Staunton, July 4 – In his new National Security Strategy, Vladimir Putin identifies cultural Westernization as the main threat to his regime. He is correct to do so, Igor Eidman says, because as Soviet officials put it in language the Kremlin leader clearly still remembers, “today you play jazz but tomorrow you will betray the motherland.”
The Moscow sociologist and commentator argues that Putin has to promote what he calls traditional values in order to prevent challenges from emerging to his archaic authoritarian rule because as even he is aware, “Westernization is equal to progress” and real progress in Russia would leave no place for a ruler like Putin (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=60E1F595F3D21).
Western values like the priority of individual interests, rights and freedoms would “create conditions for overcoming the clan-based, despotic, and clerical archaic system.” Indeed, these values which is what Westernization is all about would in and of themselves bring the death of his “reactionary” political arrangements.
Russian leaders for three centuries have wanted to borrow Western technology but not Western values; and when on the rare occasion when they have wanted to import these values, they have not done so in a consistent and thoroughgoing way. As a result, these values have never been able to define the system which opposes them as antithetical to Russian traditions.
But the traditional system cannot bring the people what they want, and so Russians again and again have sought the very Western values their regimes have sought to block. At the end of Soviet times, the desire to “live like in the West” became “the idee fixe” of the Soviet population; and Gorbachev’s perestroika was born.
Tragically, Yeltsin and his entourage “profaned Westernization,” taking it to be only an opportunity for stealing everything and enriching themselves. And then Putin turned the clock back further, by “restoring in Russia an eastern despotism.” But despite the Kremlin leader’s efforts, the Russian people still want what Westernization alone can bring.
“Cultural Westernization and the Putin regime are incompatible. It is a delayed action bomb which sooner or later” will blow up the system Putin has installed just as it did with the communist one in the case of the USSR. That can only be welcomed even though history suggests that initial acceptance of Western values is no guarantee of their success in Russia.