Friday, February 19, 2021

Fate of Russians Still Depends on Whims of the Autocrat, ‘Yezhednevny Zhurnal’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 18 – The repressions the Kremlin visited upon the Navalny protesters show, the editor of Yezhednevny zhurnal say, that Russia remains an autocracy in which the ruler is responsible to no one but himself, a pattern that sets the country apart from most advanced countries.

            “In developed countries, the people choose as president or prime minister politicians and economists whose goal is the economic and cultural development of their countries. And these leaders carry out their mandate within a division of powers and a system of checks and balances” controlled by the people, the editors continue (

            But “in post-Soviet countries [and Russia in the first instance], everything is arranged differently. The population agrees to the absolute power of authoritarian rulers” to make decisions, something, the editors of the independent Moscow newspaper say, is the product of “the medieval culture of the people.”

             “It isn’t important what the autocrat is called – tsar, general secretary or president,” they say. “He is free to do what he considers necessary, an understanding of the authority of the ruler which is deeply rooted in the social consciousness of Russians” who have always believed that “the boss is always right.”

            “We do not want to engage in politics … we do not understand the importance of political competition and the principle of the division of powers. We need a good tsar,” and that means in turn that “we all are still serfs.” Depending on whether the tsar is “good” or not, things may go better or worse for the people, but not because of them but because of him.

            If one examines the history of rulership in Russia, one sees that sometimes “good” tsars have moved in positive directions but then “bad” tsars have gone in the oppose way. Under both, however, “the people are ready to be a submissive herd, and this is not surprising,” the editors argue.

            “The instinct of submission to the leader of the tribe (the alpha dog) has been preserved in our genes,” and “only the development of culture may dispel this.” In some countries this process has gone more quickly and in others more slowly. Russian culture unfortunately is in the latter group.

            What matters for the autocrat? the paper asks rhetorically. “Not the standard of living of his subjects but rather respect from the rulers of other countries. Such demands dominate the heads of bandit mafia groups” who “seek respect by the threat of the application of force,” something that was true of most countries until relatively recently.

            But “after World War II, the world changed. Countries ceased to be measured by their forces, and the authority of rulers of various countries is not connected with the level of the economic development of the state, the observation of laws in them, and the inalienable rights of citizens.”

            One sign of this in Europe is that many countries are now far more interested in being part of the EU than members of NATO, Yezhednevny zhurnal says. 


            “Putin doesn’t understand or recognize this. His consciousness is still in the past century when it was formed during his years of service in the KGB. He is not in a position to change his ideas about what is needed as Yeltsin did. And this means that while he is in power, for the sake of his ambitions, Russians will travel along the road of poverty.”

            In 1999, Putin promised that by 2015, Russia would reach the level of Portugal as measured by GDP per capita. But now, six years after that, Russians are earning only about 11,000 US dollars each, while the Portuguese are earning 23,500. The money coming in that could have changed that has gone for other purposes.

            Among these are the regime’s military adventures, its export of more than a trillion US dollars to make money for itself, the forgiveness of debts of foreign countries in a hapless effort to win and keep friends among the outcasts of the world, and expensive palaces like the one Navalny has exposed.

            Even the regime’s economic projects are so full of corruption and bad planning that they aren’t bringing the returns they should. Even if the NordStream-2 pipeline is completed, it won’t pay for itself sooner than 50 years from now. And that story has been repeated again and again, the editors say.

            “How many new schools and hospitals in Russia could have been built for all this money, how much could pensions and the pay of teachers and doctors be raised?” How many fewer than 20 million Russians would be living beneath the official poverty level, and how many apartment houses could finally be supplied with gas.

            For this to change, the editors argue, Russian culture will have to change under the impact of private property and market relations. These things have already changed the culture of the active part of the population; with time, they will change that of the others. But until then, Russians will live as their rulers decide and will spend their time waiting for a “good” tsar.


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