Staunton, November 6 – An extensive document entitled Between Revenge and Forgetting: A Concept of Transitional Justice for Russia has attracted increasing attention because of its argument that only massive lustration, the removal of officials implicated in Putin’s rule, can save Russia. (For its full text, see trjustice.ilpp.ru/introduction.html.)
As reaction to this document shows, many Russians believe that the country is in its current fix because there was not a systematic ban on officials from the Soviet past and especially from the Soviet intelligence services put in place after the collapse of the USSR in 1991. And they thus hope to avoid repeating that “mistake.”
But Moscow political analyst Dmitry Nekrasov says that such notions are both naïve and dangerous, naïve in their assumption that any plan developed now will be implemented in the rough and tumble of a transition and dangerous in that they fail to recognize that the threat of lustration will lead them to defend the existing system still more strongly.
As a result, he argues, people who are talking about this are helping the Kremlin maintain control over the bureaucracy – Nekrasov doesn’t suggest that this document may have been issued by the powers to achieve exactly that – and likely ensure that the transition would be bloody (newizv.ru/article/general/05-11-2020/a-rabotat-to-kto-budet-pochemu-v-rossii-nevozmozhna-lyustratsiya-pri-smene-vlasti).
On the one hand, he says, successful transitions from authoritarian systems have generally required a kind of amnesty at least for most officials for their actions under the previous regime. And on the other, most have found that they have to make use of those officials because otherwise there won’t be anyone to do some kinds of work.
In all too many cases, Nekrasov suggests, Russian faith in lustration is yet another illustration of the propensity of members of that nation to believe that a quick and easy solution to problems can be achieved by a single action or set of actions at one moment rather than recognizing that overcoming the past inevitably will be hard and take a long time.
Those who want to remove a large number of officials who worked for an earlier regime will quickly discover that the country lacks enough professionally competent and ethically committed people prepared to work for the small salaries any new regime can pay. The latest and most immediate illustration of this has been in Ukraine over the last several years.
And if one wants to see the disastrous consequences of lustration, he says, one only need to look at Iraq where American occupation forces got rid of the Baathist Party loyalists and military commanders only to discover that there was no one else capable of running the country and thus plunging things into chaos.
Those who want to take over from Putin in Russia are dreamers, the political scientist continues. They fail to recognize that something like 90 percent of these “’flaming revolutionaries’ are physically incapable of successfully fulfilling the functions of senior bureaucrats.” And even the remaining 10 percent will take a long time to learn how.
According to Nekrasov, “lustration can be justified and will not lead to the degradati9n of the country only in exceptional circumstances” such as the flight of many top leaders to some other country or under conditions of occupation. Neither is likely or would be entirely welcome by Russians.