I will begin with a thing unexpected even for myself – a quotation from a Soviet writer who was said to be the first to step on a mine-free field: “The immediate reason for the arrest was that his lectures contained warnings, quite unpopular at the time, about the strong sides of tactical views in Hitler’s restored Wehrmacht.”
This is a detail in the life story of Brigadier Serpilin, a character in Konstantin Simonov’s novel The Living and the Dead and the other two parts of a trilogy about the Great Patriotic War. I recall this every time I am dubbed Putin’s hireling in response to my high esteem of the Kremlin’s strategy and tactic in achieving the goals it set to itself. And I have also encountered this in the last while whenever I highly esteem the political talents of Yanukovych and his team. But the latter seems to be the same as in Putin’s Kremlin. In any case, it is equally strong and ingenious.
I must admit that in Russia and perhaps in Ukraine a considerable part of the socially and intellectually active population follows the same logic as did security officers in the 1930s and still do their present-day successors. They tend to put the sign of equation between admission of the enemy’s force and calls for defecting to him. They are unprepared, deep in their hearts, to side with the defeated and the weak only because they adhere to the same principles and values that the losers do. This also explains the popularity of the repeatedly failed forecasts about the near fall of Putin’s regime as well as unwillingness to see the real results of the Maidan.
People want to be on the side of a stronger one. For this reason, in the conditions of a mass, i.e. above all, commercial, culture, it is popular to run down the authorities and prophesy their forthcoming fall. It is useless to argue with the market:
Hope, moreover, a vain one,
is a saleable commodity.
Despair is as much a gift
as is free air in an open field.
People spurn the gift of despair which can be used in different ways – an incitement to terrorism and other extremist actions as well as a motive for free intellectual activity and sober assessment of the ongoing events and one’s own place in the world which is forming before our eyes and is not suitable for many both in Russia and in Ukraine.
Very much has been said about the Russification of the Ukrainian government and opposition as a result of the refusal to integrate into Europe and the signing of the Moscow Accord on December 17. This day will indeed go down in the history of Ukraine as the day it dropped from history if, of course, things continue to go the way they do now. There are so far no grounds to believe that the movement may change its direction. Moreover, it is quite probable that the coming of the first three billion has already become a point of no return – no return to history.
It has been sufficiently said about this, but let us say it again because the depth of the ongoing processes has not been duly assessed. The Russians are not a historical people. They have no history, no linear historical temporality. Their history is measured by degrees in a circular motion, not by years. Joseph Brodsky felt and outlined this figure in the play Democracy which uses with good effect the substitution of a 180-degree turn by a 360-degree one.
This is the very essence of a choice between Europe and Russia. This choice is offered, naturally, to the ruling elites, not to the nations, and the Russian choice suggests, as a bonus, complete independence of these elites from their own nations. But in the case of the Russians themselves, it is by no means “Putin’s imperial ambitions” but realization of their identity, which forms the basis of Putin’s policies.
Very much is being said that Putin’s Eurasian projects are economically inefficient and that his aspirations will be thwarted in Europe. But, in reality, they are being thwarted in Asia by a steady and economically sound expansion of China with which the Kremlin is not going to rival. On the contrary, the Chinese presence in, say, Kazakhstan is viewed as a factor that ensures political stability.
Gas rivalry with Turkmenistan is a different problem, but it is, so to speak, a routine affair. The main thing is that the countries that surround Russia should not set a bad example, as was in the case of Georgia and Ukraine. As for the curbing of Russian imperial aspirations, the situation was not duly assessed by either US or European politicians. The Obama Administration’s behavior on the world arena is almost inadequate, while the European Union has now been stumped by the Kremlin’s artful move about Ukraine’s European debt. And the fact that Ukraine is mostly indebted to the US is of almost no importance.
The Russians’ imperial activation is in line with the number of degrees by which Russia has already turned in its current historical cycle.
Let me say again what I recently said in connection with Gorbachev’s jubilee. The past decade has seen the final elimination of the 1990s’ democratic excesses which look now as a crisis in the growth of neo-totalitarianism that came to replace the Soviet system.
