Streetwise Professor

February 22, 2011

The Ghost of the Holy Alliance

Filed under: History,Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 1:06 pm

In the years after the Congress of Vienna at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815, Russia (along with Prussia and Austria) set itself out as the enforcer of stability and the enemy of liberalism throughout Europe.  Russian anti-revolutionary actions climaxed with the crushing of the Hungarian Revolt in 1848 under the heels of tens of thousands of Russian boots.  Russia also crushed an uprising in Wallachia.

Russian fondness for the “stability” of authoritarian rule apparently has passed from Alexander and Nicholas to their modern day imitators.  Yesterday Igor Sechin, arguably Putin’s closest ally, blasted Google for its role in catalyzing the overthrow of Mubarak in Egypt:

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s deputy blamed Google Inc. in an interview published on Tuesday for stirring up trouble in the revolution that ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.

“Look what they have done in Egypt, those highly-placed managers of Google, what manipulations of the energy of the people took place there,”Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin told the Wall Street Journal.

Such strong comment from one of Putin’s most trusted deputies is a clear signal of growing concern among Russian hardliners about the role of the Internet in the unrest which has swept across the Arab world.

One can hope the last sentence is true, that is, that uneasily lies the head that wears the crown.  (And no, I don’t mean Medvedev.)  I have my doubts, but know that Putin is likely to err on the side of caution.  As I’ve written many times, he at least intuitively understands that mass protest and revolution require overcoming a coordination problem.  This is why he is so intent on controlling the traditional media, cracking down on even the smallest opposition protests, and encouraging the atomization of Russian society.  A demonstration of the coordinating potential of the internet and social media may lead him and his minions to recalibrate their strategy of atomization.  It will be interesting to see whether the siloviki change their approach to the internet, which has been until recently relatively hands off.  I would anticipate an attempt to shape, constrain, and monitor the internet along the lines of what is done in China.  (Funny story.  One time while teaching in China I attempted to reach SWP–but the Great Fire Wall prevented me from doing so.  I was so flattered.)

I wrote quite a bit during the crisis about the coordination problems inherent in any mass anti-government activity.  Interestingly, one theory about the lack of revolutionary activity in Russia in 1848 while the rest of Europe was exploding was that the tyranny of distance and the tyranny of the secret police combined to prevent coordination.  No doubt then, and today, the relative inertness/passivity meant and mean that achieving coordination was/is harder in Russia than elsewhere.

For an interesting take on the role of the internet in facilitating coordination and facilitating revolution, take a look at this article which sets out Daron Acemoglu’s views.

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  1. Who’s afraid of the big bad GOOGLE? Russia!!

    It’s really hilarious how Russia’s leaders like to pose themselves as “real men” who stomp bandits in their toilets, and then they run scared of Nemtsov and Google and Kozlovsky and, well, everyone. This shows only weakness. Can Google really bring down the Kremlin? Maybe so, dear reader, maybe so . . . or maybe just a good strong wind.

    These remarks sound just like the insane babbling we heard (and laughed at) in Soviet tiems. Don’t Russians have any shame at all?

    Comment by La Russophobe — February 22, 2011 @ 1:09 pm

  2. Until we know for certain that taking down Mubarak was good, I wouldn’t go around blasting Russia. I noted when reading an article about this early on – and so did a stratfor article I read yesterday – that power right now rests in the hands of the military. We don’t yet know if that’s a good or a bad thing.

    Comment by Andrew #2 — February 22, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  3. Andrew, that is the same argument that was used by the “revolutionary” Soviet to crush future revolutionaries as soon as they took power. By contrast, the REAL revolutionaries in the USA created a government that encourged more revolutions and gave the population the unfettered right to keep and bear arms.

    The Russian and Pro-Russian love of “order” is psychotic. It is ALWAYS better to throw out an evil regime, regardless of the risk that worse one will come. If it does, YOU THROW THAT ONE OUT TOO. And you keep doing that until you get a goodn one.

    Russians can’t seem to understand that peace, stability and prosperity like America has doesn’t come cheap. One must suffer to attain it, to prove one is worthy of enjoying it. Not until Russians are willing to suffer for good government the same way they suffered to block the Nazis and the French will Russia ever have a hope for a future.

