Staunton, April 14 – If Russia is to have a decent future, Valeriya Novodvorskaya argues, it will have to return to the principles of Novgorod “before its conquest by Moscow in 1478” when as a result “in place of the Golden Horde arose the Moscow one and imperialism overwhelmed democracy and freedom.
Unless Russians “change their genetic code,” she warns, they will face the end of their history, arguing that it is “better to live in the form of a genetically modified country than not to live at all.” Those who doubt this, the Moscow commentator says, should “ask the late Babylonian empire” about that (grani.ru/opinion/novodvorskaya/m.227610.html).
The Soviet “evil empire,” she says, was and remains “a black hole, an anti-word, and may not one stone of it remain on another.” Unfortunately, because of Moscow’s current aggression in Ukraine “Kremlin anti-matter” is combining with a kind of Crimean anti-matter” in a way that is leading to the disappearance of both.
But if returning to the Soviet past is not a way forward, neither is a return to the tsarist one, she says. “Remember 1991,” when people dreamed that Russia could somehow recover itself by turning back to tsarist times and even discussed inviting a new tsar to rule over the country and people.
“But having had one’s memory refreshed by certain aspects of the ‘prison house of peoples,’” in the wake of the Crimean tragedy, “one begins to understand that to return to the ashes of the Russian Empire” won’t be possible or contribute to a better future.
The Russian Empire, Russians need to remember, did what it could to retain all its “’acquisitions’” in the Caucasus, the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Central Asia, Poland, Belarus and Finland.” But it failed even though at that time “there was neither a NATO nor a PACE nor an OSCE nor a UN.”
At the end of Soviet times, some Russian writers and intellectuals understood that their country needed to repent for what it had done. She cites the works of Anatoly Pristavkin, Sergey Bodrov, and Vladimir Makanin in particular. And she notes that Belarusians like Vasil Bykov and Vladimir Korotkevich, along with Polish writers, did so as well.
But Russians as a whole and the Russian intellectual community did not, clearly forgetting that Russian liberals in the 19th century were often extremely supportive of the idea and reality of empire and that those few who opposed imperialism suffered for it, Novodvorskaya continues.
To be convinced of that, one need only compare the words of Fyodor Tyutchev 150 years ago with the words of Vladimir Putin today about how somehow a “higher power” gave Moscow the right to rule over others; and on the other side, to see what happened to Aleksandr Herzen’s “Kolokol” after it supported the Polish uprising in 1863.
Prior to that, it was published in 2500 copies; afterwards, only in 500.
Russian writers and liberals in the 19th century were generally uncritical of tsarist imperial pretensions, and many were active participants in the process in the Caucasus and Central Asia, although a few like Lermontov and Tolstoy did reflect occasionally on what was being done in the name of empire to the non-Russians.
And the Moscow commentator points out that Russian tsars celebrated for their liberalism like Aleksandr II were among the worst: He hung Chechen hero Baysangur Benoyevsky in 1861 and brutally suppressed the Polish rising in 1863. Russian liberals since then have overlooked those sad facts.
And they have ignored something even more fundamental, Novodvorskaya says. “Russia died because at the edge of its grave, the White Army did not want to give up the empire: Kolchak rejected Mannerheim’s assistance offered at the price of the independence of Finland, and Yudenich was not able to reach Petersburg at the price was the independence of Estonia.”
If Russians want to move forward by turning to the past, she says, they will have to go back to Novgorod before Moscow conquered that city with its tradition of popular rule and became the true successor to the Golden Horde with an imperial tradition that has lasted to this day.