Russian version

Extremism and xenophobia in electoral campaigns in 1999 and 2000


Participants of the discussion: A. Verkhovsky, E. Mikhailovskaya, V. Pribylovsky

Ekaterina Mikhailovskaya:
Ц How the situation has altered during the past year?
Ц The most important change is in the mood of our political and near-political crowd. There is palpable tension in the air. Still, as concerns actions and hard facts, one cannot but say that the changes are not that significant. For example, an absolute record of anti-Western hysteria was made in May 1999, during the period of bombings in Yugoslavia, when all the power branches and active layers of society united in their anti-NATO ecstasy. If compared to that, our present lack of trust for some generalized "West" and our anticipation of nasty tricks coming from this "West" are nothing but pigs and whistles. For example, today, in light of the situation with Norwegian divers, the public even feel some gratitude, which shall most probably expire soon. The honeymoon of Russia and the West ended with Kozyrev's resignation and from then on pro-isolation trends have been steadily growing. As for political rights and freedoms, it's not so simple either. There is this general feeling that "transgressions are about to come," but no one has been seriously infringed upon so far. The only exceptional fact is that ugly story with Babitsky. Other Chechnya-related stories are ambiguous, to say the least. Gusinsky's story primarily reflects the whole absurdity of the situation where liberal (in an extended sense) public has to protect the freedom of speech of one individual oligarch (in other words, to a significant degree, defend this oligarch's freedom to distort information for his own benefit), because no other freedom of speech exists in our country. As for the possibility to openly discuss different topic and publicly critique different VIPs, today this possibility is by far greater than a year ago. It is still possible to critique federal authorities, and the failure of the Governors' block at the elections took their leaders outside the boundaries of the "no critique" zone. On the other hand, the Minster of Mass Media, Mikhail Lesin, is definitely a dreary man and his plans for creation of a federal media-holding reek of state-monopoly over mass media, particularly television.
But let's turn to positive changes. The course of consideration of the draft-law on emergency situation demonstrated that Putin is capable of making concessions with regard to his power. With active support of the President's Administration, the Duma passed a law targeting notable humanization of the system of criminal penalties execution. What about other news? The State Duma election was held in Chechnya. On the one hand, elections during hostilities are absurd. Still, on the other hand, Aslanbek Aslakhanov, who won the election, is by no means a puppet of the federal center.
The lack of changes for the worse, in our case, does not give grounds to rejoice or even to be calm. The situation is rather grave. Xenophobia is a daily life norm, either ignored or even advocated for by regional authorities (Kondratenko, Luzhkov, Nazdratenko with his "Chinese threat," etc.). The society standard attitude toward any "alien" is irrational (distrust, fear, envy). In the field of international relations, the dialogue-oriented line of action is more often declared than implemented. President Putin, like Eltsyn during the late period of his rule, does not perceive civil rights and freedoms as his priority. Mass-media bodies remember the concept of freedom only in those cases when it concerns them directly; otherwise they quite sincerely advocate for the ideals of order, strong (reads as brutal) paternalist power, delight in Russian originality and fell nostalgic about "the great world power."

Ц What is going to happen in the future, then?
Ц There is this feeling that Russia is at cross-roads and it's possible that the country shall slide off into self-isolation and nymphosis which cannot but result in further growth of xenophobia, nationalism and chauvinism. At the same time, this way of development, which is just so easy to adopt, would not be favorable either for the public or for the authorities. The preconditions of offended national dignity and national superiority complex (evidently, an inferiority complex at the same time) are present within the society. The road of authoritarian modernization (Putin-Pinochet) seems to be less likely, at least due to the fact that an effective functional state-machine is requisite so as to follow this road. But some slow anti-cosmopolitan campaign revolving around "the special Russian way," flares of Great Russian chauvinism and other such marvies are quite possible.

