ISSUE 1-2021
Роман Темников
Владимир Воронов Марян Бруновски
Анастасия Тихомирова
Любовь Шишелина
Игорь Яковенко

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles and/or discussions are those of the respective authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views or positions of the publisher.

By Pavel Vitek | Researcher in Politics, the Czech Republic | Issue 1, 2021

It has not been all that long since former US president George W. Bush saw a light in the eyes of the then-newly elected Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. This light led G. Bush to an optimistic opinion that perhaps things would not be so bad as the skeptics, or rather, those better informed on Russia than the former US President had thought concerning former and none-too-successful Soviet intelligence officer. George Bush needed some time to realize that the light in Putin’s eyes was not really that of hope, and that the sceptics were much closer to reality when they had warned him against this little Russian man.

Some time passed and Putin found his own clone, in the person of Dmitry Medvedev. The latter one deals with a new US president. Barack Obama has not been heard to speak of any sort of light in Medvedev’s eyes, but rather went from words straight to actions; to be precise, to concessions designed to make Russia co-operate. Again, sceptical voices are heard, but the Nobel Prize laureate is likely to need some time to find out that the concessions he makes are not going to win him Russian support either in Afghanistan, or in Iran and Iraq, as he mistakenly believed. The reaction of the Russian Foreign Minister, Mr. Lavrov, who could hardly be suspected to think in different way than Kremlin and its close neighbourhood, to the new American plans regarding anti-missile defense may serve as one of the first proofs of that. [1]

Taking into account a genre of this column, I shall not proceed to describe the future of Russian-US relations. Instead I will attempt to comment on one of Medvedev’s latest programme articles, which may be read as a certain analogy of the fatal gleam in Putin’s eyes.

             Medvedev’s article Россия, вперёд! – Russia Ahead! – issued on September 10, 2009[2] is not remarkable either in terms of its content or genre. Quite simply, the President is fond of publishing, frequently and at length, his views; let’s hope they are his own. The attention which he devotes to his own electronic self-presentation is truly impressive.

If one has not read the responses on the presidential website, it might even be possible to see this as an attempt at public discourse, or at least a discussion with that part of the public which has access to the Internet. The enthusiastic support of the vast majority of the responses which have been published on the presidential website makes one doubt that it could be really a public discussion. If this is not a discussion with the Vox Dei, let us assume that Dmitry Medvedev addresses his article only to certain readers, and we may then read there the following messages.

To Vladimir Putin: Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich, you might have achieved something during your reign:

We managed to gather the country together to stop centrifugal tendencies but the achievements are scant: Twenty years of tumultuous change has not spared our country from its humiliating dependence on raw materials.

You might have succeeded in saving something, but you failed to change the nature of the regime:

To sum up, an inefficient economy, semi-Soviet social sphere, fragile democracy, negative demographic trends, and unstable Caucasus represent very big problems, even for a country such as Russia. Of course we do not need to exaggerate. Much is being done, Russia is working. It is not a half-paralyzed, half-functioning country as it was ten years ago. All social systems are operating. But this is still not enough. After all, such systems only propagate the current model, and do not develop it. They cannot change current ways of life and therefore bad habits remain.

Even earlier it might have been possible to notice such attempts of Medvedev to emancipate himself; at present these attempts to cut himself off from Putin may be even more important for the current president, because sooner or later it will be necessary to blame the extant problems and failures on someone else. If that someone is not to be Medvedev himself, there is essentially only one other target...

Message for Russian democrats and foreign optimists: Democrats and optimists rejoice! We will have democracy.

Russia’s political system will also be extremely open, flexible and internally complex. It will be adequate for a dynamic, active, transparent and multi-dimensional social structure. It will correspond to the political culture of free, secure, critical thinking, self-confident people. As in most democratic states, the leaders of the political struggle will be the parliamentary parties, which will periodically replace each other in power... The political system will be renewed and improved via the free competition of open political associations,

but this will not take place immediately or soon.

Not everyone is satisfied with the pace at which we are moving in this direction. They talk about the need to accelerate changes in the political system. And sometimes about going back to the “democratic” nineties. But it is inexcusable to return to a paralyzed country. So I want to disappoint the supporters of permanent revolution. We will not rush. Hasty and ill-considered political reforms have led to tragic consequences more than once in our history. They have pushed Russia to the brink of collapse. We cannot risk our social stability and endanger the safety of our citizens for the sake of abstract theories. We are not entitled to sacrifice stable life, even for the highest goals.

The number of variations of this attitude in national leadership throughout Russian history is indeed almost fascinating. The same history helps us envisage how this all will finish. The shining example of Medvedev’s understanding of democracy could be observed during the latest local elections. Their results can remind us of numerous moments in Russian history but they had nothing in common with democracy.

To the advocates of the status quo: Dear advocates of the status quo, I am forced to criticize you somewhat.

At the same time this will displease those who are completely satisfied with the status quo. Those who are afraid and do not want change.

But do not worry, lest something should indeed change:

Changes will take place, but they will be gradual, thought-through, and step-by-step. But they will nevertheless be steady and consistent.

Guys, do not worry we know the story of steadiness and consistency.

