Saturday, November 30, 2019

Liberal Democracy isn’t Dead or Defeated but It has a New Opponent, Feudalism 2.0, Gontmakher Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – When the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR fell apart, it was widely assumed and even stated by Francis Fukuyama that there was “no alternative” to liberal democracy; but the last 30 years have shown that one has emerged, “Feudalism 2.0,” and in Russia first of all, Yevgeny Gontmakher says.

            When communism fell in Eastern Europe, the elites who came to power there wanted liberal democracy in their countries, the Moscow social theorist and commentator says. “The Soviet perestroika intelligentsia …set ‘socialism with a human face’ as its goal (

            “But the values of respect for human rights, the creation of a market economy, the guaranteeing of political competition and media freedom” overwhelmed that original perestroika-period position in Russia and ensured that “by the end of 1991,” Russian leaders made the achievement of liberal democracy their position too.

            Now three decades later, it appears that these dreams have dissipated. Eastern Europe has moved in a populist direction, although most of its members completed their European choice by joining the European Union and NATO. Russia in contrast “from the start of the 2000s has slowly but undeviatingly distanced itself from Europe” in a still unknown direction.

            The system Russia and some others have created shows that there is alternative to liberal democracy, one in which “an unchangeable power controls or seeks to control the judicial system, the leading media, relies on strengthening ‘traditional’ values for the particular place, which smacks of primitive nationalism and xenophobia.”

            According to Gontmakher, “in some cases, this model includes state control over the economy as well as targeted and sometimes even massive repressions against the political opposition.” And in it, the state has primacy over the individual, while in liberal democracies, the liberal and his rights have primacy over the state.

            It thus turns out that “30 years after the end of communism,” competition between two systems has been renewed, competition between liberal democracy on the one hand, and something as yet unnamed on the other.  None of the proposed terms, including “illiberal democracy” is satisfactory, he argues.

            Picking up on the recent remark of Valery Zorkin, chief justice of the Russian Constitutional Court, that serfdom was one of the main supports for “the internal unity of the nation,” Gontmakher proposes that the competitor of liberal democracy be called “’Feudalism 2.0.’”

            In this competition, some declare liberal democracy to be dead and even profess to see advantages to this new feudalism; but people including Russians want not just stability but freedom, opportunity and dignity – and those are only possible with liberal democracy, the social commentator argues. 

            “Liberal democracy,” he points out, “is built on the basis of political pluralism. As a result of transparent processes, the left, the conservatives and the nationalists may come to power … In this consists the spirit of liberal democracy which of course isn’t reducible to pure liberalism as an ideological trend.”

            He cites the Oxford Manifesto of the 48th Congress of the Liberal International in 1997 concerning the liberal agenda for the 21st century which called for the support of values that have far more support than the feudals do (

            Consequently, Gontmakher continues, despite all the problems and difficulties of the past three decades in Eastern Europe and Russia as well, liberalism is fated to win out. Those who want it to come sooner rather than later must prepare themselves, analyze their own errors and those of others, and take responsibility.

            This won’t be an easy struggle or even one that will be won once and for all, but for those who believe in freedom, opportunity and dignity, it is one ever more people are going to join. 

‘Destruction of National Foundations of Non-Russian Republics is Occurring,’ Tatarstan Deputy Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Speaking at a session of Tatarstan’s State Council, deputy Rkail Zaydulla said that with the attack on Tatar and other languages of the non-Russian peoples of the Russian Federation, “the destruction of the national foundations of the republics is taking place.”

            If the republics are deprived of their languages, he suggested, they will have little justification for continuing to exist; and so the attack on languages is a new salvo in Moscow’s campaign to do away with the non-Russian republics and complete the destruction of federalism in Russia (депутат-татарстанского-парламента-и/).

            Many non-Russians and those sympathetic to them certainly feel that way, but it is extremely rare for anyone so politically prominent as Zaydulla to make such a declaration in public.  And his decision to do so suggests that fears about the direction in which the Kremlin is moving are deepening rapidly and perhaps approaching a crisis point.

            Zaydulla, 57, is a poet and translator and can be expected to feel the impact of language change more closely than many.  But he is also a supporter of the party of power, United Russia, and thus his break with the official position of that party and its Kremlin bosses is especially striking.

            Last summer, after being elected to the State Council, he said that he would use his time in office to promote instruction in Tatar and the development of Tatar national culture. Since then, he has insistently called for allowing Tatars and other non-Russians to take the school leaving exams in their national languages and not just in Russian as is the case now.

Russian Leaders Today Believe in Soviet Myths More Intensely than the Soviet Leaders Did, Gretsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 27 – Official Moscow’s anger now at the Czechs for taking down a statue to Soviet Marshal Konyev contrasts sharply with the indifference Soviet leaders showed to the Poles removing his statue from Cracow in January 1991, Igor Gretsky says, a change that called attention to a paradoxical development.

            “Putin’s Russia,” the political scientist of St. Petersburg State University argues, “clings to Soviet myths more desperately than did the Soviet leadership. It seems that the present-day rulers believe in the infallibility of Stalin and his minions much more strongly than did the ‘builders of communism’” (

            Why is this the case, Gretsky asks rhetorically. “Because this promotes the legitimation of the current regime. The Kremlin simply is playing on behavioral stereotypes and sense of inferiority of the older generation of Russians raised on the false narratives of the Soviet educational system.” 

            “And this still works,” he continues, although the actuarial tables suggest that the share of the Russian population with these experiences and values will continue  to fall, leading to what may prove to be an even more important question: “What then?”