Staunton, March 18 – Russia has yet to complete the difficult business of overcoming the consequences of 70 years of living under communism, Ilya Milshteyn argues; but that task pales in comparison to the far more difficult one that Russia and the world will face in trying to overcome the impact of Putinism.
Many Russians assume that overcoming Putinism will be far easier, the Russian commentator says. All that will be necessary will be to eliminate some horrific laws, get out of the Donbass, dismiss the propagandists from television, and change the country’s relations with the West. And then, voila, “a new life!” (graniru.org/opinion/milshtein/m.275577.html).
“Alas,” Milshteyn says, “this point of view is far too optimistic.” Marxism-Leninism was a doctrine than when it ceased to work was quickly dispensed with by the Russian people who had never had more than instrumental reasons to accept it. Putinism, which is based on an idea of patriotism, touches something deeper and will be harder to get rid of.
Patriotism, “especially in its present-day fascist form,” is “a simple idea and understood by millions of citizens,” the commentator continues. It is superficially healthy, warm, and close to the heart, and it can mobilize people far more readily than any more supposedly elevated doctrine, as shown by Hitler and now by Putin.
Opposing outsiders and defending what one believes to be one’s rightful patrimony work. “Our Austria. Our Sudetenland. Our Crimea and Donbass, Minsk and Aktyubinsk. Our Sofia. Prague. Bratislava. Warsaw.”
“These are all our brothers and one need not be a corporal gassed during World War I … or a KGB lieutenant colonel who suffered as a result of the disintegration of a great power and the destruction of the socialist camp in order to dream about revenge and about again uniting with brothers,” Milshteyn says.
One may need the corporal or the lieutenant colonel to head the state that takes that kind of action, but the motivation on which they draw is far more widespread. It was in Germany; and it is in Russia – and will not disappear along with Putin. It will continue to affect people’s thinking and to mobilize them for certain goals.
For Germany, it took defeat in World War II and then Allied occupation to suppress it; and so the question arises: What will it take in the case of Russia after Putin? Changing laws, TV hosts, and foreign policy rhetoric voluntarily certainly will not be enough, despite what many now think.
“Five years later,” Milshteyn says, “it is obvious that Crimea is a catastrophe of planetary dimensions and a misfortune not only for Russia.” But it is especially disastrous because Russians continue to celebrate this as something patriotic and something that demonstrates their power to act regardless of what others want.
“It wasn’t difficult to settle accounts with Marx, not to speak of Engels,” he says. “They were aliens.” But this kind of aggressive patriotism is not something that is going to be easily or quickly cured. It is going to be with Russians and the world for a long time to come even after Putin exits the stage.