Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: A Spanish Solution for Russia?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 12 – It has been observed that Spain is the only country in modern times in which the restoration of the monarchy helped a country to move in a more liberal direction because King Juan Carlos played a critical role in overseeing the dismantling of the fascist regime of Francisco Franco and the revival of democracy there.

            But if some Russians get their way, their country could become the second exemplar of that possibility given that almost a third of them say that they would like to see the restoration of the monarchy but far fewer imagine that Vladimir Putin, the current Russian president, would be a viable candidate to become tsar.

            According to a VTsIOM poll, the results of which were released over the weekend, approximately 28 percent of Russians say they are for the restoration of the monarchy in Russia or would not oppose its return, but only a small share of those think that Putin would be appropriate in that role (svpressa.ru/society/article/77290/).

                Six percent of those polled suggest, VTsIOM says, that a descendent of the Romanovs should assume the throne, while 13 percent said that any new tsar should be elected by national referendum or at a new zemsky sobor. That means, although the polling agency did not say so, that fewer than one monarchist in three or one Russian in ten sees Putin as the inevitable choice.

            Speaking with “Svobodnaya pressa,” Pavel Svyatenkov, a political scientist, said he was surprised that the percentage of Russians backing monarchy was as high as it is but suggested that no one should interpret this as a reflection of a desire of the Russian people for a strong hand. Instead, he said, it shows just the reverse.

            “Monarchy,” he said, is more about “a legal and legitimate authority than about force in the dictatorial sense.  That is, a monarchy must not be a dictator; he must be the incarnation of law, order, and justice.” Consequently, the attitudes found by the pollsters reflect “a longing for legality and justice rather than a search for a strong hand.”

            Russians are considering monarchy, Svyatenkov says because “the institutions of civil society are not working” and because the current constitution, the result of the violence in 1993, is viewed by many as illegitimate.

            Asked whether Putin could become tsar, the Russian commentator suggested that there were two obstacles in his case. On the one hand, such a monarchy would be inevitably “bonapartist.”  And on the other, “who would be his heir” given that Putin has no sons and is divorced.

            Vladimir Semenko, who works at the Moscow Institute of Religious and Social Research, said he wasn’t surprised by the amount of support for monarchy among Russians.  “People don’t see alternatives” to the historical form of Russian statehood, and many follow the Orthodox Church in believing that a restored monarchy would help restore the moral health of the people.

                Civil society is still only in its infancy in Russia, he continued, and it does not yet play a “system-forming role,” the religious specialist said. Instead, that is played by corruption and the “entire power vertical” which exists and operates on the basis of massive corruption.  Consequently, people want an escape from this.

            They are not interested in “a strong hand,” as some think, but in “moral and spiritual authority;” and they recognize that “the power of the monarch is limited by his conscience and personal faith and by the church,” which has always viewed absolutism as a promoter of “secularization.”

            Not everyone agrees with these assessments. “Svobodnaya pressa” cites Sergey Kara-Murza of the Institute of Social-Political Research of the Academy of Sciences. He dismissed the poll as pointing to any conclusion beyond one: “People simply think that the [current] government is bad, they are fed up, and they will use any chance to say so.”

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