The problem of democracy in Russia is not only leaders and elections but the society as a whole. After Yeltsin, Russia will be dangerously adrift by Valeriya Novodvorskaya 15 June 1998
Boris Yelstin's Russia is a land of slavery and chaos, but things can only get worse after him. The country's forced Westernization is unnatural, and it will end in disaster. Despite all our obvious freedoms, the government and the people have shown their complete ineptitude and total lack of desire to stand on their own feet. They seem anxious to return to the prison of the old regime, which fed them but kept them shackled. The weaker President Yeltsin is, the sooner the end will come.
Of course, this has happened in Russia before. Yeltsin's reforms are comparable with those undertaken by Nicholas II. On the surface, Yeltsin's seem deeper, more sweeping, more genuine. But in essence there is little difference between him and Russia's last tsar. Both initiated "a small victorious war"--Nicholas against Japan, Yeltsin against Chechnya--with no motive, but racist undertones.
Both wars resulted in shame and defeat for the Russian army and moral ignominy for the government in the eyes of the world. With the start of the Chechen conflict in December 1994, Yeltsin's Russia lost its moral foundation. The same happened to Russia under Nicholas II after the massacre 9 January 1905, when Nicholas unleashed his troops on peaceful demonstrators in the aftermath of his defeat by Japan.
Yeltsin has also repeated the mistake of the tsar's 1905 manifesto. He has given freedom and suffrage to everybody. In doing so, he allowed the electorate to go berserk. As in 1906, the State Duma includes maniacs, extremists, fascists, Communists, National-Socialists. Thank God we had Peter Stolypin Chairman of the Council of Ministers, back then. He managed to neutralize the extremists, not by entering into negotiations but by hanging them for terrorism and pogroms. He was a pro-Western liberal, but at the same time, he understood that Russia needed rational authoritarian rule to liberalize the country and weed out leftist extremism.
The murder of Stolypin destroyed the country. Today, we don't need to hang people, but there are many we should ban, including the Communists and the fascists. Selective banning, however, requires brains and toughness. Who in Russia can boast of both, and power? Former Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar and former Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais have brains and toughness, but no power. Yeltsin still has power but is no longer tough and doesn't understand the situation. And he has no one to ask for advice: he sacked Gaidar and Chubais.
Yeltsin should stop fooling around; he should appoint a successor. Gaidar or Chubais can only be appointed--unpopular reformers, they will certainly not be elected. And they are the only ones who combine liberal ideas with sufficient strength of mind and iron will to shake Russia up. Under them, there would be no way back. Communists and fascists would be forced underground. Reforms would take off. People would start to work feverishly: their only alternative would be to starve.
UNCOMMON EUROPEAN HOME
The point is that Russia is not Europe. Moderation, tact, and common sense are not among her vices or her virtues. Russia knows no middle ground in either good or evil. If the people are left to their own devices, they end up destroying themselves in pogroms and wild rebellions. And if the authorities are left to their own devices, they end up striving for dictatorship.
The Russian authorities have only been able to accept one controlling force--the West. But the West has never understood that while in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary parliamentarianism and civil liberties are a part of life, Russia has no such tradition. Most Russians, deprived of any individualism, diligence, and human dignity by 70 years of communism, and without any previous democratic legacy to draw from, view those virtues as alien. Therefore, the end of Communist repression is not enough to revive the nation.
Russia has idled away the past 70 years (it's not important where: in concentration camps or in wooden barracks). That's why, unlike in Eastern Europe, social democracy for Russia is a disaster. In practice, it means absolute economic collapse and ruthless rebellion. The economic collapse could have been minimized by exporting raw materials. But the abundance of natural resources in Russia goes hand in hand with wastefulness. The profits from our mineral resources, shared among our huge and lazy population of 150 million, will never be enough to feed us. Parasitism--the essence of social democracy--will lead Russia to starvation and unparalleled riots and chaos.
