Sunday, August 26, 2007

Russian roulette

Andre Glucksmann/Die Welt

My dreams? For the brave people, naive people, cunning people, who consider themselves even more cunning than the reality, in a word, all Westerners altogether to abandon their Russian dream. To open their eyes and to stop imagining Russia they want to see on the basis of their utopias and calculations. To finally see what we have in reality and what, in particular, raises serious questions and sometimes — deep concerns. Liberals and opponents of globalization, atlantistes and Americanophobes, most political activists, commentators and professional politicians — all of them seem to be mesmerized by Putin. George W. Bush looked deeply into his eyes and drowned in them. Berlusconi clears him of accusations of unleashing the massacre, tortures, destruction of Chechen towns — all that are mere «rumors», he asserts. Chirac admits the KGB man to "the peace camp" — makes him a participant of the axis Paris-Berlin-Moscow, — unrolls red carpets before the murderer and tells stories that Moscow gallops towards «the first line of democracies."

Personal charm of the first man in Moscow plays the most insignificant role. Over three centuries western elites have been intoxicated and calmed by Russia’s miracle. Being a captive of its own inventions, the miracle progresses from one fiasco to another. Peter the Great had hardly congratulated Leibniz and invited him to his palaces when the French Academy began weaving a garland of a «Tsar-innovator» for him. Paris salons did not lag behind, in particular, Voltaire, who, regardless of the past, began glorifying the tsar who had killed his father and tortured to death his favorite heir. Only Diderot found time and strength to visit «Northern Semiramis» and concluded that the empire of Catherine the Great had rotten because of stick and serfdom before becoming mature. During the following century citizens and bourgeois fell into reveries. Paris invested into miraculous «Russian securities," as a result of which pockets became empty even quicker. In the 20th century the whole world crooned a sinister song, first of all engaged intellectuals, activists of all levels. Damned of the land and deceived by the sky they sacrificed their human senses, their courage, their morality, and first of all many millions of human lives for the sake of "the sun rising in the East," whereas the most prudent, reasonable and possessed people fell into one and the same trap. Being not ashamed, the admirable «Uncle Jo» swallowed half of the Stalinist Europe in Yalta.

Hardly the wall fell and the Soviet empire collapsed, the western madness reappeared again. Taking everything on trust, the Kremlin’s heirs were indulged, as well the «Family» and mafia clans pillaging Russia’s economy and turning to their profit the embryonic democracy which was too fragile to resist. Having closed the eyes, the strong of our world showered the alternating Kremlin teams with compliments and loans. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund spoke out against corrupted states, but that was only an appearance. In reality a double standard was applied. Countries having no strategic importance, such as Kenya, were deprived of any financial assistance due to corruption, then Russia, where corruption reached the top levels, received money constantly. When the International Monetary Fund was made to face the reality — billions of dollars it granted to Russia appeared on bank accounts in Cyprus or Switzerland several days later — it pretended the dollars were of different origin. Some people ironically noted that the IMF could have facilitated their life making direct transfers to Cyprus or Switzerland. (Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz writes about it in his book «La grande Desillusion»).

We shall not think that Putin, a new strong man, has cleaned Yeltsin’s Augean stables. During four years of his rule, having less and less limits of his power, he has just managed to redistribute privileges between great scoundrels. Gusinsky, Berezovsky, Khodorkovsky — the heads of oligarchs fall, but the distribution continues. New hunters appear at this eternal feast of clans, in this motley and therefore dangerous capitalist-Stalinist quagmire, and they are joined by corrupted state bodies and police. Doped by high oil prices, new Russian misters live on lavish profits from oil business whereas most people are doomed to an eternal post-Communist poverty and has only the right to drop eyes and to praise masters. And the dreaming West has already exalted the new Saudi Arabia — this one is more reliable than the old one, it can have control over energy resources from the Caucasus to Siberia and to maintain security and stability.

