Sunday, July 24, 2016

East-West Ideological War in Belarus Intensifying, Russian Nationalist Commentator Warns

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – Over the last several months, Andrey Gerashchenko says, the ideological war between pro-Moscow Belarusians and pro-Western ones has not only broken out in new spheres but intensified in those where it was already present, a worrisome development he says because the outcome is now anything but clear.

            In sector after sector of public and private life, the Russian commentator says, those who look to Moscow and those who look to Poland and the West have staged competing events or erected conflicting monuments, with the former often overwhelmed by Minsk’s support for the latter (

            What makes this enumeration and characterization worrisome is that it is exactly the same kind of commentary on the Stoletie portal that appeared about Ukraine prior to the Russian intervention there.  And thus it may be yet another indicator that some in the Russian capital are pressing for more active moves in the Belarusian direction.

            “Traditionally,” Gerashchenko writes, “summer in Belarus is a time of various holidays and mass measures” which in this year have been the occasion for “a struggle of the pro-Russian and pro-Western vectors of development of the country.” He provides a list with commentary attached to some of them.

            In addition, he points to what he says is Belarus’ unique “’war of monuments.’” It is unlike the one in Ukraine, the Baltic countries or Poland because it typically involves not so much the tearing down of old statues but the erection of new ones, some to Russian heroes like Aleksandr Nevsky and others to lesser known Belarusian or even Polish ones.

            And he says that Belarus is becoming “ever more ‘European’” in its toponomy, plaques, and money and in the pictures the Belarusian government is using on its currency.  All too often these things reflect Polish or Lithuanian values rather than Belarusian or Russian ones, but because they are going up rather than the Russian coming down, less has been said.

            But like most Russian nationalist commentators, Gerashchenko saves his most critical comments for the role of the Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Catholic Uniates whose activities, he says, are being actively promoted by Poland and the Vatican at the expense of the Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate.

            The Uniate Church in Belarus is extremely small, and its parishioners are most often nationalists of one kind or another who maintain close relations with Uniates in [Ukraine’s] Galicia.  Unfortunately the Russian Orthodox Church, Gerashchenko says, has failed to respond to its “provocations,” and the Belarusian government appears to support them.

            And neither the Russian church nor Russian compatriots have done enough in response to Belarusian nationalist charges that they are “’a fifth column’ of Moscow.  All this needs to change, the Stoletie commentator says, or the outcome of the east-west battle in Belarus will go in the wrong direction.

Support for Putinism Reflects Continuities from Soviet Past, Gudkov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – Many things changed in Russian society after 1991, Lev Gudkov says; but those “connected with collective identity and with the institutions tht produce it,” that is, the political system, changed the least, something that can be seen if one takes a longer view on Russian attitudes.

            If one does that, the Levada Center director says in a speech that was delivered at the Sakharov Center in February posted online now (, neither the rise of Russian nationalist feelings nor the overwhelmingly popular support for Vladimir Putin and his regime will be something unexpected.

            Unfortunately, the sociologist says, few Russians think about longterm developments, preferring instead to react to short-term ones and thus they miss many of the continuities that are obscured by this or that jolting change in society, especially in the period since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

            If one adopts a longer view, he suggests, it becomes clear that “those spheres of life and relationships which are not connected with collective identity and with the institutions that produce it changed most rapidly of all,” while those involving the political system and its supports ranging from the siloviki to the education system changed very little.

                “Economic relations have changed, mass culture has changed, the character and system of consumption has changed to the point of approaching the level of relatively well-off European countries.” Initially, the media changed, Gudkov says, but “after 2003, the Putin regime moved to restore many of the features of its Soviet past.

            Unfortunately, far too many people have a limited understanding of what totalitarianism involved and consequently they do not think about what elements of that system have in fact continued to function. When people think about totalitarianism, they think “exclusively” about repressions, the GULAG, collectivization … and all the horrors of mass terror.”

            But “in fact,” he says, those things are “only a very small part” of that kind of system and indeed should be viewed as “secondary” rather than primary in defining it. That distinction becomes critical, Gudkov argues, when one thinks about what comes “after” totalitarianism and asks how societies react and what they address or fail to address.

            The Levada Center director says that from his point of view, “we are dealing since the beginning of the 2000s with an attempt if not at the restoration of a totalitarian regime then with its modification.” The new system doesn’t feature an ideology about the future or terror as the Soviet one did. 

            However, “the disappearance of terror does not mean the disappearance of the system of pressure and social control.” Instead, “via corruption” and “double think,” people learn to adapt themselves to the values of those in power, “deceiving [them], deceiving themselves, and deceiving others” in order to remain in a comfort zone.

            One can say, Gudkov continues, that “force is an extraordinarily important characteristic of such stystems. One can even say that force is the dominant code of all social relations. Why? Because the state monopolizes the right to define the picture of collective valiues,” of what the nation in fact is.

            And that national whole is alaways connected with the state, something “very traditional and very important for the population,” which it always views in a positive way with talk about “’the heroic past,’” about “’the big country,’” and about both how the empire was build and what it meant for Russians and their relations with others.

            In addition to the specific features of this view of the past, such a stratification of the definition of the nation has another and equally powerful effect, the sociologist says: “it means the complete disqualification of the values of individual and private existence” relative to the values of the people and state as a single whole.

