Staunton, May 10 – In his 2009 book, Uncivil Society, American historian Stephen Kotkin argues that in the East European revolutions of the late 1980s too much attention has been paid to dissidents and intellectuals and too little to the role of the party apparatus, special services, the military, and government officials.
They formed from five to seven percent of the population, and when regimes lost their loyalty and support, those regimes found themselves first in difficulty and often were overthrown, precisely by the very people, “the uncivil society,” of officials who were tied together by strong corporate interests.
One person who has not made the mistake Kotkin refers to, Moscow commentator Maksim Trudolyubov says, is Vladimir Putin. Indeed, his recent round of repressions against Navalny and others is intended to “strengthen this stratum” and ensure that it remains loyal to him (meduza.io/feature/2021/05/10/negrazhdanskoe-obschestvo-glavnaya-opora-rossiyskoy-vlasti).
That should surprise no one, Trudolyubov says. After all, “Putin personally with a witness of the disintegration of the uncivil society in the GDR and the USSR and obvioiusly is extremely concerned about the possibility of a repetition of the same thing” in the Russian Federation.
The current Kremlin leader is very
much aware that the communist regimes in Eastern Europe fell not because of the
actions of the dissidents as important as they were morally but rather because “in
the second half of the 1980s, they lost the fore and economic support of the Kremlin,
which was too occupied with its own problems.
“Today,” the commentator continues, “the Kremlin regime itself is in the position of its former satellites: it depends on foreign forces [like courts and legal systems in Western countries which defend its wealth] which are even less loyal to it than the USSR was to its allies.” If the uncivil society of Russia today decides Putin is costing them too much, it will desert him as well.
By unleashing repression and giving the members of uncivil society more possibilities, Putin is seeking to keep this group on his side, even if doing so comes at the price of sacrificing the development of the country as now seems to be the case. But the Kremlin leader faces a problem because if there isn’t more to steal, those who win by stealing won’t like it.
“The paradox of uncivil society is that in contrast to civil society, it fundamentally depends on foreign institutions,” not the Soviet army as the East European communist regimes did but on Western legal systems that will protect its ill-gotten gains. And if anything calls their role into question, Putin’s regime would be in big trouble.
The Kremlin leader has been working on “the restoration of uncivil society already more than 20 years but the work up to now has not been completed.” And Russian uncivil society has not gained the positions that it had in Soviet times or in communist eastern Europe. Consequently, keeping uncivil society loyal is an ever more difficult challenge.