Friday, May 26, 2023

Russian Liberals and Non-Russian Nationalists Live in Separate Worlds but Share Skepticism about Early Elections, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 22 – The differences between the Berlin Declaration of Russian Democratic Forces and the Sixth Forum of Free Peoples of Post-Russia show that the two groups operate in separate worlds, Vadim Shtepa says; but they also show that the two groups, Russian liberals and non-Russian nationalists share a skepticism about early elections.

            The editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says that there are some intriguing parallels and key differences between what is happening now and what took place at the end of Soviet times (

            In 1988, supporters of perestroika issued a programmatic volume entitled No Other Way in which they argued that the only way forward was within the framework of socialism and the unchanged borders of the USSR, positions that were soon undercut and made untenable by the actions of the Interregional Group of Deputies.

            “Today’s ‘Russian democrats’ who signed the Berlin Declaration, although they left Russia long ago, retain their Moscow-centric mindset. Their ideal is ‘a free, legal, federal Russia,’ arguing that ‘there is no other way.’” They are certain that Russia must “remain a single country with “internationally recognized borders.”

            Those who want a post-Russian future, of course, want to abolish these borders and establish new ones. For them, as for members of the Interregional Group, “their own republics look like future political subjects,” and they don’t trust Russian liberals concerning the possibility of any new federalism.

            “For those who call themselves ‘Russian democrats,’” Shtepa says, “the main problem is democracy itself … Their leaders actively oppose the main democratic instrument, free elecitons, because according to them, if such elections were to be held immediately after the fall of the Putin regime, then the supporters of the former system would inevitably win.”

            “Therefore, they associate the liberation of the country with the creation of some kind of unelected ‘transitional administration,’” failing to see that this would lead “not to liberation but simply to another repetition of the imperial track” with those who have never faced the voters in a free election assuming and holding power, the Russian regionalist continues.

            Unfortunately, many “’post-Russians’ sometimes adopt a similar position. They don’t talk about free elections either, probably believing the new independent states will emerge in some magical way or be created by some kind of ‘external management,’” the latter being quite fantastic under current conditions.

            This raises the critical question about what legitimacy both groups will have as “neither ‘the Russian democrats’ nor ‘the post-Russian patriots’ aspire to elections in their homelands where genuine social change could begin … The former don’t want to understand that real democratic power … cannot be established ‘from above,’ even by the most liberal Kremlin.”

            And the latter, as passionate as they are about drawing borders and coming up with flags haven’t taken the steps needed to create those entities through the promotion of elections or failing that of democratic culture as many of the non-Russian movements did at the end of Soviet times.

            Instead, both the liberals and the nationalists now operate on the basis of wishful thinking; and as long as they do, Shtepa warns, “the post-Russian era will remain virtual, unlike the post-Soviet one” which in fact became quite real.

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