The Russian regime’s dangerous appeal


It’s easy to see why Vladimir Putin’s regime appeals to a certain kind of conservative. It has no time for trendy secularism and social liberalism, The Economist’s Edward Lucas notes. The Russian Orthodox Church is at the center of national life. Sexual politics are firmly rooted in the 1990s: you can do what you want in private, but don’t expect any legal protection if you want to change your gender, have a same-sex marriage, or bring up children in a non-traditional family, he writes for the Center for European Policy Analysis:

Politically, the Kremlin supports an extreme version of Hegelian conservatism, in which the state’s interests—interpreted by the people who run it—are paramount. Democracy is decorative, not decisive. The rule of law means using the courts and the legal system to enforce the decisions made at the top. It does not mean that the humble can hold the powerful to account. Abroad, the Kremlin invokes international law to bind and beat the West, but raison d’etat trumps everything. Russia’s leaders have a traditional world-view, which bleakly rules out sentiment or morality. Countries are in eternal competition; you either eat, or get eaten. So it is better to eat. The Kremlin is unapologetic about its blood-soaked imperial past, and determined to hold on to what empire it still has.

This all makes sense, in a brutal sort of way. It explains why some find Russia attractive, Lucas notes.

Russia’s ideology is ‘traditional great power cleansed of communism,’ notes historian Irina Pavlova – “traditional Russian great power (velikoderzhaviye), cleansed of communism and dressed up in Orthodox clothing”:

This idea has its roots in the 16th century idea of Moscow as “the third Rome.” Over time, “this idea was transformed into an ideology” and now has taken the form of what may be called “Russian fundamentalism,” whose followers accept without question four key notions without asking that they be proven.

First, Russians believe that “the Russian people are the bearers of a special morality and a special feeling of justice.” Second, they reject “the spiritless West as a model of societal development.” Third, they have a “vision of the future of Russia as an empire.” And fourth, they are “certain of its special and unique historical mission.” (HT: Paul Goble).

In the last decade, Vladimir Putin tried to find a path toward restoring Russia’s imperial identity through a number of ill-fated projects: the Eurasian Commonwealth, the Russian World and the Russian Civilization — all in opposition to the West and its liberal political ideals, notes Michael Khodarkovsky, a professor of history at Loyola University Chicago.

If the 19th century gave us Russian literature and arts, and the 20th science and a fatally flawed ideology of totalitarian socialism, 21st-century Russia has little to offer beyond subversion of Western democracies and revanchist forays along its borders. Stuck between apocalypse and revolution, in the words of the 20th-century Russian philosopher Nikolai Berdyaev, fragile Russia is still searching for a sense of national identity, he writes for The New York Times:

The problem, [analyst Emil] Pain maintains, is that instead of promoting the idea of a nation of free citizens, the Kremlin wants a nation subordinate to the state and its leader. …Here lies Russia’s historic conundrum, born of its enormous size and diversity: One cannot forge what Mr. Pain calls a “civic nation” — a pluralistic and participatory democracy — from a tapestry of religions, tongues and customs without devolving power away from Moscow. But that would risk encouraging demands for more autonomy from some of the 21 non-Russian republics within the Russian Federation. On the other hand, concentrating power solely in the Kremlin and its strong leader means continuing an imperial tradition of keeping the country together through what the Soviet-era human rights leader Andrei Sakharov derided as a “messianic expansionism.”


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