Alexander Verkhovsky:
Ц Sizing up the results of "Putin's year."
Ц It cannot be said nevertheless that the past year has given no evidence of authoritarian trends. For example, even a very inferior freedom of speech on TV is still much better than Kremlin's control over all the main TV channels. (I think that the authorities do not need any further infringements upon the freedom of speech.) It can be stated that since Putin's victory in the election, Kremlin has been reinforcing and expanding its possibilities Ц and it's important for us how it shall use these possibilities. I profess no presumption of guilt in relation to Putin but the leading groups of his courtiers Ц the old "family" and his friends from the special services are both capable of escalating authoritarism.
The fact that this endless war in Chechnya has gradually turned into a background process is potentially very dangerous. Basically, under the appropriate circumstances, today's society is ready to do many things, including with regard to the West. The authorities are not either more aggressive or more xenophobic that the society, with the exception of democratic mass media.

Ц Kremlin and the danger of national-patriotic shift.
Ц The system of ideological priorities of the new power is not formed yet and there are sufficient grounds to fear that this system's formation shall be notably influenced by the imperial ideas. As for ethno-nationalism, the authorities almost don't go for it. Even the war in Chechnya inspired recrudescence of nationalism and xenophobia more in the mass media than among the state officials. Disproportional influence of the Church, which everyone was so much concerned about in the past, is also not evident.
Generally speaking, Kremlin is occupied by people who are very pragmatically oriented, even too pragmatically, for that matter. For them, strong ideological constituent represents a forbidding factor as far as partnership is concerned. Such attitude applies to the whole national-patriotic specter, even to its moderate part.
However, there are other reasons for fear. Cultivation of the "alternative" opposition is already becoming a custom Ц like in cases with the movements of Berezovsky and Seleznyov. If they can get away with such things in the democratic and communist sectors, nothing prevents one from doing the same in the moderate national-patriotic sector, possibly with participation of the Church but most likely with no such participation. It's never a problem to find candidates for leadership. As it is, moderate national-patriots outside the CPRF are already supporting Putin, practically each and everyone of them.
This scenario was partially realized earlier Ц in the person of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Still, he is too unpopular among the "committed" national-patriots and therefore, his political niche is patently limited. All in all, there is no certainly that his party can manage to stay in the next Duma.
Such a scenario is dangerous not because Kremlin officials are going to be infected by nationalistic ideas but because of these ideas' legalization. An analogous process is already envisaged in relation to the communists. Professional Kremlin propagandists and a certain part of democrats suddenly started saying that it is necessary to communicate with the communists just like with other political forces. However, our communists are too anti-liberal and xenophobic to be considered as normal political partners.

Vladimir Pribylovsky:
Ц How the situation has altered during the past year?
Ц Basically, a regime of "governable democracy" (a pseudonym for soft authoritarism) has formed. And it's particularly important that this regime is already accepted by the people and all major political forces in the country. Several trustworthy sources point out that Putin's elections on May 26 were falsified. For details, please see Russkaya Mysl and Moscow Times (or here).
Putin did not win in the first round: in reality, he received 48-49% of votes but not 52.94%. Nevertheless, no one Ц neither the communists not "Yabloko"/"Apple" (that actually collected the greater part of the evidence; the rest was collected by the journalists) dare say that, from the legal point of view, Putin is not a President but an Acting President only (until the second round of the elections is carried out).
This situation testifies to the fact that the leading political forces are ready to surrender to the executive power such a vital element of democracy as fair elections. Putin has come to stay for a long period of time, like Turkmenbashi, Karimov, and Nazarbaev. In any case, he wants to stay in power for a long time. He shall not lose the elections of 2004 or 2008 Ц he'll simply falsify the results (only a threat of revolt can keep such people from resorting to falsifications). And naturally, he shall kill the ban on third presidential term.