And goodness knows we are in a bad enough state as it is. Our economy looks like a neglected construction site: builders have dropped their tools, and the house remains unfinished. Collective farms and useless giants of socialist industry are dying out. And it looks like most of the population, still employed in the state sector and still awaiting wages, has decided to die with them. Russia is still unable to dress and feed itself: it keeps exchanging gas, oil, diamonds, and wood for Italian shoes, Dutch potatoes, French chickens, and clothes from Turkey and Western Europe. The country is still unable to produce a decent car, but it spends its last rubles on space stations that are falling to pieces while the rest of the world watches. There is no real private ownership because the Duma refuses to pass the right federal laws. The land still belongs to nobody, and consequently the whole economy balances on the brink of disaster. Farmers, banks, and some private businesses (there are fewer of them now than under Lenin's New Economic Policy) survive only thanks to presidential decrees. When Yeltsin goes, everything will collapse.
People do not want to work; they only open their mouths to beg the government to put something in them. And anyone who does want to work is unable to do so, because both private businesses, especially small-and medium-sized ones as well as individual workers, are being suffocated by the tax police. Under Russian taxation, one person's work feeds another idle seven. Talented and hard-working people have to pay for the drones and nincompoops. Whatever tax inspectors leave for the businessmen (and they practically take 101 percent anyway) is taken by gangsters. The police are in cahoots with criminals; one cannot expect their protection. The passive and cowardly populace is unable to defend itself. Without mineral resources, Russia would have starved. But the resources will not last much longer. Oil prices have just dropped, and we are again on the edge.
The political situation is even worse. The country does not realize the true state of affairs, and few democrats admit the real price of democracy. Democratic politicians cannot help--their only concern is how to win elections. The country is in the throes of a latent civil war between pro-Western liberals and Soviet apologists.
There is no civil society. Fascist and communist organizations are numerous, militarized, aggressive. Democratic organizations are weak--they are so small they cannot even muster 5,000 supporters for a demonstration. There are few young people in their ranks. Even Gaidar and Chubais do not dare challenge Yeltsin to confront the Communists and fascists. The chance of the country opting for Western democracy is slim.
The level of civic development and culture in today's Russia just about reaches that of Great Britain in the 18th and France in the 19th centuries. The West cannot imagine the degree of reforms Russia has always required. They would have needed to be more drastic than in post-communist Eastern Europe. Everything should have been turned upside-down, previous ways of life eradicated. In 1991, a real revolution was needed--not a velvet revolution. Such far-reaching reforms could not be conducted by voluntary agreement with the population, who had been subjected to 70 years of Bolshevik slavery.
In these circumstances, the democratic institutions of Yeltsin's Russia are a loaded gun held to the temple. Left in the hands of the extremists, they constitute a deadly threat to the reforms of Gaidar, Chubais, Westernizers, liberals, democrats, and liberal journalists. Yeltsin's departure will pull the trigger. Does a live cartridge or a blank await us in 2000? Nobody knows. It's like Russian roulette. Only one thing is clear--80 percent of the cartridges in our pistol are live.
THE TROUBLE WITH BORIS
Yeltsin is a weak and inconsistent sovereign. He is a democrat when he should be an autocrat, a monarch when he should be a democrat. He loves flattery. His praetorian guard influence his decision-making much as courtesans influenced some kings. Yeltsin is a rough and simple-minded person. He knows nothing about the economy and wants to make everyone happy but only exacerbates their suffering. He lies with ease and of late has mastered the art of intrigue. He is more concerned with his court than with the country. He is bursting with imperial arrogance. He is in no hurry to embrace a liberal ideal. He is fussy. He is not pro-Western, although he is trying to burst into Europe through a red light.
At the same time, he is kind. He is clumsy but sincere in his support for freedom of speech. When we publicly branded him a murderer and war criminal after the Chechen war he did not touch us, and thus he indirectly acknowledged that we were right. The whole country is on its last legs; the press has lost its head; the opposition compares him to Nero, Satan, a vampire--and he tolerates everything. He is honest and he would not take a penny from the treasury. He has no fortune, no foreign bank account. Even his family car is second-hand.
Once he was capable of adventures and taking desperate risks to drag the country into reforms. Now he is tired, weak, and despondent. Unlike my Democratic Union party, he was unable to understand that liberal reforms in Russia and the shelling of the White House in 1993 were inseparable; the shelling of the Supreme Soviet was not an accident but a necessity. It had to be done and we have to live with it. Yeltsin had started negotiating with the enemies (Communists and Nazis), but this couldn't go anywhere. Russian reform is a battlefield on which consensus is impossible.
