Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Russia’s Future Will Be Dominated by Four Constants of Its Past, Igor Kon Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – Many like to say that Russia is a country with an unpredictable past, but in fact, its past and thus its present and future are dominated by “four constants: a Glorious Past, Bad Neighbors, a Wise Leader and a Bright Future,” according to a 2008 essay by the late Igor Kon that Yezhednevny zhurnal has now republished. It remains very relevant.

            Kon, a leading Soviet and Russian psychologist and philosopher who died in 2011, observed that any country that wants to move forward will not obsess about its past but that countries that only want to go in circles and repeat that past will inevitably do so (polit.ru/article/2008/11/21/history/ republished at ej.ru/?a=note&id=33423).

            If one ignores “all the well-known Roads and Fools,” Kon argues, “there are in Russian history four constants: a Glorious Past, Bad Neighbors, a Wise Leader and a Bright Future.” Because nothing has changed in this regard, “every old man can be a prophet” with a fair degree of confidence that he will be proved right.

            Those four constants were very much in evidence in Soviet times, Kon says; and after the turbulence and uncertainty of the 1990s, they re-emerged with ne force. “Despite everything we rose from our knees, found a new National Leader, returned to our spiritual sources, remembered that ‘Moscow is the Third Rome,’ ‘Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality,’ and established a new moral-political unity and national accord.”

            Russians again looked to Comrade Stalin as a great national leader. And the new national leader announced a 20-year economic plan to eclipse the petty five-year plans of the CPSU.  “We again began to rattle our arms, our pipelines and our non-technology threatening not only near but distant neighbors.”

            And Russians again decided that the European ideas of human rights contradicted our “traditional moral-religious values” as manifested in their country from Ivan the Terrible to Stalin.” 

            Once again outsiders threaten Russia, and once again Russia girds itself to fight them, Kon continues.  Russia acquires for itself in this struggle “remarkable new friends (I will not name them,” [Kon says]) and proposes the world new plans for a universal conservative renewal.”

            But again “the main thing is faith in the National Leader,” someone who is taken by Russians to personify and embody “our best qualities and aspirations” – even though it is almost certain that in the future as in the past every such leader will be condemned for a time only to be restored to his pedestal later.

            Kon recounts the following anecdote: “Once God called the leaders of the great powers to give account of themselves. The American president (this was long before both Bushes) talked about his difficulties, couldn’t restrain himself and began to cry. God put his arm over his shoulder and said ‘It’s nothing. You’ll somehow manage.’” 

            More or less the same thing happened with the British prime minister. But when a Soviet general secretary “proudly reported about the achievements of his country, the Lord silently sat down beside the party leader and himself began to cry.”

            “Our chief misfortune,” Kon says, “is a lack of faith. Before 1917, we believed in a Power Vertical instituted by God … Today we do not know whom we fear more, a bandit or a policeman and whom to sympathize with, a prosecutor, a lawyer, an accused or a judge.” Perhaps what Russia needs is “not faith but trust,” things that often are contradictory.

            According to Kon, “for the prediction of our future, we don’t need sociology or futurology.” Russia’s history will continue to be a repetition of one and the same set of constants.  Things may look different because they are given different names, but that not only doesn’t change anything, it guarantees that nothing fundamental will change.

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