Staunton, August 16 – Many in both Russia and the West have convinced themselves that Vladimir Putin is the only kind of ruler Russia can have given its traditions, but that conviction is wrong, Igor Eidman argues; and making that assumption distracts attention from the fact that allowing his regime to continue to exist is too dangerous for Russia and the world.
In an essay for “Neue Zuricher Zeitung,” which he has now offered in Russian translation, the Moscow commentator argues that those concerned about the future must explore and revive other Russian traditions which include profoundly democratic and European elements
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Both Russophiles and Russophobes in Europe have managed to convince themselves that “there is no alternative to Putin and his regime,” Eidman writes. To be sure, “the Putin regime is a natural extension of Russian history but of only one of its strategic lines.” There is another one that Putin represents not a continuation but a rejection.
That is the democratic tradition which over the last several centuries has coexisted with the imperial-authoritarian tradition which Putin represents, he continues. That democratic tradition has been carried forward by the liberal intelligentsia and “the spontaneously anarchic attitudes of the bottom of the social pyramid.”
Because it relies on the power of the state, the imperial-authoritarian tradition always appears to be fated to win; but in fact, it has often failed when its leaders have suffered defeats in foreign wars. That has led to brief periods in which the democratic tradition has become dominant, but unfortunately, these have not lasted very long, Eidman says.
“At the beginning of the 20th century, Russia avoided fascism by going into another ‘communist’ form of totalitarianism.” Indeed, the Bolsheviks were initially opposed by the White Movement, some of whose leaders were “in essence proto-fascists.” And thus it is no surprise that Putin’s “favorite thinker” is one of them – Ivan Ilin.
As a result of that attachment, the Moscow commentator says, “fascism returned to Russia in the 21st century; and “the imperial project was reborn under Putin precisely in its fascist variant.”
Putin’s regime “has many of the features characteristic of fascist regimes in Europe in the middle of the 20th century: authoritarianism, an aggressive annexationist foreign policy, total government propaganda, the rule of state monopoly capital in the economy, of force structures in administration, chauvinism and clericalism in ideology.”
According to Eidman, “the Putin regime is just as aggressive and pregnant with war as Hitlerite Germany of Italy under Mussolini.” Indeed, “Putin and his comrades in arms already in their youth in Chekist and party structures were seriously infected with great power attitudes and xenophobic myths.”
“After 1991, they were forced to hide this and assist the coming to power of the democrats they hated.” Then, in the first years of this century, they took control of the government; and now, “they have come to believe that they are sufficient strong in order to return to the ideas which they picked up in their chekist youth.”
Putin and his people “decided that they were in a position to take revenge for the defeat in the Cold War and restore Russia to super power status controlling its ‘immemorial’ living space, that is, the territory of the former Russian empire. They conceived this as their historic mission.
“Happily for the world,” Eidman says, they are not as strong as they seem. Poll numbers are meaningless: Russians tell pollsters what they think the latter want to hear, and “Russians now fear the FSB no less than they did the KGB in the times of the USSR.”
Moreover, many Russians are upset with the policies of the government. “Anti-Moscow attitudes, regional ‘patriotism,’ and hatred to the Moscow federal bureaucracy” are all widespread. And many people support exactly the kind of reformist and left-wing policies that Putin and company have been gutting.
At the same time, “alongside the growth of dissatisfaction of the population has taken place the consolidation of a liberal counter-elite.” That led to the massive demonstrations of 2011, and those in turn prompted the regime to do what its predecessors have done, seek to regain support by engaging in “a short victorious war.”
But “the Putin regime has an Achilles’ heel: the contradiction between its aggressive, revanchist foreign policy and its economy which is integrated in the world market and dependent on it.” Hitler build a mobilized economy before he started his military campaigns; Putin has not. And as a result, he is limited in what he can do and doomed to failure.
When his expansionist efforts fail and they will, Eidman says, that will lead to “the loss of popularity for his regime and will be fatal for him. The wave of hurrah patriotism” he has sparked will likely rebound against him and his oligarchs whom the population will view “as traitors.” That will lead Putin “to new adventures” and ultimate collapse.
Putin’s defeat will lead to the victory of the democratic tradition, “but such a victory will be firm only if the liberal elite is able to formulate a program capable of gaining for it the support of the majority of the population.” That means that the liberal elite must take into closest consideration the aspirations of the population and not just those of its own members.
Eidman suggests that this might happen in the following way: with his support slipping, Putin calls an early presidential election. He doesn’t win it in the first round but there is clear evidence of the manipulation of the results. That leads to a color revolution in Russia and Putin is ousted.
The liberals win the ensuing Duma elections and immediately reform the constitution to make Russia a parliamentary republic so as to “exclude the coming to power of a new president-dictator. The regions receive significantly greater independence from the center in all spheres,” and the new regime engages in lustration, a turn to the West and support for universal values.
Such a prospect may be difficult for many to accept, but it too reflects a Russian tradition, Eidman argues. “All the conditions for the formation of a civilized European society exist in Russia. What is needed to achieve that are democratic changes. The preservation of the current regime is too dangerous for the entire world.”
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