Friday, June 22, 2018

Russia Won’t Change Fundamentally Until It Falls Apart, Zaydman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 22 – Many Russians are even now talking about what will happen “after Putin,” and an increasing share of them believe that the country will follow its historical path of “a thaw” after the deep freeze of his times, Vadim Zaydman says.  But they forget that such thaws will then be followed by a new freeze unless and until the empire disintegrates.

            History teaches that Russia again and again has alternated between dictatorships and thaws, with each leading to the other usually on the occasion of the death of the individual who promotes it, the Russian commentator says in an essay for the Kasparov portal today (

            And that imperative drives even the most unexpected to become dictators -- or to become reformers, as Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrenty Beria showed by starting a reform program far more radical than anyone could have expected from such an individual or than was offered by any leader until Mikhail Gorbachev.

            But that doesn’t mean that the personal qualities of an individual who comes to power in either of these repeating historical cycles.  Vladimir Putin provides evidence of this, Zaydman says. Its true the Russian people “can’t live without a strong hand” but it was hardly “obligatory” that they suffer as they have under the current rulers.

            If someone else had come to power in 2000, he says, he would have behaved differently and not gotten the country embroiled in wars with Georgia, Ukraine and Syria.  Those things happened because of “the personal characteristics” of the current president: they weren’t inevitable.

            That is obvious if one considers pre-World War II Europe. At that time, anti-Semitism was widespread, and almost any German government which would have come to power in 1933 would have suffered from that horrific defect. But if it had been led by someone other than Hitler, there wouldn’t have been the Holocaust.

            Similarly, if someone other than Stalin had risen to power in the USSR, the country would have had a dictatorship by the 1930s, Zaydman says; but “most likely, it would not have been as bloody or involved millions of victims.”  That outcome reflected Stalin’s own psychology and paranoid attitudes.

            In short, the commentator says, “the laws of history are of course inexorable, but at times personality also matters in history and influences its course.”

            According to Zaydman, the appearance after Yeltsin of an autocrat “was practically inevitable, but if the Boris Nikolayevich’s choice had fallen on a different successor, there probably would not have been the horrors without end which we have today,” horrors that are the product of Putin’s working out of his psychological problems.

            Once Putin goes, the cycle will repeat itself, the commentator argues. Whoever comes will introduce a thaw, but in the absence of one fundamental change, that thaw will fail to transform the country and instead lead to the rise of a new autocrat after its author leaves the scene.

            According to Zaydman, “Russia after Putin thus has no prospects, at least in the visible future and in the form in which it exists today, above all in the size in which the country exists now.” Historian Aleksandr Yanov is right: having confused size with greatness, Russia has trapped itself in the past.

            “The 20th century was the century of the collapse of empires. Today, there are no more empires on the earth other than the Russian,” and its imperial construction is the foundation of the vicious cycle from which the country and its people are unable to escape, the Kasparov commentator says.

            He continues: “In the 21st century, it is not size which determines the greatness of a country.” It is what it does with its people and how they are able to display their own creative genius. But Putin and those like him are trapped in a 19th century mindset that fails to understand that new reality.

            Tragically, Putin isn’t alone, Zaydman continues, noting that he “does not understand the fury with which even the most liberal democrats talk about what it will be necessary to undertake AFTER PUTIN in order to prevent Russia from falling apart, as if after Putin there won’t be other concerns.”

            “I do not understand why this imperial curse is holding Russia back and not allowing it to move forward” but instead leading to an infinite series of thaws and freezes, to “the reincarnation in power of various Putins,” especially since “the time of empires has passed, empires have disappeared as at some point the dinosaurs died out.”

            But there is one hope: “the probability that the third and final period of the disintegration of the Russian Empire will occur is quite high and, by the way, Putin is devoting all his efforts in way that will make this inevitable.”

            Paradoxically, Zaydman concludes, this disintegration of the Russian state will give its peoples the chance to become a normal civilized country or more likely countries, capable of living and moving forward in the 21st century – even if today, few, including the most liberal, recognize that reality.

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