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The Future of Russia:

Economist Moscow correspondent Arkady Ostrovsky has an interesting article on the future of Russia in the wake of the economic crisis. Like me, Ostrovsky worries that the crisis will strengthen communist and radical nationalist political forces that may be even worse than Vladimir Putin's authoritarian regime. As he points out, the Kremlin is trying to avoid blame for Russia's current economic troubles by claiming that it's all the fault of the US and the West. More generally, they have been using the government's control of the media to promote Russian nationalism and anti-Americanism and minimize the crimes of communism for several years now. Obviously, this has the effect of making the Russian public more receptive to the ultrananationalist message.

The problem is not unique to Russia. Nationalists everywhere love to whitewash their own country's history while blaming foreigners and ethnic minorities for all their problems. That, however, will not be much comfort if radical anti-Western nationalists manage to take over one of the world's largest oil producers and second biggest arsenal of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, the harmful legacy of Putin's propaganda campaigns and repression of the liberal democratic opposition might well outlast Putin himself.

zippypinhead:
Two words: Weimar Republic. Or more frighteningly, the government that replaced that failed state.

If the Third Reich (which arguably arose under not entirely dissimilar social and economic dislocations to those that Russia might face in a worst-case scenario) was bad, imagine something similar, but with a few thousand still-functional ICBMs plus a stranglehold on Europe's natural gas supplies.
2.28.2009 9:24pm
kdonovan:
This is a similar reading of events to the ones that for decades have led Washington to support Arab autocrats - because they successfully destroyed their liberal/democratic oppositions the successor to these autocratic regimes will necessarily be worse therefore we must support these autocratic regimes even as they further destroy any liberal impulse in their society making the future even more bleak if/when they do collapse.

I wonder if the more than transitory endurance of liberal democratic regimes in Western Europe post WWII and Central Europe post Cold War was only possible because both liberals and nationalists feared Russia and needed to cozy up to the US (or later NATO/EU) for protection and the US pushed a democratic regime on them.

Does this mean that as long as Russians can be made to see the US/West as the more plausible threat that liberal government there is doomed? Would it take Russians seeing China or Islam as their most serious threat in order for them to be willing to embrace liberal democracy?

Depressing.
2.28.2009 9:26pm
Ilya Somin:
This is a similar reading of events to the ones that for decades have led Washington to support Arab autocrats - because they successfully destroyed their liberal/democratic oppositions the successor to these autocratic regimes will necessarily be worse therefore we must support these autocratic regimes even as they further destroy any liberal impulse in their society making the future even more bleak if/when they do collapse.

Of course I don't claim that we should support Putin. We should instead do all we can to strengthen those Russians who support liberal democracy and a pro-Western orientation. But that doesn't mean that we can close our eyes to the fact that Russia's ultranationalists are currently far more influential than its pro-Western liberals.
2.28.2009 9:33pm
M (mail):
I'll insist again that while nationalism, including of a violent, xenophobic sort, is a big worry in Russia now, communism, if you mean the Communist party of Russia, is no threat at all. The Russian Communist party has a small and constantly shrinking following. Almost no one under pension age, and fewer of those all the time, support it. Putin and United Russia keep the Communist party around because it is tame and worthless and unable to be a threat to anyone but itself. There is no serious chance of either the Communist party of Russia or of communism as a serious political ideology making a comeback in Russia. None. Now, this doesn't mean that the liberal (in the European or the American sense) parties have any hope, either, (they don't) or that people do not want a strong state, including one that controls many aspects of economic life. But this is just a garden-variety authoritarianism without any coherent or significant ideological character. It's a confusion or dishonest to think this has anything interesting to do with communism in any real sense.
2.28.2009 9:52pm
Ilya Somin:
communism, if you mean the Communist party of Russia, is no threat at all. The Russian Communist party has a small and constantly shrinking following.

Many people in Russia support elements of communist ideology even if they don't support the Communist Party. The ideology can make a comeback even if the party does not.
2.28.2009 10:20pm
M (mail):
Many people in Russia support elements of communist ideology even if they don't support the Communist Party.

Well, if you mean that they support a strong, non-liberal state with a lot of government activity in the economy than this is true. But that's not enough to make something "communist" in any interesting sense. What many people in Russia support is a garden-variety authoritarian state that has a strong role in many aspects of life. It has as much in common with any other authoritarian, non-liberal government system as it does with communism. It seems to me to be a distraction and not helpful for analytic or political clarity to call these tendencies "communism", especially since support for the Communist Party is very low and getting lower. Even the nostalgia for the Soviet Union and its past leaders has nothing interesting to do with Communism. (There is essentially no support, for example, for the idea that private property is inherently illegitimate, that consumer goods should be distributed according to a government-run plan, that property should be communally owned, that private enterprise is illegitimate, and so on. But without those aspects, in what way can popular opinion properly be called "communistic"?)
2.28.2009 10:50pm
Jim at FSU (mail):
Yay, Russian Hitler with nuclear weapons... Wait, didn't Stalin have nuclear weapons?

