Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Russia Needs a Parliamentary Government to Form a Russian Nation and Escape Its Past, Pastukhov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 12 – Vladislav Surkov argues that Russians have no choice but to remain in their current state more or less forever, but the notion that Russians do not have the possibility of making choices about their future is wrong, Vladimir Pastukhov says. It is superficially convincing but not in fact true.

            In fact, the London-based analyst says, “times of reaction” such as the current period are the perfect occasion to reflect on what kind of a future Russians want and how they may achieve it rather than assuming that things will always be what they are now, the conclusion Surkhov and his associates hope they will draw (

                “Despite the widely held conviction,” Pastukhov says, “the issue about the choice of a political form in general and for Russia in particular does nothave a direct relationship to the question of freedom and democracy.” History shows that under certain conditions, monarchy, parliamentarianism, and presidentialism can all have divisions of powers and a legal state.

            History also shows that “any political form can degrade and be transformed into a shell for a despotic regime.” Consequently, Russians must not assume that any one form will produce what they want or prevent the emergence of what they don’t but at the same time consider which forms are most likely to produce changes in their current situation.  

            To a great extent, the possibility of survival or degradation is the result of existing political traditions. Where there is a strong tradition of authoritarianism, it will inform all forms of governance, albeit some more than others. When a society wants to make a change from authoritarianism, some forms are more likely to be useful than others.

            Rejecting any tradition, including authoritarianism, Pastukhov continues, is always fraught with risks. That means that those who hope to see that occur must explain what will be achieved by such a move and offer proposals for structures that will minimize rather than ignore the risks of disaster or a return to the status quo ante.

            “The primary cause of the failure of all previous liberal and democratic projects in Russia can be considered the absence in that country of the subject of political action needed for the achievement of success – that is, a nation.” The process of creating “a Russian nation” has been going on for more than 300 years but is “still extremely far from completion.”

            Instead, Russians remain a narodnost, a people which has not yet been able to articulate a state of its own. Its members do not yet all view themselves as “citizens of their own national state (more precisely a nation state) sharing its basic constitutional principles and values” and thus being truly its citizens.

            “Without a dominating consensus in social consciousness regarding a minimum selection of fundamental principles and values … a nation does not exist,” however much it is declared on paper or proclaimed by leaders.  Paradoxically, the Soviets made the biggest contribution toward that end; but they failed because their ideology was internally inconsistent and false.

            According to Pastukhov, “the final formation of the Russian nation and the establishment on its basis of an effectively functioning civil society and contemporary political state is the most important historical task of the Russian people” (emphasis added); and its final resolution will require “the next several generations.” 

            For many Russians today, a presidentialist system may seem the best one to prevent the collapse of the state; but such a system will retard rather than promote the development of such a nation and thus mean that Russians will not be able to form a nation state. Instead, they will remain a narodnost run by others rather than a nation which governs itself. 

            A parliamentary system which encourages political participation and discussion is a better means to achieve that end, the London-based Russian analyst continues, because “a presidential republic is a political inhibitor of mass changes, while a parliamentary republic is a political catalyzer.”

            Any move toward a parliamentary system in Russia faces some significant obstacles: for decades if not centuries, Russians have been accustomed to “super-centralized power, concentrated in the hands of a ruler who is assumed to have super-natural and almost sacred qualities. A large part of the population simply can’t imagine” an alternative.

            Maintaining a presidential republic keeps Russians in this state and thus prevents their maturation into a nation. It gives them a kind of security blanket, and many are afraid of what might happen if they give that up, Pastukhov says. Surkov is playing on such fears in the expectation that nothing will change.

            Those who want to see Russians grow up and become a nation with freedoms and democracy can’t simply call for a parliamentary republic but instead must propose “a specific model of this republic” and explain how it will operate so that Russia does not fall apart and how the Russian nation will become “a new subject of historical development.”

            “The moment of truth” in this process, Pastukhov argues, is when its advocates shift from the abstract to the concrete and when the advocates of this change address the specifics of “’constitutional engineering’” that will be necessary to make that happen. Coming up with those specifics may take some time, he acknowledges.

            Consequently, the current period of reaction is the perfect time to do so, especially because that era may end unexpectedly quickly; and when it does, there won’t be time to develop them then. In their absence, there will be a risk that once again Russia will repeat the vicious cycle of the past rather than move forward.

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