Wednesday, July 29, 2015

To Escape Putinism, Russia Must Expunge Muscovy as Germany Did Prussia, Sklyarov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 29 – Many commentators suggest that the way to move beyond the Putin regime involves economic growth, de-militarization, and re-entering the international community, but “these are all second-order tasks” that pale in comparison with what is the most important one, according to Andrey Sklyarov.

            The historian says that the central task is to “cure the people from the causes and factors of the establishment of this ugly psychology of the cult of the leader and obscurantism” and thus open the way to escape from the Sovietism that continues to infect so many of Russia’s inhabitants (

            If that is not done, Sklyarov says, “three or four generations from now, the Russian people will simply become real bio-trash, a psychological analogue to an alcoholic in the fifth generation” whom it is too late to be able to organize a cure.

            Fortunately, he continues, there is “no need to re-invent the bicycle” because there is a model Russia can draw from, that of Germany after World War II. Under pressure from the West and the leadership of Konrad Adenauer, Germany expunged the Prussianism that had distorted German history and did so by changing the environment in which Germans lived.

            On March 1, 1947, the allied Control Council declared that “the Prussian state ‘was the source of militarism and reaction in Germany’ and therefore it no longer existed.” On the territory of “the former Prussia” were formed new federal lander,” what had been Prussia was divided, and the capital of West Germany became the Westphalian city of Bonn.

            This dismantling of Prussia allowed for the development of “a new civic identity of Germany, which only now, on a wave of uncontrolled migration is acquiring an ethnic component,” Sklyarov continues.  The Federal Republic simply declared that its goal was to extirpate the Prussian past as “mistaken paths.”

            Russia has a similar task, he suggests. Its “analogy to Prussia” is of course Muscovy. “The Moscow principality, which was initially a true servant of the Golden Horde and then to a certain extent became its successor,” gave birth to “an eastern despotism on lands populated by a European people.”

            “The weight of the burden of Muscovy for Russia is much greater than that of Prussia for Germany,” Sklyarov says, even though formally Muscovy did not last that long because it continued to change forms without changing its fundamental content: “a pitiless ‘ingathering of the Russian lands,’” war against its own people, and despotic serfdom.

            “Soviet times were a real rebirth of this consciousness, even to a certain extent one that exceeded the original,” the historian writes. Under it, the periphery was integrated even more firmly under Moscow and given Moscow values, something that left people there “without a family or tribe, without a connection with their place and its future.”

            “Even the Prussians didn’t do that,” he points out. “Now, territorially Muscovy is Moscow, its oblast and various kinds of enclaves like company towns spread across the country.  And around this is a burned out space of Middle Russia” that Moscow is trying to expunge anything but Muscovite values.

            If Russia is to move forward beyond Putinism, Sklyarov writes, Russians will have to take the same steps against Muscovy that “the Allies and the Christian Democrats took regarding Prussia.”

            Among these would be: “shifting the capital, taking out of Moscow the tax residencies of companies that don’t produce anything there, a reformatting of the budget on the basis of the priorities of the regions, closing to workers of the Moscow government … access to the higher echelons of power and administration.”

            But such steps and “much else besides,” Sklyarov says, “is only the institutional foundation without which this process simply won’t take off.” Russians will also need to push forward “a new Russian civic identity” in order to do away with “all the trash that the mental Moscow principality had been putting into the heads of people for five centuries.”

            That will involve “a review of the priorities in culture and art, a complete revision of the history of the country and the construction of new principles of society,” something like “the German model. And that will mean “the formation of a new ethics for Russians,” one that involves attitudes toward work, cooperation and relations with others.

            Only when Muscovia ceases to exist “will it be possible to build Russia,” just as Greece could be built only after having buried the Byzantine project,” as Turkey did having dispensed with the Ottomans and the khalifate, or as Poland did when it ceased to be what it had been and integrated itself with Europe.

            For Germany, that required “titanic” efforts; and for Russia it will as well, Sklyarov says, because it “presupposes concentration on the complete transformation of the consciousness of the population in a short time and by all available means.” The longer this effort is put off, he concludes, the harder it will be for Russia to pull it off.

            In a Facebook post, Russian regionalist Vadim Shtepa adds an interesting dimension to Sklyarov’s argument. He suggests that the reason that Russians today do  not like America is not only about the competition of “global messianisms” but reflects the fact that the internal structure of the US provides “an example of real federalism,” something imperialists can’t achieve (

            Shtepa points out that if Barack Obama tried to end free elections of governors, he’d be thrown out of office instantly, that the headquarters of major US corporations are found throughout the country and no thinks they need to be in Washington,  and that CNN broadcasts “not from ‘the capital’ but from Atlanta, Georgia.”

            “Just imagine,” he writes, what things might be like if “the main Russian TV channels were broadcast not from Ostankino but from Kaluga or Ryazan.”

            America’s Silicon Valley is in California, but when Russia tried to replicate it, it put it “not somewhere in the Far East but in a region neighboring Moscow. The imperial-centralist logic simply does not allow other centers of science and economics.”  For Moscow, as Shtepa has observed elsewhere, everything beyond Moscow’s ring road is the provinces.

            In America, on the other hand, he writes in this post, “there are no ‘provinces,’ and that in his view lies behind all the other differences between the two countries.

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