Thursday, March 26, 2020

1916 – Another Candidate for the Year Russia is Like in 2020

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 23 – Not surprisingly in a country obsessed with its history, various commentators continue to suggest years in the past that 2020 resembles. Among the more recent candidates have been 1937, the time of the Great Terror, 1991, when the USSR collapsed, and 1812, when Russia took steps that led it for head the reactionary Holy Alliance.

            Now, Abbas Gallyamov, a former Putin speechwriter who writes frequently about Russian politics, argues “that what is taking place in Russia recalls the events of a century ago” in 1916 (

            The explosion of popular anger that led to the 1905 revolution is analogous to the
Bolotnoye protests of 2011-2012, he suggests.  In both cases, “society demanded the right to political representation having decided that the existing government institutions did not reflect their interests.”

            In both, the powers that be, “shocked by the size of the protest,” initially backed down and made concessions, Nicholas II with the October Manifesto that gave Russia its first constitution and President Dmitry Medvedev restoring the elections of governors and liberalizing the law on party formation.

            But again both “at the same time” put in motion “mobilizational projects at the opposite end of the political spectrum.” The tsar loosed the Black Hundreds on the country, and Medvedev’s predecessor and successor, Vladimir Putin, went back on all promises of a loosening up.

            Nonetheless, both after 1907 and after 2012, “the state of public opinion cont inued to worry the government,” Gallyamov says.  “Yes, they were able to put down the protests, but the powers were no longer able to force people to love them.”  That became the source of the idea of another “short victorious war,” against Germany in 1914 and again the US and Europe now.

            Initially, these undertakings appeared to work: there was in both cases an outburst of patriotic enthusiasm. “But the conflicts turned out to be more drawn out than had been initially expected and the losses experienced by the people more serious. As a result, patriotic attitudes declined and protest ones went up.”

            “Now,” the commentator says, “everything looks” the same as it did in 1916, the year before the revolution. “Of course, not every historical parallel is correct but one should not fail to explore them anyway. It is necessary to learn the lessons of the past.”

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