Medvedev can hardly go against himself because he is part of the existing system which placed him in his post in order to maintain that system. His main qualification for the job was none other than his weakness and an assumption of boundless loyalty. If he really wanted to change something he would have to look for support in a very different milieu. In the milieu of independent thinking and free people, i.e., in an environment the liquidation of which he looked on, and even today does nothing to regenerate it.

To the small nations and those who have already forgotten:

Russia has often sought to protect small nations, those confronted with the threat of enslavement or even destruction. This was the case only recently, when Saakashvili’s regime launched its criminal attack on South Ossetia. Russia has often put an end to the plans of those bent on world domination. Russia has twice appeared in the vanguard of the great coalitions: in the 19th century to stop Napoleon and in the 20th by defeating the Nazis. In war and peace, when a just cause has demanded decisive action, our people have been there to help. Russia has always been a staunch ally in war and an honest partner in economic and diplomatic affairs.

Here, in several sentences, is an abundant demonstration of the Putin-Medvedev’ s way of muddling things with the intention of placing the opponent in the role of one who questions Russia’s merits. Thus this rhethoric throws together the Second World War and the unquestionable role of the USSR in the defeat of Nazi Germany with the role of Russia as the defender of small nations (those in the Caucasus or the Baltic countries have ample experience with such protection). Just as curious is the thesis of the ever-loyal ally (the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in 1918, Hungary in 1956, and Czechoslovakia in 1968 are excellent examples of this), and the honest partner (exemplified presumably by Iosif Vissarionovich).

To historians, particularly foreign ones (as Russian historians have already mostly understood what they are expected to write): We shall struggle against the falsification of our history, above all against any falsifying of history connected with the great figure of Stalin, although he was not without flaws (The impressive legacy of the two greatest modernizations in our country’s history – that of Peter the Great (imperial) and the Soviet one unleashed ruin, humiliation and resulted in the deaths of millions of our countrymen. It is not for us to judge our predecessors. But we must recognize that the preservation of human life was not, euphemistically speaking, a government priority in those years.):

Like every great people, the Russian people are brilliant and heroic, they command the world's respect and admiration, and at the same time our history has been a controversial, complex, ambiguous one. It means different things to different people in different countries. And much remains to be done to protect our historical heritage from distortion and political speculations. We must look clearly at our past and see our great victories, our tragic mistakes, our role models, and the manifestations of the best features of our national character.

And we shall put forth any lies we can get away with:

In any case, we will be attentive to our history and we will respect it. First and foremost we must respect our country's role in maintaining a balanced world order for centuries. Russia has always, at all stages of its development, sought to achieve a more equitable world order.

Dmitry Medvedev has taken up an interest in history and, above all, its proper interpretation from his predecessor. It would be worthy of a separate paper to discuss what made these two amateur historians take up this interest.[3] Is this merely a continuation of the efforts of the former communist regime, which tried to form the present time via an Orwellian control of history, or do these two peculiar historians have some other aim in mind? Taking into consideration their interpretation of the history, particularly, of the 20th century, one may look for an explanation to the Communist concepts of the shaping of human consciousness.

One could continue to decipher Medvedev’s messages, but that effort would be in vain, as above-cited samples are sufficient. Perhaps Medvedev is indeed contemplating the state of affairs in Russia, and perhaps he wishes to change some things. He shows us in his text that he understands the relationship between the evolution of democracy and social prosperity. However, during his term one would hardly find some significant attempt to apply this relation in Russia. Taking into account his imperfect emancipation, one may say that he could certainly do more than write essays.

Moreover, if we look at his actions not only in Russia, but also in terms of foreign policy, it is not international democracies that capture his attention:

In addition to this active work on the western front, we must increase our cooperation with the countries of the EurAsEC [Eurasian Economic Community], CSTO [Collective Security Treaty Organization] and CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States]. These are our closest, strategic partners. We share the common goal of modernizing our economies, regional security, and a more equitable world order. We must also develop worldwide cooperation with our partners in the SCO [Shanghai Cooperation Organization] and BRIC [Brazil-Russia-India-China].

If in some cases somebody from this society could be taken as a democrat, the President has already many times convinced us that he is a worthy disciple of his teacher. The treatment of Ukraine[4], set against the backdrop of the embrace of Bolivian and Cuban despots, is a clear example of this.

And thus when reading Medvedev’s words,

as a whole democratic institutions have been established and stabilized, but their quality remains far from ideal. Civil society is weak, the levels of self-organization and self-government are low,

accompanied by his photograph as a thoughtful and informal intellectual,[5] he starts to resemble a crocodile with tearful eyes.

[1] Transcript of Remarks and Response to Media Questions by Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at Joint Press Conference Following Talks with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Moscow, October 13, 2009

[3] Founders of the school an altered interpretation of the Soviet history begin to have zealous students from abroad too. For example a deputy of Ukrainian parliament Dmytro Tabachnyk, a graduate historian, published in Russian newspaper Izvestia (23 September, 2009) article From Ribbentrop to Maidan ( where he very studiously reсycled nearly all theses concerning Soviet history which were disseminated in time of U.S.S.R. by Soviet propaganda to show to Kremlin´s teachers where to look for docile pupils in Ukraine.

[5] Somebody could remember how KGB tried to create a legend of former General Secretary Yuri Andropov. He should meet disidents, drink French Cognac and listen to western music.

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