Streetwise Professor

November 30, 2007

A Glimmer of Hope

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 10:44 am

Many of Russia’s many tragedies are traceable to the suffocating statism that has characterized most of its history, and the absence of any private powers to check the state. Moreover, Russian national identity has been intimately tied to the idea of an awful (in the archaic sense of the word), omnipresent, omnipowerful, and imperial state. To many, Russian national pride depends on the power and assertiveness of the state. To such people, to be Russian is to serve the state, and to do anything but serve it tantamount to treason–and perhaps more than tantamount. Self-styled Russian patriots often drip with disdain for–or rage with anger at–those who value individual freedom, and a state that serves the people. In other words, at liberals, in the classical/European sense of the word.

Sadly, this vision of Russian identity is ascendant. Indeed, as the Duma “election” “campaign” reaches its anticlimatic climax, President Putin’s increasingly strident harangues– “speeches” doesn’t seem to be an apt word–make it clear that to take an opposing view is to be an enemy of Russia.

Fortunately, there are other visions, and other voices. One is Gaidar, whom I mentioned in an earlier post, and whom I will discuss in more detail in a future one. But there are others, too.

The invaluable Paul Goble summarizes an essay by Aleksei Shiropayev that dares to claim that soi dissant Russian patriots who worship at the altar of the state are the real enemies of the Russian nation. As summarized by Goble:

Because they focus on the people rather than the state, Shiropayev says, Russian nationalists – or at least the part of the Russian nationalist spectrum his “national democrats” represent – are “non-imperial” in principle. “Not through the restoration of the Empire lies the path to the Russian future, but across the corpse of the empire.”

“Thanks to the Empire, the Russian people has not become a nation,” he insists, and to change that, Shiropayev continues, it is vitally important to “open the sluice gates of regional development,” to promote “a bourgeois state,” and to integrate with Europe, must as the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic already have.
The first task ahead of Russians, he argues, is “overcoming the fetishization of the state” by advancing the claims of the people over which the state has ruled. And the most effective way to do that is to promote the creation of regional governments that are closer to the people.

“Fetishization of the state.” Just so. And it is just so that the hypertrophy of the state that this fetishization encourages is the main obstacle to the interests of the Russian people. How many millions–tens of millions–of Russians have died, and how much agony have those that lived suffered, all to advance feed the insatiable appetite of a messianic state.

Russians have many things of which they can rightfully be proud. Their accomplishments in literature, the arts, science, and engineering are legion; their steadfastness in the face of incredible trials is inspiring. It is unspeakably sad that time and again the interests of such a great people are subordinated to the needs of Leviathan.

As Goble notes, Shiropayev’s program has no place in Putin’s Russia: “but in terms of Russian politics under Vladimir Putin, Karpets and those who continue to deify the state at the cost of keeping the Russians from a nation like any other would seem to have the greater influence.” Indeed, Shiropayev’s vision is an anathema. But it is encouraging to know that there live stalwart souls who are keeping the liberal flame alive. And when the new hyperstate inevitably collapses, just as its predecessors did, perhaps this time Russians will look to Shiropayev and others like him, and choose a new Russian future that breaks from the state-fetishism of its too often tragic past.

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