Saturday, July 26, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russian History Provides Five Lessons for Liberals in Illiberal Times, Makarkin Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 26 – Russian liberals have lived through many periods of illiberal governance in the past, have devised various strategies to cope because the repressive regimes have been so different, but have managed to survive and see their country change course at least for a time in their direction, according to Aleksey Makarkin.


            The Moscow commentator says that his survey of these periods suggests five conclusions for Russian liberals who are facing an increasingly repressive Russian government, conclusions that he believes can help guide them in and by implication through the current illiberal times (


            First of all, he says, “there are no universal recipes for how a liberally-thinking individual should act in this or that situation. Everything depends on specific circumstances,” the views of those who hold them, the attitudes of society at large, and the actions of the regime.


            Second, this lack of specific recipes “does not mean that it is impossible to form general principles” for liberal behavior, among them ones that give priority to “the moral factor over the pragmatic preservation of one’s own identity so as not to be ashamed for one’s words and deeds.”


            Third, in illiberal times, liberals do not face simply the “harsh choice of revolution or reaction” but rather “numerous evolutionary variants which are to be preferred to instability and chaos. “They exist even if it seems that these possibilities have already been completely exhausted.”


            Fourth, for all liberals, Makarkin suggests, spreading “enlightenment” through the population, reaching out to people, “broadening their views, showing alternative possibilities, and entering into a dialogue with them … [is] always better than a dogmatic monologue from a speaker’s platform.”


            And fifth, the Moscow analyst says, liberals need to take courage from the fact that “in the history of Russia there have been not a few cases when the country,” led by illiberal rulers, “has reached its latest dead end, not infrequently to the accompaniment of storming prolonged applause.”


            In each case, he argues, a demand for an alternative course of development has appeared, based on a desire to return Russia “to the world’s mainstream, of course, with national differences being taken into account but without their being absolutized.”  The longer this process takes, the more problems Russia has and will face.

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