Ц Authoritarian regime and its level of cruelty.
Ц There is no dictatorship of Putin yet. Even the NTV-channel is not yet devoured. Still, I am positive that in a year from no there won't be any Shenderovich on TV, and Kiselev won't be there either unless he converts.
Today, there is no dictatorship primarily because of Russia's circumspect attitude towards the West. But the West feels just great about the dictatorial regimes of Aliev, Nazarbaev and Karimov Ц and at the same time has bad feelings for the notably softer authoritarian rule of Lukashenko. In this respect, the most important thing is to satisfy certain parameters, which Karimov apparently satisfies and Putin doesn't. If Putin behaves like Karimov Ц and unlike Lukashenko Ц in relation to the economic and political interests of the West, he'll get away with any dictatorship.
Furthermore, today Putin faces no pressing necessity to silence the mass media. If such a necessity arises, he'll have no qualms about shutting them up, and he'll do it savagely.
I think that when Putin's regime stabilizes, it's rigidity level shall be more close to Alyev-Nazarbaev's model than to the model of Niyazov-Karimov. In other words, it'll still be possible to open your mouth once in while with regard to certain things here or there.
As concerns the problems that we already have, in addition to Babitsky's case, Dorenko's "cleanings," and the already inevitable prospective dissolution of the NTV-Channel, our new Administrative Code should be particularly mentioned. Among its other merits, it stipulates that every person must have his/her passport on him/her at all times. So, the analogous requirement of the police is no longer a manifestation of power abuse Ц it is part of the "dictatorship of law."

Ц Ideology of Putin's regime.
Ц All in all, the ideology of "steal as much as you can" has not gone anywhere. It is precisely what the regime's representatives are guided by in practice. The Prime-Minister, for example, is known throughout the world by his nickname "Misha Two Percents," but Putin does not seem to care.
When the actual internal ideology of the ruling clique is like that, it really does not matter what their show-off faзade ideology is like. Today, they adopt the face of monetarism. Tomorrow Ц that of the ruling power. Today Ц it is the state nationalism (or, to be exact, the complex of imperial inferiority) under a relatively democratic surface. Tomorrow Ц racial-ethnic nationalism point-blank. And why not, if it proves to be profitable? If at a certain point it'll be only possible for the leaders to keep the power through instigating public hatred against the nationals of Caucasus, then why in the world not?

Ц Antisemitism and "Caucasusophobia."
Ц Antisemitism cannot become a significant part of the state ideology, if only due to the fact that antisemitism is not in fashion, say, in Switzerland, and the state bosses especially love to spend their vacations in Switzerland. Also, among the rulers of our country there are quite a few half-Jews and quarter-Jews, and the President's favorite school teacher of German is Jewish. But the most important factor is Swiss and American opinion. They won't allow us to go for antisemitism.
On the other hand, they do let us exercise Chechenophobia, Caucasusophobia and the over-all "phobia of the darkies." And this phobia is already a significant part of Russia's ideology. At least, "phobia of the darkies" has become the ideology of our police, army and force structures in general. And it is also in the ideology of the Moscow Mayor's Office. In Moscow, nationals of Caucasus feel pretty much like Jews felt in Germany of 1930-ies Ц before the actual beginning of Holocaust but after Hitler had come to power (naturally, it does not apply to certain privileged nationals of Caucasus, such as Zurab Tsereteli or Umar Jabrailov). I only wonder why is it that in Makhachkala Russians aren't yet treated the same way as Daghestani are treated in Moscow? Probably, it's because almost half of the population is still Russian there. However, I am afraid that Russian residents of Daghestan and other North-Caucasus republics shall face the same kind of fate as Russian population of Chechnya. If the Moscow authorities do not change their politics in relations to nationals of Caucasus living in Moscow quickly and drastically, the slow retreat of Russians from Daghestan shall turn into a massive flight.

Ц Putin's political guiding beacons.
Ц Putin has more dangerous liasons and spiritual guiding beacons than the harmful "Influence of Solzhenitsyn," alleged by Chubais.
For instance, he had a meeting with Prokhanov and, as a result, the Zavtra newspaper's love for him grew even stronger (however, later on they got rather offended by Putin's giving up on Miloscevich). Prokhanov's Eurasian nationalism is precisely the kind of world-power aspirations that Putin is predisposed to. Actually, he has already caught a still mild form of this decease.
For that matter, Putin really adores Peter the Great, during whose rule one third of the Russian population died out in process of the famous making of a window to Europe and the system of serfdom, which Vasily Golitsyn, oligarch of that time, intended to discard, only became reinforced and lasted for 150 years longer. Putin has a portrait of Peter the Great on his wall and evidently feels that he and this tzar have a lot in common. As concerns Western state leaders, he likes Napoleon, who is definitely closer to him height-wise than our good old Peter (and he also fancies Andropov Ц in combination with de Gaulle and Erghard).
An infirm under-reformed state and its President-sportsman with an imperial inferiority complex and ambitions of Peter the Great and Napoleon put together make a dangerous blend.

