to any law, then “this is not simply an authoritarian regime but a bandit authoritarian regime, not a hybrid one.”
But that is not the worst aspect of those like Schulmann who reflect the ideology of sislibizm. The worst is the ease with which they fall into double standards so that they can appear to be criticizing something in one place that they in fact support in others.
Schulmann has expressed outrage about Cossack actions in Moscow but supports the use of Cossacks in Krasnodar and Stavropol krays where supposedly it is completely justified by local conditions.
For her and others who share her views, “beating citizens with whips in Moscow is not comme il faut. This produces a large quantity of negative headlines and bad pictures for the inauguration of our new beloved by all president. But to beat citizens with whips in the south of Russia is completely justified because there the political culture is different.”
That is outrageous and dangerous because if criminal actions are allowed in one place, they can easily spread to others. The only good thing about the Cossacks’ application of whips against the protesters is that because the Cossacks aren’t a state agency, they can be challenged in court more easily and opposed by other “paramilitary” forces who can defend the protesters.
The Russian regime has thus produced its worse nightmare: an infuriated population ready to take force into its own hands because the government is using or allowing to be used illegal force against it. Without the organization of such self-defense groups, the opposition will find it “impossible” to advance toward “a genuinely free society.”