Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Russia: what goes around, comes around

David Seaton's News Links
For me Bill Clinton is just a fly version of George W. Bush. Russia is even more important than Iraq and Bill Clinton played the saxophone while Russia burned. Probably the two most important things Clinton could have done and didn't do were, provide universal medical insurance for the American people and handle Russia and the needless suffering of its people differently. He failed in both tasks. Russia and by extension the former Soviet Union is one of history's great peoples. They have endless resources, both human and natural. They are brave, talented, tenacious and creative. People like that will never be down very long. The way Clinton handled them and encouraged the "shock therapy" that impoverished and embittered millions of Russians was frivolous, cruel and stupid and we will have to pay a high price for it. If any of the compassion and effort at easing the suffering of defeated Nazi Germany had been applied to the Russian case, at this moment we might even be looking at a true, "New World Order". DS
The breakup of the Soviet Union ended Russia's march to democracy - Stephen Cohen - Guardian
Abstract: The most consequential event of the second half of the 20th century took place 15 years ago at a secluded hunting lodge in the Belovezh Forest near Minsk. On December 8 1991, heads of three of the Soviet Union's 15 republics, led by Russia's Boris Yeltsin, met there to sign documents abolishing that 74-year-old state. For most western commentators the Soviet breakup was an unambiguously positive turning point in Russian and world history. As it quickly became the defining moment in a new American triumphalist narrative, the hope that Mikhail Gorbachev's pro-Soviet democratic and market reforms of 1985-91 would succeed was forgotten. Soviet history was now presented as "Russia's seven decades as a rigid and ruthless police state". American academics reacted similarly, most reverting to pre-Gorbachev axioms that the system had always been unreformable and doomed. The opposing view that there had been other possibilities in Soviet history, "roads not taken", was dismissed as a "dubious", if not disloyal, notion. Gorbachev's reforms, despite having so remarkably dismantled the Communist party dictatorship, had been "a chimera", and the Soviet Union therefore died from a "lack of alternatives". Most specialists no longer asked, even in the light of the human tragedies that followed in the 1990s, if a reforming Soviet Union might have been the best hope for the post-communist future of Russia. Nor have mainstream commentators asked if its survival would have been better for world affairs. On the contrary, they concluded that everything Soviet had to be discarded by "the razing of the entire edifice of political and economic relations". Such certitudes are now, of course, the only politically correct ones in US (and most European) policy, media and academic circles. A large majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have regularly made clear in opinion surveys, regret the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for "communism" but because they lost a secure way of life. They do not share the nearly unanimous western view that the Soviet Union's "collapse" was "inevitable" because of inherent fatal defects. They believe instead, and for good reason, that three "subjective" factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in "privatising" the state's enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it. Most Russians, including even the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, therefore still see December 1991 as a "tragedy". In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was lost - a historic opportunity to democratise and modernise Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991. One common post-Soviet myth, promoted by Yeltsin's supporters, is that the dissolution was "peaceful". In reality, ethnic civil wars erupted in central Asia and Transcaucasia, killing hundreds of thousands and brutally displacing even more, a process still under way. It is hard to imagine a political act more extreme than abolishing what was still, for all its crises, a nuclear superpower state of 286 million citizens. And yet Yeltsin did it, as even his sympathisers acknowledged, in a way that was "neither legitimate nor democratic". Having ended the Soviet state in a way that lacked legal or popular legitimacy - in a referendum nine months before, 76% had voted to preserve the union - the Yeltsin ruling group soon became fearful of real democracy. And indeed Yeltsin's armed overthrow of the Russian parliament soon followed.(...) So why did so many western commentators hail the breakup of the Soviet Union as a "breakthrough" to democracy? Their reaction was based mainly on anti-communist ideology and hopeful myths.(...) Since the late 1980s (the most influential pro-Yeltsin intellectuals) had insisted that free-market economics and large-scale private property would have to be imposed on Russian society by an "iron hand" regime using "anti-democratic measures". Like the property-seeking elites, they saw Russia's newly elected legislatures as an obstacle. Admirers of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, they said of Yeltsin: "Let him be a dictator!" Not surprisingly, they cheered (along with the US government and mainstream media) when he used tanks to destroy Russia's popularly elected parliament in 1993. READ IT ALL

No comments: