Staunton, January 16 – The secret of Vladimir Putin’s power and effectiveness is that his style of rule is so deeply rooted in the national consciousness that even those most opposed to his authoritarian regime want to “establish a democratic order by the same harsh authoritarian measures” the current Kremlin leader has used, according to Denis Dragunsky.
That is the upshot of the current discussions about Russia after Putin, the Russian journalist says in a commentary for Moscow’s “Gazeta” newspaper; and it is one of the reasons why Russia does not share European values now but has few chances of becoming part of Europe in the future (gazeta.ru/comments/column/dragunsky/8021081.shtml).
Twenty-five years ago, Dragunsky writes, he and the late Vadim Tsymbursky wrote an article on “The Genotype of European Civilization” for the first issue of “Polis.” They argued that European culture has deep roots extending to classical antiquity and is based on maintaining a balance between two principles, “’working hard’ and ‘fair play.’”
Indeed, he suggests, it is the continuing competition between these two values that is “the main aspect of European political culture.” No one, Dragunsky says, won at Canossa. Instead, what triumphed was “the principle of balance and competition.”
Russia’s civilizational code is very different but no less powerful in defining what is happening there now. “On the one hand, Russia historically and culturally belongs to Europe.” But “on the other hand, the primitive authoritarianism of those in power and lack of rights and religious obscurantism of the people didn’t allow for the development of European ethical and political norms.”
Instead, those circumstances and the rapid growth of the territory of the empire meant that “the traditional ethical norm of Russia [was and is] do nothing and God will save you. Not help you but save you.”
According to Dragunsky, “the Russian ethical and political code is a faith in some outside power” as the miraculous source of one’s own well-being. “In the power of God, the tsar, the party, the president, the world oil market and other enormities to which an ordinary mortal does not have any relation.”
And this “absence of personal achievements is equated with the absence of personal guilt because both these things (achievement and guilt) rest in the idea of personal responsibility,” something that because of their specific historical evolution most Russians do not feel, Dragunsky suggests.
These contrasting civilizational codes have been “forming for centuries,” he writes. “At the very end of the 12th century, Prince Andre Bogolyubsky laid the foundation of Russian autocracy, not monarch but precisely uncontrolled personal power.” At almost the same time, the English barons were limiting the power of the king by means of the Magna Carta.
In Europe, struggles reflecting this deeper conflict continued, but in Russia “on the other hand internal wars went to the point of complete victory” for those in powers. They only strengthened themselves be it via “the horde, the oprichniki, the Romanov autocracy or the dictatorship of the CPSU.”
Russians were traumatized by the collapse of the economy and the social system at the end of Soviet times and in the 1990s. But there was a more fundamental problem they faced: “From 1985 to 1999, there was no tsar in Russia. More precisely, there were tsars but not real ones. Happy, accessible, simple and more kind than evil.”
That’s why Russia breathed a sigh of relief in 2000, Dragunsky says. “Putin did not establish his own cult and neither did his propagandists.” Instead, Russians responded to the return of an accustomed tsar-like figure “sincerely and without being paid” because he corresponded to their civilizational code as his immediate predecessors did not.
“Even those who criticized and condemned him then couldn’t live for half an hour without naming a new severe and harsh president” to take the country in what they imagined would be a different direction. “Autocracy is not a blemish on the body of Russia; it is Russia itself.”
That may seem too harsh a judgment for many, Dragunsky concedes; but “here is the reality: an 800-year-long tradition of ‘paternalistic rule’ could not be destroyed by 15 years of Gorbachev and Yeltsin.” Indeed, he says, he has doubts that this could be done “in the course of the lustrations and changes that people are talking about now.
And that is because there isn’t “a Putin Russia and a non-Putin Russia. There is [only] a Russia and not-Russia.” Given that, one must ask “Is a Russia possible after Russia?” Dragunsky says he is not certain about the answer.