            Western culture, Gudkov says, is always based “on the need for comproise, for taking into account the values of more than one thing because European culture arose out of a competition of various forces: cities with the emperor, religion confessions and churches with each other,” and so on.

            But in Russia, he argues, “we are dealing with the cultivation of vaues of only a one-dimensional collective consciousness, that values force and the systematic exclusion of the significance of private existence.” Confronted with that, a Russian has little choice but to adapt and be loyal or at least keep quiet.

             This puts Russians into a kind of “collective hostage” situation, one in which individuals do not dare defend their own intersts because that inevitably brings them into conflict with the interests of others and thus weakens the whole.  That has the effect of “sterilizing all mechanisms of ethnicss and principles of morality and the common good.”

            Those arrangements arose in Soviet times and they have not disappeared. Indeed, they may now be stronger precisely because they are based on the state’s control of the media rather than the state’s use of coercive force.

            “But the collapse of the USSR liquidated the feeling of being part of a great power, a suer power when ‘everyone respected us because they feared us.’” That led to anger and frustration, and it is significant that as recently as 2013, most Russians believed that their country had lost the status of a great power despite all of Putin’s efforts to suggest otherwise.

            He began “approximately in 2004” to push for a recovery of that status by insisting on the reevaluation of the Soviet past. “From this came the rehabilitation of Stalin and the very important thesis of Putin that ‘we have nothing to be ashamed of about our past,’ ‘we have a great country,’ ‘a great past,’ and ‘every country has skeletons in its closet.’”

            Looking back, Gudkov says, he has concluded that “Putin in a certain sense is the embodiment of ‘the average man’ … with all his complexes, sadism and force, limited nature and from this has arisen an inclination to shows of force. And what is extraordinarily important to denigrate others and demonstrate one’s own triumphs.”

            Thus, he continues, “the current upsurge of patriotism is not accidental in any way and more than that it is completely justified.”  Repression alone would not have produced that, but talk about traditional values has played a key role as has fears about a Maidan in Russia that woud send it off in another unknown direction.

            What is on offer in Russia now “is not simply a revival of an old conscioiusness but also a rebirth of those paternalistic illusions” that formed the view among Soviet citizens that the state must impose order and secure social justice for everyone even though people are aware that the state will be deceptive about that.

            To the extent that the illusory quality of such hopes becomes obvioius, it can become “the foundation for strong mass dissatisfaction,” Gudkov says. “But this dissatisfaction is realized not in political activity or in a wiliness to participate in something but in displaced aggression in the form of xenophobia.”

            Indeed, the maximum level of xenophobia in Russian society was in October 2013 and not as some imagine in 2014 because in the latter year, “xenophobia and internal aggression were focused and channeled on Ukraine.”  So far, Russians have been relatively patient in waiting for a turnaround and thus supported the powers that be. How long that will last, however, isn’t clear.

No Putsch against Putin Now Possible, Eidman Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 24 – Many Russians have drawn the wrong lessons from the events in Turkey because in that country, the military has traditionally been the promoter of Westernization and secularism, intervening via putsches to prevent any backsliding from Ataturk’s vision, Igor Eidman says.

            But in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the Russian commentator argues, the military and the siloviki more generally are “together with the conservative bureaucracy, the main force blocking these processes.” Instead, they “support Putin in all possible ways and he they,” thus making any putsch impossible (

                According to Eidman, “the siloviki in Russia at the end of the 20th century were more reactionary but a less influential force” than they are now.  They were marginalized and abused, but with the rise of Putin, “their status has permanently gone up as well.”  Now, after Crimea, they have become not only the most influential but also the most popular force in society.”

            Polls show, he says, that the institutions enjoying the greatest popularity among Russians are “the president, the army, the church, and the security agencies.” Thus, “the most popular institutions” in Russia today “are at one and the same time also the most reactionary” and thus unlikely to challenge Putin or his policy course.

            The attempted putsch in Turkey shows that the Turkish elite is ever more divided, but “this is not the case in Russia. Putin and the most influential force structures together with the Russian Orthodox Church are taking the country back to the past.” Indeed, Eidman says, what is being formed in Russia “combines the worst aspects of Romanov autocracy and Stalinism.”

            Consequently, “a putsch of the siloviki against Putin is impossible.”  That is because over the last 15 years, Putin has been destroying the remnants of civil society, something Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been doing for a far shorter period and in earnest only after the collapse of the attempted putsch.

            “The Russian siloviki and above all the representatives of the special services have become under Putin something like a privileged caste, which feels itself to be in practice ‘the new nobility.’”  They want to flaunt their wealth, as the FSB graduates recently did; and they want everyone to recognize that they can do what they like because they are in charge.

            Such people do not need much more than they now have. It will be enough, Eidman continues, for them to “throw away the fig leaf of imitative democracy, to close the remaining relatively independent media and Internet, and [suppress] the opposition.”  Then, they will be free to create a new stratified “autocratic state” with themselves in charge.

            Exactly how long it will take them to do all this, to achieve Sorokin’s vision of a new oprichniki movement, is unclear, the commentator concedes. But “in any case, the further archaization of Russian society and the strengthening of the influence of the siloviki in it are inevitable.”

            Indeed, he suggests, even if Putin for some reason leaves the scene, the forces now at work are such that the situation will hardly be likely to change, especially since all the candidates to succeed him are drawn precisely from the siloviki, the very people who have benefited the most from his policies.