Let us recall what perestroika was aimed at and what emerged two decades later. The result of total deideologization is that even the authorities espouse no ideology unless this term can be applied to the all-pervading pragmatism and utilitarianism. The once omnipotent communist party apparatus has vanished into thin air. United Russia has nothing to do with the CPSU. This party serves as a lightning conductor now – it is being defamed as a party of frauds and embezzlers, which only plays into the hands of those who really rule this country by distracting both the defamers and the potential in-party rivals who are taking too much upon themselves.
The economy seems to be market-oriented, but there is no free market. Now clear of the idiocy of planning, it is integrating into the world economic system under total control of the government. The same applies to politics. The current ruling elite can afford to be unchangeable without repressions or elimination of the oppositional elite. There seem to be elections, but there is no elective democracy, and what is supposed to be the electorate is only the populace.
The aspiration to be independent of the electorate is typical of not only the government, but also of the opposition. It is the basis of the latter’s new status. It fights not for public votes, as is the case on a free political market, but for quotas assigned by the government to various parties, which is typical of a distributive system. Managers give way to suppliers and politicians to spin masters.
The current political entities are not sociopolitical organizations (parties, movements, etc.) of a democratic society with a well-developed parliamentary system. Nor are they what is usually created in a period of transition from totalitarianism to democracy. They are pseudo-non-governmental and pseudo-political organizations that have been formed together with the neo-totalitarian system and are intended to integrate the elite, which has broken away from the government or laid claim to power before, into a new political system and thus separate it from the rest of society.
Demo-oppositional political organizations perform the most important function: defending their monopoly on being oppositional, they hamper – better than any KGB or agitprop – the updating and development of the democratic political segment. Given this kind of a political party system in today’s Russia, one must admit that all its political organizations are aimed at building neo-totalitarianism in one country.
Only one politician – not only from democrats, but also from the entire political establishment – has had the courage to admit a defeat within the framework of electoral democracy. As is always the case in Russia, it is a woman – Irina Khakamada. “Democrats have always failed to answer the questions of ordinary people. This is why they all have lost. For they have never had these answers in the field of not only ideology or polemics, but also of real politics,” she says (http://www.svoboda news.ru/contrent/transcript/131718.hnml).
But the absence of these answers and the refusal to appeal to society is a binding condition for the previous elite to enter the new establishment.
A bit more difficult is the situation with the language of neo-totalitarianism. The image of a totalitarian society created by past-time researchers and writers includes a mandatory standardization of language coupled with duality, which leads to crimes of thought. For the perestroika-era pluralism was just an attempt to modernize the previous newspeak, i.e., to introduce a new standardization of thinking.
It has turned out, however, that it is next to impossible to introduce a newspeak unless you knock the memory of the previous living language out of the people’s minds. A quite opposite and far less cost-intensive method has proved to be effective – to let everybody speak the language of their small and tiny communities and forestall the emergence of a nationwide political language in which such things as integrative values and the universally accepted principles of a political system could be formulated.
This is in fact what perestroika was aimed at within the USSR limits only. Putin’s actions were historically predetermined by the next stage – offsetting the consequences of what Russia’s president calls “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century,” i.e. the gaining of sovereignty and statehood by the nations which the Russians had forcibly kept as part of the USSR.
It is not an imperial ambition of one person or a group of individuals. It is not a historical aberration. It is not a vector that depends on economic factors. It is a firm and unstoppable advance of an empire that reckons with nothing and spares nobody. The elite that hold sway in Russia now will stop at nothing.
The present moment has amply exposed the root flaw in the non-ruling part of the Russian elite (I cannot bring myself to write “opposition elite”). It emerged thanks to perestroika and could only exist as part of the government in power. When Gorbachev stopped favoring it, it came under protection of a new government that was gathering strength in the still Soviet Russian Republic. This radically distinguishes it from the politically active part of society in all the other former Soviet republics, where a choice in favor of national development, even if supported by a part of the then nomenklatura, always led to a confrontation with the Kremlin – alas, not only as center of the all-USSR government, but also, later, as center of government in Russia which I cannot again bring myself to call “new.”
It is not until you become aware of all this that you can begin thinking over the further prospects of Ukraine, Russia, and Europe – without vain hopes and empty illusions, viewing despair as an intellectual shock therapy indispensable during a transition to a different reality.