Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Putin has Destroyed the Possibility of Russia’s Peaceful Evolution, Shenderovich Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 30 – Because of his personal authoritarianism and destruction of democratic institutions, commentator Viktor Shenderovich says, Russian President Vladimir Putin has destroyed the chance that Russia can evolve toward a better future and thus set the stage for a radical break with him at some point in the future.

            In an interview carried today on URA.ru, Shenderovich says that the recent report of the Center for Strategic Processes showing Putin to have lost support does not mean that Putin will go because the Russian president doesn’t want to and no institution or person around him has the power to force the issue (www.ura.ru/content/svrd/29-10-2012/articles/1036258587.html). 

            Alfed Kokh, Shenderovich recalls in support of this conclusion, once wrote that people near the Kremlin had come up with a program that would allow for “the gradual and soft departure of Putin from power, but everything had concluded in a very funny way: no individual could be found who would agree to present this program to Vladimir Vladimirovich.”

            Putin’s support in the country has really fallen, in part because so many saw him as a desirable change from Boris Yeltsin but even more because “over the past 13 years he has been able to show his true self, his true goals, intentions and methods.  And today, of course, there is a call for renewal.”

            “But the dramatic nature of the situation,” Shenderovich argues, “consists in the fact that changing the situation by evolutionary means is already impossible” because “these institutions have been destroyed by Putin with the silent agreement of society itself.”  And it is important to remember that sociology is “not represented” anywhere in the organs of power.

            Putin doesn’t want to give up power, and he won’t been encouraged to do so by offering him protection against prosecution as Putin did for Yeltsin, the commentator says. The current Russian president is simply not interested in that. Moreover, he doesn’t think he needs to be, given his ability to mobilize those who get money from the budget and the siloviki.

            But the kind of “stability” he offers, Shenderovich continues, “is the classic stability of authoritarian regimes, which last and last and then all at once fall.  In Soviet times, too, everything was under control and with the help of the party, the special services, and the media. But in the course of a couple of years, everything crumbled away.”

            The danger is that while Putin and his regime are thundering against the legitimate demands of the civilized opposition, the Russian Federation is not prepared for the consequences of the fall of the price of oil or some action by the United States that will leave the country in the lurch.

            When that happens, “it will turn out that we are simmpply an enormous territory filled up with oil and gas no one needs, that it is simple for others to do without us. The budget will then collapse … and we will not be able to do anything because of the incapacity of the state to fulfill its social obligations.” 

            Then the Kremlin will “encounter not the Bykovs, Kasparovs or Novodvorskayas but with an entirely different public, which has radically different mean of resolving social-political problems.” Then the populists will appear which will “propose the simplest ,that is the most bloody and therefore attractive,” ideas of the left and the nationalists.

            “Russia has passed this way many times before,” Shenderovich says, but Putin and his entourage have a poor understanding of history.

            That should not surprise anyone familiar with Putin. “After all, he isn’t from a philosophy faculty … but from the Higher School of the KGB.” That is where he got his “black and white” picture of reality, one that sees “any compromise as a manifestation of weakness.”  And so unlike a democratic leader, he has no intention or interest in pursuing one.

            In this situation, society needs to restore what democratic institutions it can, Shenderovich says, and in this sense, the elections to the Coordinating Council of the opposition are useful because “for the first time in the course of 15 years, Russians are experiencing “honest elections with equal chances for all participants.”

            This is not the revolutionary act some believe, Shenderovich continues.  “Revolution is the overthrow of legitimate power and the violation of the law.” But in Russia now, Putin is the revolutionary” because like Stalin he has suspended the constitution.  Those who oppose him are thus counter-revolutionaries who seek to restore the rule of law.

            That is essential, he says, because “the only common denominator which can be found for Chukotka, Kalmykia, the Caucasus, Moscow and Bryansk are human rights and respect for the individual’s worth. This is the American path, the federal path, which in Connecticut work one set of laws and in Texas another, just as it ought to be” in Russia.

            But getting there won’t be easy or evolutionary, Shenderovich concludes, because of Putin’s authoritarian approach.  And he cites the remark of the writer Grigory Gorin, who having heard about Putin’s vaunted “power vertical,” said that “Russia is a horizontal country” and the only way to preserve the country is to respect human rights.

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