    By your logic, the Russians should have done as the French did and immeidately capitulated to Hitler. Is that what you would have advised?

    Comment by La Russophobe — February 22, 2011 @ 4:43 pm

  4. @Andrew #2. I’m ambivalent about Egypt: I agree with you that much remains to be seen. Indeed, based on my historical understanding, such as it is, I believe that the likelihood of a happy ending is fairly small. The likelihood of a 1789 or 1689 outcome is vanishingly small, and even an outcome like in the Philippines circa 1986 is probably wildly optimistic.

    Especially by my standards, I don’t view this post as a “blasting” of Russia. I think the post gives a fair summary of Russian history and of the current government’s support for authoritarian rule at home and abroad. I think the continuity is pretty striking. Just look at the governments that it is most friendly with and you’ll see that’s a fair statement. To me, the meat of the post is about what Sechin’s remarks portend for the way Russia will respond to the lessons of Egypt.

    Update: I meant 1787 (date of signing of the American Constitution), definitely not 1789 (French Revolution, which was not a particularly happy ending.)

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — February 22, 2011 @ 6:12 pm

  5. I doubt there’s ever been a single “popular” revolution without support by external forces. Usually what they call revolution is just the culmination of a struggle within the elite with proles as the cannon fodder.

    Comment by So? — February 22, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

  6. @ So? Are you including the Bolshevik revolution in that?

    Comment by Andrew — February 22, 2011 @ 11:03 pm

  7. Of course.

    Comment by So? — February 23, 2011 @ 12:36 am

  8. Just checking.

    There was German support initially for the Bolsheviks, but only so far as they would hopefully take Russia out of the war, freeing up the 20% of German divisions serving on the eastern front for action in the main theatre of the war, France.

    The remainder of foreign intervention, minimal as it was, was in support of the existing government of Kerensky, then the various white Generals.

    Didn’t amount to much in the scheme of things.

    Comment by Andrew — February 23, 2011 @ 4:23 am

  9. There was a demonstration in Moscow yesterday in support of the crazy murderer Qadaffi. Posters featuring his idiotic face were abound. The people there are complete idiots as well.

    Comment by voroBey — February 23, 2011 @ 2:49 pm

  10. Berlusconi, Putin and Quadaffi were great pals, birds of a feather. Now the Italian and the Libyan are both facing ouster for blatant corruption. Yet in Russia Putin, easily the worst of the three, is still a hero. That really tells you all you need to know about the basket case that is modern Russia. Even by comparison to Libya a barbaric, hopless wasteland.

    Comment by La Russophobe — February 23, 2011 @ 6:40 pm

  11. Damn, Russia is now hopless?

    Guess I won’t be getting much beer there any time soon…

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — February 23, 2011 @ 10:57 pm

  12. Go on SOB, when was the last time you were in the great workers paradise of Russia?

    Comment by Andrew — February 23, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

  13. Unsurprisingly, Andrew doesn’t get the joke.

    Comment by Sublime Oblivion — February 24, 2011 @ 4:38 am

  14. Just thought it was your poor English again SOb…..

    Comment by Andrew — February 24, 2011 @ 6:14 am

  15. Russia’s always wrong, even when the Demintern are scrambling to save their budgets and Prague Palace from the Tea Partyers who want America to mind its own damn business. Cognitive dissonance is always resolved by blaming Muscovy.

    Comment by The Other Ivan — February 25, 2011 @ 2:34 pm

  16. LR wrote: “Berlusconi, Putin and Quadaffi were great pals, birds of a feather.

    Were they, LR? Do you know something about their bunga-bunga parties with Quadaffi’s Ukrainian nurse? Or is that another example of your worldly knowledge, along with thinking that the Russian President’s name is Alexander Medvedev, and there was a major WWII battle called “Battle of Ryazan”?

    Comment by Ostap Bender — February 27, 2011 @ 8:35 am

  17. LR, if you are so adamant about Russia’s “democratization”, why don’t you advocate the US government overthrow the Saudi regime (the source of the form of virulent, militant Islam that brought 9/11 to the USA) who are far, far, far nastier than anything that has ever come out of post-Soviet Russia? If you don’t you only are practicing double standards and you will never have any credibility as a commentator!

    Comment by Realist — August 8, 2013 @ 6:04 am

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