Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Demise of USSR Opened the Way to the Rise of a Dangerous Messianism in Russia, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 10 – Many Russians believed in 1991 that by jettisoning the Turkic republics of Central Asia, Russia along with Ukraine and Belarus could make rapid progress toward democracy and economic freedom, Aleksandr Tsipko says; but the last 30 years have shown that such hopes were misplaced and have been dashed for a long time to come.

            Instead, the senior Moscow commentator says in an essay about the future of the Slavic peoples of the former USSR, “the cleansing of the Slavic nucleus of the Turkic peoples did not guarantee the [Slavic countries] a worthy statehood.” Instead, it has opened the way to tragedy and farce in all three (

            The reason that the three Slavic republics have not become “full-fledged European states” lies in the fact that “neither the Russians, nor the Ukrainians, nor the Belarusians were civic nations.” Serfdom among the Russians for 400 years and among the Ukrainians and Belarusians for more than 200 precluded that, as did the Soviet re-imposition of a modernized form of it.

            Tsipko says he agrees with Ukrainian political analyst Vadim Karasev that the victory of a comic in the Ukrainian presidential elections was possible only because “Ukrainians have not become an adult nation.” But the same thing can be said about Russia and Belarus where the peoples were kept in an infantile state by their history and their leaders.

            The Ukrainians at least have a partial justification for what they have done. They “never had in essence a nation state before 1991. But Russians, it is commonly assumed, already have had their own national state for a thousand years.” They thus have much less excuse, the commentator continues.

            “Now, everyone sees that not only Belarus but Russia too is not the West.” And Ukraine despite efforts to move in that direction has slid back.  But the worst case is Russia where after 2014, thecountry “has gone along the path which Belarus and Kazakhstan followed in the 1990s. Now, everyone sees that Putin’s autocracy very much recalls Lukashenka’s authoritarianism and Nazarbayev’s oriental despotism.”

            That which Vladislav Surkov views as “our Russian achievement,” the dispensing of any system of checks and balances and a state based on the mystical union of people and supreme ruler has existed in Kazakhstan since the 1990s, Tsipko argues.

            “By the way,” he continues, “what happened with democracy in the RSFSR was predicted by Nikolay Trubetskoy in the 1920s in his essay, The Heritage of Chingiz Khan.” Putin’s rise to power confirms what Trubetskoy warned about in some detail almost a century ago.

             In fact, it has turned out, Tsipko says, that “God really choose us to show all humanity what it should not do and how it must avoid any resemblance to unpredictable Russia.” Only fantast like Surkov could believe that any real European would want to copy with Russia has done with itself.

            Now, “almost 30 years after the disintegration of the USSR,” Tsipko suggests, he “understands that it would have been more secure for us to live in some kind of Slavic-Turkic federation” of the kind Nazarbayev dreamed about in 1991 than to exist alone in “central Rus” and condemned to “eternal searches for a special Russian path and the faith that it is calledupont to open to humanity a door to a new future.”

            It is of course “possible,” that such a Slavic-Turkic federation would not have saved the situation, “but it would have been less affected by the temptation of Russian messianism and the freezing out of the instinct for the self-preservation of the nation.” 

            Tsipko says he had expected the Belarusians to move in a different direction because of their past history, but instead, they have become under Lukashenka a giant collective farm with all that entails.  And until the recent Ukrainian elections, he adds, he had hoped for more from Ukraine.

            Now, he has become a pessimist about all three but especially about Russia.  With the coming of Putin, Russia has lost the possibilities for progress that it had under Yeltsin, despite the latter’s many failings, and has ensured that it will not move forward but remain for a long time “’a besieged fortress.’” 

The Russian messianism which this only intensifies, Tsipko says, and this “faith in a special Russian mission” contain within them “much that is dangerous. “Messianism gives rise to militarism and the striving for victories at any price … with all the inevitable political consequences.”   

“In a besieged fortress, as the spiritual experience of the USSR showed, the right to doubt in the correctness of the decisions of ‘the supreme ruler,’ the right to one’s own opinion, and the right to the competition of ideas and programs are impossible. With all this, there cannot be any development.”

            Tsipko continues: “Under conditions of a besieged fortress, Russia again is being converted into an ulus of the Tatar-Mongol empire where long-suffering and humble people without their own opinion look with gratitude into the eyes of the latest Chingiz Khan who tells them that in their veins flows the blood of heroes and sends them to die in a new war.”

            God knows, the Moscow analyst concludes, that he has been seeking without success some way that Russia can avoid all these “messianic charms of ‘Putin’s long state” which Surkov and others so celebrate. 

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