Thursday, November 7, 2013

Window on Eurasia: North Korea’s ‘Enemies List’ a Model for Putin’s Russia, SPB Professor Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 7 – Neither Stalin’s Russia nor Mao’s China ever compiled a public “enemies list.” Neither leader wanted to be constrained by such an enumeration.  But the leaders of one of the last surviving communist regimes, North Korea, have not felt similarly limited: they maintain a list of those who are “officially considered enemies.”

            That list has been provided for Russian readers in a new book by Andrey Lankov, “The KPDR Yesterday and Today. An Informal History of North Korea,” and professor at the European University in St. Petersburg suggests that it provides a model for an enemies list in Putin’s Russia (

            Dmitry Travin notes that “in contemporary Russia, the number of enemies is growing with surprising speed,” so fast indeed that some media outlets now feature stories about “the enemy of the month.”  The reason for that, he suggests, is that so many Russians at all levels have an interest in identifying enemies and thus are involved in the process.

            That should not surprise anyone, the St. Petersburg professor says, because “the broad creativity of the masses who hate their neighbors is quite capable of giving birth to significantly more enemies” than even the most committed party ideologues and security officers could ever dream of.

            Travin himself offers a list of 37 “enemies,” although he concedes that this list is incomplete.  The first ten are the oligarchs, “the liberasts,” the sacrilegious, those who curse on the media, pirate-ecologists, NGOs who get involved in politics, homosexuals, pedophiles and pornographer, and “scholar spies” who give away state secrets.

            The second ten are the enemies of Putin, survivors of the “wild nineties,” migrant workers, including “persons from the Caucasus” and those who give birth to more children than V. Zhirinovsky permits,” those who deny the Soviet victory in World War I, those who call for the dismemberment of Russia, separatists, those who don’t seek the return of Crimea, those in the pay of oligarchs or the State Department, CIA agents, and those addicted to drugs.

            The third ten are citizens who think too independently, suppliers of foreign goods, supporters of Ukraine’s joining the EU, privatizer who want to “sell off” Russia, Navalny and his “sect,” bureaucrats and politicians, those who have bank accounts abroad, those who have no shame, the Ozero cooperative, the Communyaki, and the ‘Bloody KGB.”

                And the final seven are “Yeltsin’s band,” those who are not “ours,” those who are not “local,” political scientists “who should be fed to animals in the zoo,” sociologists who have been bought up by the authorities, journalists “who are guilty of everything, and Anatoly Chubais “personally who in general is guilty of absolutely everything.”

            A country with so many enemies, Travin says, would appear to be “in a dangerous position,” not because all of them are conducting aggressive acts but because they could do so under certain conditions.  But a closer examination of the list shows that the problem at least immediately “is not so serious.” Many of the enemies are really not enemies at all.

            There are four reasons why Russians identify as enemies so many different individuals and groups, he suggests. First, they want to get government money and recognize that once an enemy has been named, the state will create structures to combat it.  Second, companies make the same calculation: naming enemies can give them market advantages by freezing out others.

            Third, Travin continues, witch hunts give the powers that be the chance “to develop maximally repressive and unspecific laws under the cover of all the noise” about enemies.  And fourth, the identification of enemies leads the people to think that they have to support whoever is in power because only the authorities can protect them.

            That last tactic is used both by the government and by opposition groups, Travin says, but “the danger of this kind of action” is that if the authorities promote the image of the enemy too well, the situation can end with pogroms, as it already has.  As Chernomyrdin said, “we wanted something better but things turned out as always.”

            That is not “the main danger,” however.  The main danger arises “not from conflicts artificially constructed to get money or power but from conflicts which arise naturally.” The Biryulevo pogrom was one of these. But even there, the constant talk by officials and others about enemies made that conflict more likely, worse and more threatening.

            And lying behind that danger is another, the hatred of freedom itself that the composition of enemies lists reflects and promotes. There should be no reason to hate liberalism and freedom, but as Dostoyevsky showed with his “legend of the grand inquisitor” and Erich Fromm did in his work “Flight from Freedom,” many people always will. They should not be encouraged in this.

            Russians need to recognize, Travin concludes, that if they shift from “a search for enemies” to constructive work, their country will be “developed.” If they are not able to do so, “they will engulfed in chaos.”

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