2011 12 31



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5 min

Andrei Piontkovsky. Features of the Russian „light totalitarianism“

A paper of Andrei Piontkovsky – a physicist, scientist of Startegic studies center, publicist and one of the most famous dissidents in contemporary Russia. The speech was delivered in an international conference „Totalitarianism and Tolerance. The Challenges to Freedom“, which was held in Vilnius, November 16th.

  Some time ago my book about contemporary Russia „Third Path to Serfdom“ appeared. The name of the book was an allusion to the famous work of the philosopher and economist Friedrich August von Hayek „The Road to Serfdom“.  F. Hayek claimed that fascism and communism as well inevitably lead to serfdom. Completely agreeing with this, I still think that today we can  complement the considerations of F.Hayek by maintaining that there’s also a third way leading to serfdom, and this is putinism.

I would like to emphasize that I truly am not going to equalize putinism, fascism and communism. For me it is important to stress that despite of internal differences all these ways lead to the same point. It would be irresponsible to call putinism as fascism in a new form. If fascism or stalinistic totalitarianism would be prevailing in today’s Russia, I would for sure not have this opportunity to talk to you from this tribune, and all the opponents of the regime would be simply physically eliminated.  Putinism can be called as  „light totalitarianism“. But let’s not get it wrong, even though looking from aside it is not so bloody and agressive, in certain aspects this phenomenon can be even more dangerous than its „hard“ form.

Currently there’s no censorship in Russia if compared to the censorship in Germany during Hitler times, or Soviet Union during Stalin’s rule. In Russia     self-censorship is spread, seemingly, more than anywhere else. When  V.Putin on his third day while in power stroke the popular TV channel „NTV“, which Kremlin took under its control, this was sufficient for internal censorship to fortify itself practically in the whole Russian media.

The most sad is that these „rules of game“ were very easily adopted by Russian intelligentsia.  It is a paradox, because in Soviet Union the great majority  of actors, writers and artists, even if they did not fight the regime openly, they acted in a specific cultural and spiritual opposition, thus producing wonderful works. Now our intelligentsia had to pass an exam of even more dangerous temptation, and, unfortunately, only some passed this exam. It is possible to maintain that the Kremlin simply bribed the major part of the cultural elite, by suggesting such a material welfare that our representives of cultural life did not have during the whole Russian history, and even representatives of the Western cutural life do not enjoy such a welfare.  

Today Russian political elite is extremely rich. We can understand this perfectly, also seing, what Russian rich people do, while being in the West.   Today this elite, which got rich very quickly,  still more appreciate new material opportunities and not serving the others or their own state.  

Repressions is another pillar which putinism rests upon. Differently than Hitler’s or Stalin’s regimes, putinism is not applying mass arrests or repressions.  The government acts in a more subtle way and tries to hit only in a well-considered and well-aimed manner.  We have to admit that one can  name only a few people as direct victims of the supreme Russian government. The surnames of Anna Politkovskaya, Alexander Litvinenko, Natalya Etemirova and some more are comming to my mind. But these were enough to intimidate the majority and make them silent.

Delegating violence to lower level of government is even a more horrible thing.   Tens of journalists, who did not please the local government, were killed in different places of Russia,  tens of thousands businessmen are imprisoned because some powerful people wanted to take over their businesses. The case of Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer, killed in a prison, got renown in all over the wold.   It got known because S.Magnitsky was related to a Western  company.  However, how many cases were did not made public more broadly, the cases, when, similarly to the case of S.Magnitsky, the demands were placed to pass the business over to the colonels and generals of power structures, who felt that the smell of profit? It would be interesting to inventory, how many representatives of Federal Service of Tariffs or other structures got extremely rich during the latter years and how this happened.

For sure it was not V.Putin himself who ordered to kill S.Magnitsky or to arrest some businessman. But putinism made everything to ensure that nobody would be punished for these crimes. The lower levels of the government can  ignore the laws and act on their self-will, on a condition of loyalty to the Kremlin. Loyalty for imputiny is the essence of the contract betwen V.Putin and the political elite.

A contract of this kind is also made between the Kremlin and the leaders of the North Caucasus. There’s no secret that the current president of Chechnya R.Kadyrow, to whom V.Putin is rendering every kind of assistance, hates Russia and eliminates every oponnent by bloody means. The oponnents of his regime are persecuted and terrorized all over the world, where R.Kadyrow is sending his man.  As R.Kadyrow demonstrates personal loyalty to V.Putin the latter tolerates the actions of R.Kadyrow. The leaders of other republics of North Caucasus also enjoy similar rights of local dictators. Today R.Kadyrow has more power in his hands than Dzochar Dudayev or Aslan Maskhadov could dream about. Thus is it possible to maintain that Russia has obviously lost the war with Chechnya. The generous tributes which are payed for the republics of North Caucasus as a federal assistance is one of recognitions of defeat. By the way, due to these tributes which the local dictators can dispose  at their own discretion, quite a big dissatisfaction arose between Russian people.

Does putinism have any vision for the future of the state? I do think that no.  Although there’re talks about Eurasian Union and Kremlin is announcing declarations about dignified and respectable Russia, however, in reality it is possible to talk only about one concern, namely, of how to increase the property.  The litigation case B.Berezovsky v R.Abramovich which is going now in London gives shaking proves that Russia has become a state of mafia. The phrase of the speaker of the Russia’s State Duma, Boris Gryzlov, that „Duma is not a place for discussions“ is also serving as a proof that Russia’s political system is completely rotten.

It is also indispensable to pay attention to the fact that 24 hours per day the whole official media of Russia is broadcasting hatred to the West and its ostensible agents. Depending on the needs, different countries, and most often Russia’s neighbours, are named as these agents. 

Unfortunately, xenophobia has become the only ideology which is being actively spread by contemporary Russia. For example, hatred for immigrants from previous Soviet states is permanently incited in Russia. Especially repulsive current campaign against Tadjiks reminds the Cristal night in Nazi Germany.  The pretext for that is the conflict of Kremlin with Tajikistan’s government which itself was a henchman of the Kremlin.

One more thing which has to be emphasized if the disgraceful position of Western politicians and intelectuals. It’s a pity but the Kremlin seeks to bribe  not only the intelligentsia of its own but also the opinion leaders abroad.   Various rich fora and foundations are being established, the main goal of which is to involve Western civic activists and politicians, in this way „tieing the hands“ for any manifestations for critisism in a long term. Today the previous Chancellor of Germany G.Schroeder  is working as V.Putin’s footman in one of the Russian companies. This proves that the tactics of bribery pays off.    It reminds the flirt of J.Stalin with the West around  1930s. At that time he also did a big job in oder to make certain Western intelectuals to persistently not notice those horrible things that were going on in Soviet Union.

I have said that from aside the „ligh totalitarianism“ does not look so frightful and agressive as fascism or stalinism. However, in a moral sense it is even a more destructive „virus“ for contemporary Russia and well a for the whole world.