Sunday, October 11, 2015

Puttin’ Putin in his (historical) place

I recently translated some articles on Putin, the elected dictator of the Russian Federation.  It brought up two seemingly separate memories.  Once is a book dated written in 1978 by Alexander Yanov describing the Russian new right in the then-called Soviet Union. He discusses the ideology of the right-wing opposition to communism, as personified by the Solzhenitsyn, noting its absence of any enthusiasm for democracy and pluralism. The other is a joke about Russian thinking: a Russian peasant, when given the choice of anything he wanted on condition that his neighbor gets twice as much, chose to have one eye removed. My thoughts during this translation were how Yanov was correct about the historical cycle of Russian politics and how tragic it is.

To explain, Yanov noted the bipolar behavior of Russian national politics from extreme terror by an individual (Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, Stalin, to name a few) to irresponsible leadership by small class of elite (Moscow boyars, post-Soviet industrialists). He noted the historical lack of ruling elite trusted by the mass of people to act in the overall good of the country.  As a result, populist leaders, such as Putin, have had no problem gaining support in suppressing any organized opposition to totalitarianism. He contrasted this with the UK, where the British aristocracy had (barely) enough wisdom to see that the only way to guarantee their dominance was to ensure a decent life for the common folk. 

This consideration for the general welfare in England allowed for the gradual development to complete democracy. By contrast, Russia is once again in its dictatorship mode, creating “equality in poverty”, i.e. nobody has any real freedom. For those that would like to see a confident, not paranoid Russia and believe in the intellectual potential of Russians, this situation is a depressing tragedy, a bit like watching a drug addict trying to kick his habit.

I would to find some good Russian expression putting some silver lining to this cloud, but, alas, Russian proverbs tend to be as pessimistic as the current political situation.  Instead, I will do as most Russians have historically done, wait patiently until something changes but without any great hope.

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