Saturday, January 19, 2019

Russia Not Doomed to Follow Destructive Special Path, Milshteyn Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 18 – It is easy to fall into despair and conclude that the latest Levada Center poll results showing Russians proud of their countries military victories but angry that they lost the Soviet Union and do not live as well as others and conclude that they are suffering from the Weimar syndrome that in Germany led to the rise of Hitler, Ilya Milshsteyn says. 

            That is one possible reading, the Moscow commentator suggests, and it may yet prove true. But there are at least three reasons why it is a mistake to assume that is the only outcome and that Russia and Russians are condemned to follow that road in the coming decades (

                First of all, what the Levada Center polls show now are not what they found a quarter of a century ago. Then, Russians viewed the end of the USSR as a chance to join the rest of the world and live as a normal country. They are disappointed that this has not happened, but they still want at least one part of it, the standard of living others have.

            That means that for all the imperial and nationalist bombast of the present, there is in the Levada Center results now evidence of support for what they wanted then.  And because Russians have changed so much in the last 25 years, it is far from clear that they will not change again in another direction in the next.

            Second, Vladimir Putin, the man who has promoted the idea of Russia’s “special path” to the point of international isolation and predictions of a nuclear Armageddon, has lost much of the support he had. Russians are not wedded to him the way many have assumed. And just as they are now turning from him, they can turn from this aspect of his ideas.

            Indeed, in moving toward the rejection of the man, Russians may find it easier to reject his underlying ideas. If that proves to be the case, Russians and Russia could at least for a time escape from the consequences of trying to pursue a special path and have a chance at being a more normal country.

            And third, there are two precedents which Russians have that may push them away from a German-style outcome, that provided by Hitler’s Germany which Russians perhaps more than other nations do not want to emulate, and that provided by Russia itself which shows that it may choose a special path even more a long time but never forever.

            Thus, Milshteyn says, a possible return to a normal country is “an open question. On the one hand, we know that cold snaps in Russia at times drag out for an entire century. But on the other, there have been, even if one doesn’t look far into the past, the Khrushchev thaw, Gorbachev’s perestroika,” and Boris Yeltsin of 1991 and not just 1999.

            Russia thus remains “between a special path and a normal life,” he says, “between swaggering and solidarity with other people, and between great power hubris and respect for neighbors and their rights.” Where Russia is right now is not necessarily eternal, Milshteyn says.  Its history has been two changeable to draw that conclusion.

            And one very much wants to hope that in the latest Levada polls ‘are reflected the evolving nature of our voters and not the classical fascist social system, with its malice, melancholy and suicidal tendencies. One wants to believe that after another quarter of a century has passed, we won’t recognize ourselves.” 

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