Staunton, Oct. 3 – Ever more Russians are saying that with the departure of Vladimir Putin from the scene and the rise of another generation of leaders, liberalization is inevitable, an understandable hope given that there are ever fewer chances of change earlier but one that is far from certain to occur, Dimitry Savvin says.
The editor of the Riga-based conservative Russian portal Harbin says that regimes do change frequently when one leader departs and others come to the fore, but “it would be naïve to think that this always takes the form of liberalization.” It can have just the opposite effect (harbin.lv/chego-zhdat-ot-novogo-pokoleniya-neosovetskoy-verkhushki).
“The experience of the USSR, North Korea and the Chinese Peoples Republic” – and Savvin examines each in detail – “show that communist regimes and also their hybrid heirs like the neo-communist regime in Beijing or the neo-Soviet one in Moscow develop within the framework of a closed cycle.”
Sometimes this leads to liberalization and sometimes to increased repression, the editor says. In fact, “the new generation of the ruling stratum in such regimes always is interested in one thing: a long-term strengthening of its own power and its own well-being.” Sometimes liberalization along the NEP-Perestroika scenario may objectively support this striving.”
That was the case of the USSR in 1921 and 1986 and in the Chinese Peoples Republic in 1976. But sometimes, “it doesn’t,” Savvin argues, as was the case “in North Korea in 1992 or 2021 or in the Chinese Peoples Republic in 2017 and to this day. Because both outcomes are possible, it is a mistake to assume generational change leads inevitably to liberalization.
And if one considers the way in which Putin’s Russia has followed the North Korean variant with its system of promotion of children to fill the roles of their fathers at all levels, then one sees that the situation that will obtain on the departure of Vladimir Putin will be “seriously different” than was the case before Perestroika.
In the final years of the USSR, “the nomenklatura also tried to block social lifts but this process was not carried out to the end. But in the Putin years, the family-dynastic principle of cadres choice has become the norm not only at the tope but in the entire state apparatus as a whole.”
The rising generation has had different experiences than its parents, but these may not matter as much as many think compared to the overwhelming need the new rulers will feel to defend their power and wealth. That need may drive them to be even more authoritarian and repressive than their parents, Savvin says.
Moreover, “for Putin and his entourage, neo-Sovietism is chiefly a matter of inertia and political intuition, the result of following the natural impulses of the apparatus and not a principled ideological choice. But who can guarantee that in the new generation of the ruling stratum, there won’t be those for whom neo-Sovietism will be a consciously chosen ideology.”
These questions are “far from rhetorical,” the conservative Russian nationalist says. And there are no simple answers to them. But the number and importance of the questions are sufficient to suggest that hoping for significant change as a result of the passing of the torch from one generation to another is a fool’s errand.