Staunton, Oct. 4 – Twenty-eight years ago this week, Boris Yeltsin clashed with the Russian Supreme Soviet, an event that many but “far from all” Russians recognize as the one which “decided the fate of our country for decades and perhaps even for centuries,” according to Ilya Konstantinov.
Many Russian liberals to this day, the Moscow commentator says, remember this clash as one between “a red-brown revolt” and “the ‘democrat’ Yeltsin” and continue to this day to describe the leaders of the former as monsters and Yeltsin as a hero who defended freedom and democracy (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6159DB294755A).
And such people can’t or don’t want to recognize that what was decided in October 1993 was not the issue of Yeltsin or Rutskoy or capitalism as opposed to communism. Rather, Konstantinov says, “the fateful choice which Russia made then can be formulated as THE INDIVIDUAL OR THE INSTITUTION.”
Disputes about the personal qualities of these leaders only obscure that choice, but ultimately they cannot hide the fact that a large segment of the intelligentsia and especially its Moscow core 28 years ago chose THE INDIVIDUAL over THE INSTITUTION without recognizing what that entails.
Not long ago, many Russian liberals were upset when Vyacheslav Volodin suggested that “Putin is Russia and without Putin, there is no Russia.” But that phrase is little different in its meaning and implications from what Russian liberals believed in 1993, namely, that “if Yeltsin wins, there is democracy, and if he doesn’t there isn’t.”
Such people refused then and now to recognize that such a choice makes the establishment of one-man rule “only a question of time,” Konstantinov says. Giving up on institutions out of a belief that an individual can be a savior is a disaster. People are weak and only institutions can prevent them from turning to increasingly authoritarian means.
This understanding, of course, raises “the logical question” about what one should do if the institutions are fundamentally wrong and beyond reformation. Russians have drawn that conclusion twice in the last century or so; but they and everyone else must recognize that such acts “open a bottomless Pandora’s box” of problems.
“History does not know of a single serious revolution in a major and significant country which was not accompanied by terrible excesses and periods of the triumph of reaction,” Konstantinov says. “And the more radical the actions of the revolutionaries … the greater the price for this society has had to pay.”
What Yeltsin did with liberal support was a revolution, the commentator argues. And it was one that was not about “a deepening of the democratic revolution of the 1990s but rather the beginning of an authoritarian-oligarchic reaction for which our people has paid a colossal price” in the years since.
If liberals have been reluctant to recognize this, “the so-called ‘deep people’ did so long ago.” And that is why, Konstantinov argues, the liberals have attracted ever less support from the population in elections and polls since then. And now the liberals are voting for the communists because they feel they have nowhere else to go.
But as long as progressive humanity refuses to decisively break with Yeltsin and his actions, the commentator concludes, “liberal politics in Russia will not return to the order of the day.”