Sunday, October 19, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russia’s ‘Era of Freedom’ has Come to an End, Academician Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, October 19 – Russia’s 25-year-long era of freedom, which began in 1989 with the Congress of Peoples Deputies, has come to an end and the prospects for the future are extremely bleak, according to Academician Yury Pivovarov. If Russians do not transform themselves, their country risks becoming part of the third world.


            In an interview in “Russkaya planeta” today, Pivovarov, the head of the Moscow Institute of Scholarly Information on the Social Sciences of the Russian Academy of Sciences, talks about his new book, “The Russian Present and the Soviet Past,” which is in the form of a diary he kept from 2008 to 2014 (


            The academician notes that as Nabokov put it, “Russia has two histories, the history of the secret police and the history of secret freedom.” Unfortunately, he says, at present, the former “has become stronger than the latter,” not so much in the form of Vladimir Putin and his Chekist allies but in “the unfree and authoritarian tendencies” of Russian society inherited from the past.


            The events of this year, Pivovarov says, show just how few of the members of Russian elites have escaped from this inheritance. “This is the madness from Crimea to ‘Novorossiya,’” a term he puts in quotes “because I do not know what this is.  We have entered on a very dangerous path.”


            The scholar says that for him, “events in Ukraine are not only events there,” given that his wife is Ukrainian and his son is thus half Ukrainian. “In this conflict, we are talking above all about Russia.  Lenin once wrote that we will convert an imperialist war into a civil war. And he was able to do this at least in Russia.”


            “Putin, whether he wants it or not,” is at risk of doing the same at least to some degree. The Russian president has destroyed at least for a time “the perfectly normal opposition of the authorities and the opposition” by engaging in what can only be described as an “’imperialist’” war in Ukraine.


            The Moscow media’s focus on Ukraine to the exclusion of all Russia’s internal problems, poverty, income differentiation, and social tensions of various kinds is extremely dangerous, and in many ways it recalls the Soviet past when the Soviet media talked about the persecution of blacks in the United States but ignored what was wrong in the USSR.


            Pivovarov says that he decided to shift from his scholarly pursuits to write a book of this kind because “Putin himself has put a period in my ‘novel,’ because an era has ended” and it is necessary to find a way to declare “’the Fatherland is in danger!’”


            The INION scholar, who long specialized on the late imperial period, praises Nicholas II in his new book for the relatively peaceful development of Russia and the last tsar’s willingness to compromise on many issues including on a constitution after the first Russian revolution, a willingness that he expresses regret Putin does not share.


            “If Putin had reacted to the Bolotnoye demonstrations by seeking to meet the opposition part way, everything for us would be better. If he were to look at the history of Russian power, he would see that it has been successfully only when it has minimized its own possibilities and delegated them to society.”  But that has not happened.


            If Russia is to move forward, Pivovarov says, “we must cease to be Soviet people and overcome the Soviet in us.”  The Soviet man was and is “cut off from world culture and from its religious component. He may go to church, but he is not influenced by this culture, for him it is not a source of good and morality.”


            Stalininism, Leninism, Bolshevism and Communism represent “a rejection of the Christian understanding of the personality, a rejection of the idea of original sin which is in each man and therefore each must begin with himself” in order to cope and improve the situation.


            “But Stalinism says that it is the class enemy, the masons, NATO, the United States, and the Banderites who are guilty. Anyone you like except for [Russians themselves].” As things stand now, changing that is going to be very, very difficult. Solzhenitsyn said it might take 200 years, the INION director says.


            At the same time, he says that he is not without hope. Yes, 84 percent of the population support Putin, but there is the other “16 percent who do not want live according to these arrangements and in a new isolation.  They form civil society, but alas they do in large measure continue to remain soviet as well.” As a result, they are part of what they are also fighting.


            “The Soviet man,” Pivovarov says, “is someone for whom self-organization is completely alien. Given an order, he can achieve heroic deeds, but he cannot organize himself.” Many forms of self-organization were destroyed by the Soviet system, a few have been restored, but this is “not sufficient.”


            And he concludes: “Today, Russian people are more ready to be organized for evil than for good.” That is disturbing because “either Russia will find in itself the strength to transform itself and become European, democratic, law-based, Christian and patriotic, or it will decline and become a third world country.”




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