If we survived through a nuclear armed Stalin, how could the tyrannical new Russia of tomorrow be significantly worse? It will suck for the Russians, of course, but with a few brief periods of respite excepted, hasn't it always sucked for the Russians?

If North Korea can survive despite being a bunch of Stalinist tyrants who spend about 95 percent of their energy trying to taunt the US into nuking them, maybe we can coexist with whatever shitty new government takes control of Russia.
3.1.2009 1:51am
Jim at FSU (mail):
And yes, I would much prefer to have a liberal democracy in Russia, but don't the Russians have to prefer it as well? I'm not entirely convinced that they object to the idea of being ruled by an iron fisted tyrant.

In fact, all the Russians (or eastern ukranians) I've spoken to seem to have this idea that Stalin was some kind of legendary folk hero. The fact that he butchered his own people by the tens of millions didn't seem to matter to them. They just want someone strong that throws his weight around and makes other people respect Russia.

I realize I'm generalizing, but I'm not entirely convinced that the Russians don't deserve their despotic leaders.
3.1.2009 1:57am
A. Zarkov (mail):
At this point I'm not sure that even the US will survive the current economic crisis while remaining a liberal multicultural democracy. A Wiemar-like hyper inflation would destroy the middle class. Chronic high unemployment would most likely lead to at least a quasi-command economy. There are so many differences between the US of the 1930s and the US of today, we cannot use that period as any kind of reliable guide as to what will happen if another Great Depression strikes. The situation for Russia is of course much worse. They must export something so they can import manufactured goods, and for Russia that something must be energy in the form of oil and natural gas.

The recent Russian near violation of Canadian airspace by a Tu-95 "Bear" bomber (a Cold War icon) is another troubling sign of increased Russian aggressiveness. Ditto for a Russian min-sub planting a flag at the North Pole. Is all this evidence a gathering storm over who owns the Arctic seabed? I hope not, but countries have a nasty habit of starting wars to distract their citizens when times get tough. Times are tough for both countries.
3.1.2009 5:22am
sputnik (mail):
interesting use of words.
Describing the opposition to Putin you are using the terms "liberal" and "democratic". And obviously in completely legitimate way.
Somehow in USA in many brainwashed and propagandized brains of RW loyalist liberal became=socialist/communist....
3.1.2009 11:08am
autolykos:

In fact, all the Russians (or eastern ukranians) I've spoken to seem to have this idea that Stalin was some kind of legendary folk hero. The fact that he butchered his own people by the tens of millions didn't seem to matter to them. They just want someone strong that throws his weight around and makes other people respect Russia.


2 things:

1. It's hard for us in the US to put ourselves in their shoes because the US has never been as close to destruction as Russia was during WWII. Even leaving aside the Soviet propaganda machine that lionized Stalin for years, he was the person who led them to victory over the Nazis. It's not entirely irrational for people to minimize the pain inflicted on others and overweight the benefit provided to themselves.

2. As the events of the past month show, you can't paint the entire populace with the same brush. Even in a country as democratic and liberal as the US, the number of people who become willing members of a cult of personality is really, really scary (and that's with a media that isn't controlled by the state, even if they have abdicated their journalistic responsibilities).


Somehow in USA in many brainwashed and propagandized brains of RW loyalist liberal became=socialist/communist....


That's because the kleptocrats coopted the word "liberal". What was once a word used to describe those who love freedom (for example, liberal economic policies), is being used by the people who think we all belong to the government and should be grateful for whatever scraps happen to fall from the table.
3.1.2009 11:27am
M (mail):
That's because the kleptocrats coopted the word "liberal".

I think this is clearly wrong about the US, but fits pretty much exactly with Russia, and helps explain why Putin was able to be as popular as he has been. Most of the "liberals" in Russia, especially those associated with the Union of Right Forces party and with Yeltsin's group, were criminals on a truly historic scale. They also showed no interest at all in the massive suffering felt by most people as their standard of living dropped greatly from the late 80's during the 90's. This applies more to some in the SPS than others (Chubias is the prime example), but it's no surprise that liberalism has no support to speak of in Russia, given the disgusting and shameful criminal behavior of most of the liberal party members and officials.
3.1.2009 11:59am
autolykos:

I think this is clearly wrong about the US, but fits pretty much exactly with Russia, and helps explain why Putin was able to be as popular as he has been.


Liberalism in the classical sense has nothing to do with whether the government is composed of criminals or not. It's a philosophy that centers upon limited government, laissez-faire capitalism and individual freedom, 3 things the Democrats have no interest in.
3.1.2009 7:01pm
TGGP (mail) (www):
After reading Mark Moyar &Freda Utley, I can't join Ilya in proclaiming that we should support "liberals". Our-sons-of-bitches look pretty damn good compared to how bad things tend to get when they're gone.
3.3.2009 1:19am

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