The country must leave its Soviet and Asian past behind, change the pattern of its civilization, discard its communist and its imperialist past and rise again as Europa, burn everything it has worshipped, and start to worship everything it has been burning. It must put on sackcloth and ashes and face the fact that its ideals and truths were delusions. Russia must humbly ask the West for expert guidance in all its affairs, ask forgiveness of all its victims. Russia must become modest and begin to learn. It must learn how to work and live according to its means. It must learn how to save and not to beg alms. Currently, Russia is an uneducated, dirty beggar. It is spiteful and ungovernable, and such behavior does not attract benefactors.
It is wrong to insist that a country carry out such a task without foreign intervention, without violent subjugation of stagnating forces. This historic task has been misunderstood by Yeltsin, who is not capable of pursuing it. He is not able to punish himself for Chechnya or even for his own communist past. He is lenient towards the evil inside himself and inside others; hence his readiness to compromise.
It is the memory of 1993 that stops reactionary forces from trying to restore their much-loved Soviet past. They remember the tanks, tracer bullets near Ostankino television center and in the Arbat. Yeltsin is capable of wrath and of killing his enemies. They still believe he could do it again. A creeping legitimate and constitutional restoration of the old order is underway. The people elect communists, fascists, mafiosi, and gangsters. The Russian electorate is incapacitated and politically insane. It votes for its own death and is ready to hang those who try to save it: Chubais, Gaidar, Democratic Choice of Russia, Democratic Union, International Monetary Fund, George Soros, businessmen.
LONG LIVE THE KING
The abdication of an even weaker and more useless sovereign, Nicholas II, resulted in revolution. The same will happen now. Yeltsin is the last barrier on the way to the abyss.
Yeltsin's successor must face one important test: will he be capable of violent suppression of the opponents of reform? Will he abdicate like Nicholas II? Will he flee abroad like the last prime minister before the Bolshevik revolution, Alexander Kerenskii, or will he fight like General Kornilov during his 1917 mutiny? To allow Boris Yeltsin to go is to throw open the doors to Communists and fascists. If Yeltsin dies, God forbid, or abandons power, his departure will unleash chaos.
Yeltsin is a monarch, and it is dangerous to shake the throne in Russia. They tried it in 1917, and we all know how that ended. And there is the problem of the heir to the throne. Because the old authoritarian bottle has a new label, Yeltsin has been unable to create a dynasty. At least Nicholas II had his son Tsarevich Alexei and his brother Mikhail in reserve, although even that did not help him.
A year ago, Yeltsin showed that he understood the system, when he demanded the return of his powers straight after the bypass operation on his heart: one must not delegate power in Russia even for a minute. It has neither constitutional traditions, nor clear-cut legislation. What it does have is anarchy and slavery. That is why we need Yeltsin for another five, ten, 15 years, for as long as he can hold on.
The cage in which Russia has been trapped for 70 years has been broken. But we have only just started our normal capitalist life. Nobody helps anyone else. It is hard for everybody. And the strong will not shift their burden onto someone else's shoulders; they are proud. The country must not whine like the miners, pensioners, defense industry workers and generals who are responsible for this situation.
Don't pity us. Don't give us fish even if we begin to starve. Rather, give us a fishing rod and show us where to dig for bait. It was very harmful at the end of the 1980s and at the beginning of the 1990s when the West was sending us humanitarian aid. This vast and extremely rich country had been fooling around, preferring starvation and death in the labor camps to normal life under capitalism.
Yeltsin will leave Russia in a state of torturous and ugly imperfection. It will be neither fish nor flesh, neither Europe nor Asia, neither man nor beast, neither capitalist nor socialist. Russia will exist simultaneously in several historical epochs; it will worship God and Satan. It will have no clear identity of its own. Yeltsin has spiritually despaired to such an extent that he will leave Russia adrift in the high seas far from the shores with no sense of direction; a boatswain, navigator and first mate who each have different maps; one half of the crew fighting the other. And when the ship starts to sink, the long-suffering passengers would rather drown than try to save themselves.