Russia doesn’t need a complete revision of its history and its past; we need to deal with problems of today and tomorrow. These problems are not derived from the Stalin’s time, they are generated by the dissolution of a previously united country, by corruption and criminal capitalism.
Problems of today are not derived from the Stalin’s time
The program “On perpetuation of memory of victims of the totalitarian regime” prepared by the Working Group on Historical Memory of the Presidential Council for Civil Society Development and Human Rights is an artificial one.
Russia doesn’t need a complete revision of its history and its past; we need to deal with problems of today and tomorrow. These problems are not derived from the Stalin’s time, they are generated by the dissolution of a previously united country, by corruption and criminal capitalism. Russia’s dependence on oil and gas industry is not to be blamed on Stalin, neither Yeltsin and the reformers oversaw the creation of a highly peculiar form of capitalism in Russia . It has been defined in various ways over the years: being called everything from crony capitalism to corrupt capitalism and even gangster capitalism – but always in negative terms.
Whatever definition you choose for it, that form of capitalism was completely unrelated to Stalin and our totalitarian past. Therefore, this program is artificial – it is basically sending Russia backwards to fight the ghosts of the past instead of tackling the problems of today and of the future. These are problems that appeared after Russia had already made the transition to a market economy and a new political system. As such they are qualitatively new problems, and the so-called “ struggle against our totalitarian heritage” has very little to do with what needs to be done today.
It is important to note that the Council on Human Rights did not back the program unanimously: 35 out of 40 people supported it.
A liberal dictatorship
What was then the motivation of the authors of this program? Well, perhaps some of them wanted to make their name in politics, get quoted in the press and on the Internet. So they seek out the opportunity to be associated with a showy program or a high-profile set of recommendations so that they can position themselves as being at the centre of public debate. The “de-Stalinization program” has enabled some of its authors to take part in a number of TV debates and talk shows, and in that sense it has attained its goal.
A more important reason seems to be a strong desire of those council members who backed this program to start a reappraisal of Russian and Soviet history that reflects their own views.
They want to establish a number of politically correct definitions which will be accepted and asserted in Russian society, becoming an inviolable set of norms and rules. For instance, this program includes a recommendation that civil servants should be banned from defending Stalinist practices. That is a very peculiar suggestion.
First, there is the issue of what exactly constitutes the defense of Stalinist practices. If you describe Stalin as having led the Soviet Union successfully in the period 1941- 1945, when the Soviet Union won the Second World War, does that count as defending Stalin and his practices or not?
It becomes largely a matter of definition, and essentially this norm is intended to create a climate in which you will not be able to say anything positive about Russian foreign and domestic policy of that era. Even though it saw numerous achievements, and the victory in the Second World War is one of the most glaring achievements of that period.
Hence, these suggestions smell of what I would call a liberal dictatorship. Usually when people talk about dictatorship, they have in mind some kind of right wing or communist dictatorship, but paradoxically, a liberal dictatorship is also possible. One of the elements of such dictatorship is when you are forbidden to say certain things which do not correspond to the liberal thinking.
George Orwell, in his famous novel “1984”, described this as a “thoughtcrime.” The crime was to think something in a manner that is not accepted in your society’s political system.
But we lived already through the communist era. When we parted with communism, one of our biggest achievements was that we were finally able to speak and think as we liked and to have whatever views we wanted. I for one have no desire to have a new set of people, now liberally minded, telling me what to think and what to say.
Essentially, this program aims to assert a strictly liberal view of Soviet and Russian history. It is to become dominant, unquestionably dominant, in the Russian mind. Such a design has to be opposed because it reeks of dictatorship.
Russia does not need an iron fist, but it does need a responsible state
Some still argue that Russia needs to be ruled with a firm hand. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is sometimes accused of trying to implement this kind of “iron fist” policy. However it is clear that the vertical power structure that Putin created helps cure Russia of the malady of un-governability that took root under Yeltsin, when Russia had an anarchic political regime. While this power vertical has played a very important role, it remains inefficient in a number of important areas.
Look at the tragedy on the Volga in which about 100 people, about 50 children, perished because all the norms and all the regulations governing the use of riverboats were violated. These violations took place at all levels: by the state authorities, by the owner, and also by the tourist companies that were busy peddling those Volga tours.
The fact remains that this power vertical is a very far away from being an iron fist, rather it prevents Russia from falling apart. But it can not prevent dramas and tragedies, because the Russian state machine is very inefficient. Russia does not need an iron fist, but it does need a responsible state, and for the time being that remains a very distant prospect.