New Eurasian Eldorado arouses the boldest dreams. For many years already Prodi and his Brussels Commission have been trying to persuade businessmen to invest into Siberian deposits and construction of pipelines. So far private companies have been reluctant and tried to clarify all possible risks, make everything clear. Official Europe has stuck to its line. Human rights, freedom of speech, arbitrary decrees, unpredictable struggles for power in corridors of the Kremlin are of little significance. Everything for transformations of European outskirts! Towards partnership in the field of power engineering, nuclear sphere, strategic partnership! The Duma has already made the decision — the German nuclear industry saluted, and «the greens» approved. Disturbing nuclear wastes are no longer a reason for demonstrations attracting public attention, no one storms nuclear waste trains, there are no hysteric scenes on the German-French border, disgusting nuclear wastes are stocked behind the Urals, heavily guarded, we can hope, by the efficient police state. Safety obliges! Our health demands it, Russian children can freeze!

No sentiments. Promising neocolonialism gives zest to these dreams: underdeveloped backyards are going to supply natural resources which they have in abundance, to consume European goods and join the European zone. Germany is going to take its Drang Nach Osten, but in the sphere of economics. France is going to imagine a completion of Napoleon’s military campaign, and the Western Europe is likely to peacefully annex countries of the third world in its East. There would be enough obedience for reasons of commercial competition. Slick Chirac accompanies Putin to his plane, Berlusconi opens the doors of his villas to Putin, Bush receives him at his ranch, Blair — with the Queen, Schroeder — on vacations. Volodya takes a good note of that and believes everything is permitted. The dreaming West has crowned him a tsar.

Why shall we show concern? Under the stick of a modern enlightened despot Russians are again promised quick transformations. A law-abiding state and personal freedoms will appear later, as usual, some time later. On the left, inalterable progressivism. On the right, liberal economy. All assert that the development is unique and sooner or later any society is going to appear among leading democratic countries. Such optimism resembles the 19th century, «the belle epoch," the happy time when people believed that development of railroad networks and exchange from the one side, and progress in solidarity and education from the other side, would automatically lead all to peace and prosperity. As a result: two world wars, two totalitarian states, several fascist countries, genocide, Oswiecem, Kolyma…

Neither experience nor facts seem to trouble Europe falling asleep. It is going to Cythere of the Urals again.

Will we finally wake up, or no? Troops robbing civilians in Chechnya, raping and killing, turn into normal citizens not at once. A population duped by 70 years of communism and disappointed by subsequent shortcomings get stuck in a paralyzing despair. An elite which grew up in the conditions of totalitarianism with no guides risks the danger of nihilism pierced with limits and taboos. There are two ways out from the Soviet system: the way of Havel and the way of Milosevic. A difficult way, with numerous obstacles, i.e. — gradual democratization. And another, a short, militarist way causing concerns, if not the way of terrorism and restoration of authoritarianism. If secret services, army and representatives of nomenclature share the Kremlin among them, then any Milosevic can take everything under control.

Every time the West puts a reckless stake on the Russian miracle, it stumbles and appears in a black hole. Even if we only imagine it in a delirium, a dream of reason gives birth to monsters. Giving a carte-blanche to Kremlin’s rulers Europe is approaching an abyss to the creation of which it contributes. Not everything is lost, but our political leaders take a wrong direction.

Let’s oppose another dream to it. I dream about a different Russia. Not about Russia from the Peter the Great to Putin with numerous tsars and communist leaders. The ruling cast deprives the West of the only power instrument and gives up a law-abiding state, as well as humanistic rules of the game, which help taking the authority under control somehow. A "dictatorship of law," which is not controlled by public opinion and free mass media, generates a society dominated by corruption, private and public mafias, spirit of "spetsnaz," depressions and voluntary servitude of the majority, which Solzhenitsyn called «the psychology of submission» and Anna Politkovskaya — «Russia’s dishonor."

I dream about Russia which attaches civilization and civility to its modernization, human rights, European and then universal. I dream about Russia which is always possible, which was almost established by the beginning of the 20th century. Literature, music, dances, theater, painting, mathematics, linguistics, philosophy, enlightenment of St. Petersburg, Odessa and Moscow illuminated the whole continent. If not for the WWI and the catastrophic Bolshevist revolution, in the 20th century Europe might have declared itself culturally Russian to become even more glorious. That Russia of enlightenment, arts and human rights, the heritage of Pushkin, Lermontov, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky… can still be seen under the scab of the renovated autocracy. Here, in the West, we shall cultivate and protect this unachieved hope. Dream against dream. We are at the crossroads.