Staunton, December 30 – People are accustomed to think of periods of time in terms of the calendar, but often the characteristics of one period change not with a shift in decades or centuries but more irregularly. According to Yegor Yershoff, the 19th century ended in 1914, but the 20th has done so in 2020.
The conservative Russian commentator, writing in the Riga-based Harbin portal, argues that the coronavirus pandemic is playing the same role that World War I did earlier, highlighting the gap between those countries which had modernized earlier and those which had resisted any chance (harbin.lv/2020-itogi).
The former, including the United Kingdom and the United States, became the paramount powers if not immediately then shortly thereafter, while the four great empires of Europe in 1914 – the Russian, the German, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman – disintegrated over that period, Yershoff continues.
Now, with the pandemic, some countries in the former category are in trouble, facing challenges they do not know how to respond to be in Brexit or Black Lives Matter and the radical expansion in the number of voters and their coming under the influence of the Internet; and some of the latter are hoping to go backwards in time, with few prospects that is possible.
For Russia, he says, “the coronavirus has been much like Chechnya,” with “super-centralization again proving to be its Achilles’ heel.” First, Moscow ignored the problem; then, it launched a campaign against it; and then it backed down, yielding all the places it had seized earlier, highlighting the Kremlin’s inability to deal with problems at home.
This time around, the Kremlin has extracted some benefits from the pandemic: it has tightened the screws, it has deflected responsibilities onto the regions, and it has put in place new constitutional arrangements which it hopes will allow it to continue to operate just as it has and ensuring it won’t be able to respond to new challenges.
And three of those challenges are now very much on public view: a multipolarity which means Moscow no longer has to worry just about the US but about Europe and Turkey, the rise of protests in the regions as at Khabarovsk rather than only in the capital, and its botched poisoning of Navalny.
The latter is particularly dangerous because in the new information environment, Navalny’s documentary film about what was done to him and how the organs failed threatens to become “the GULAG Archipelago of the 21st century,” Yershoff suggests, a document which undermines the entire system.
“Just as in the Archipelago are clarified the systematization of the Soviet punitive machine from top to bottom” as shown in a single case. But in an era of tweets, an hour-long video is completely the equal of a multi-volume work” especially because it shows that the system is passing from tragedy to farce.
The conservative commentator says that 2020 echoes the past in another way. It was the centenary of the execution of Kolchak, the centenary of the Tambov uprising, the centenary of the Russia Exodus, the 75th anniversary of the KONR Manifesto, as well as “the 150th anniversary” of the birth of Lenin and “the 75th of the victory of the GULAG over Buchenwald.”
All this suggests that 2020 was the real end of the 20th century and the beginning of a new one, one in which many do not know how to respond, in which no one should be surprised, and everyone should be ready for things to get worse. The history of the coming years will sort things out just as the years after 1914 did.