Ekaterina Mikhailovskaya:
- In my opinion, A Verkhovsky made a very significant remark about the danger of legalization of extremist ideologies and the respective political forces. First-of-all, it has to do with the communists and second-of-all, with the (ultra)nationalists. Really, this kind of a lazy legalization is already taking place, especially in relation to the communists, and that's definitely a novelty.
Eltsyn always publicly condemned nationalism and scuffled with the communists (backstage, however, he had to make bargains with the left wing, or to phrase it more accurately, he had to buy them off). In case of nationalism, he was probably unable to shake off the inertia of Soviet up-bringing. As far as the communists are concerned, Eltsyn's whole political career came about on the grounds of his breach with the CPRF, which, as everyone surely remembers, was very traumatic. And later on, it was precisely his struggle with the communist threat that enabled the aging leader to stay on for the second presidential term.
Vladimir Putin is totally another case. He has neither personal nor tactical reasons to be an anti-communist. His participation in the gubernatorial campaign of the communist Gennagy Seleznyov (who lost nevertheless), his men' s behavior in the Duma during the election for Speaker and in the course dividing up the power offices, his unconcealed love for the secrete services Ц all these factor are conducive to the fact that in the contemporary Russia anti-communism is speedily becoming unfashionable. It is not that the President really likes the communists Ц most probably, he is quite indifferent to them. But in the post-Soviet Russia, not to dissociated oneself from the Soviet past is the same thing as to encourage communist propaganda.
In Russia today, children go to public schools where they are taught social science by communist teachers (not always party-members Ц in order to be an aggressive advocate for the Soviet order it is not necessary to join the CPRF). Higher education and research institutions represent a real haven of Soviet personnel, brought up on the ideas of Marxism-Leninism an immersed in nostalgia for the golden Soviet era. Jores Alferov, Nobel Prize laureate, is a good example of their kind.) With very few exceptions, Russian TV is saturated with the same immortal spirit of the Soviet times and compels the audience to adopt the following uncomplicated ideas Ц all evils are the fault of democracy, human rights activists are hired by the West, and the Soviet Union was a great World Power. During Eltsyn's rule, communist propaganda was spread with certain reservations and apprehension. Today, no apprehension is needed. And this situation may bear rather horrific fruits Ц it is a well known fact that the Gulag's construction begins in the hearts of people.
Things have not gone as far as actual legalization of ultra-nationalism. Russian nationalists' flame for Putin is not mutual as of yet. On the other hand, despite all the insistence of the authorities that the war in Chechnya is not a war against the Chechens, the hostilities' very particular character testifies to the fact that (most probably, against the will of the federal power) it is a war that the Russians are fighting against the non-Russians. When we compare the first Chechen war with the second one, we see that the level of legal xenophobia in the society directly depends on the work of the state propaganda machine (latent xenophobia, on the other hand, is unfortunately innate to communities of human beings). "Putin's" propaganda proved to be much more shameless and, consequently, much more effective than that of Eltsyn.
V. Pribylovsky is absolutely right saying that aggressive nationalism became the force structures' official ideology. If the federal authorities approve of it all the conversations about some possibilities to influence make no sense. However, I still believe it more likely that the authorities just tolerate nationalism, unwilling to see its destructive potentials. Hence, a lot depends on the civil society's reaction, no matter how week this civil society is in the contemporary Russia.
A. Verkhovsky's argument that the Russian authorities are no more and no less aggressive or xenophobic than the Russian society is also accurate. One's instincts suggest that it is even more so Ц as opposed to the masses, the authorities are at least partially reasonable. However, it should be taken into consideration that if we study public perception and attitudes in any given country (and especially in a country making a transition from totalitarism to, let's hope, democracy) we cannot but face a rather unpleasant picture. In Russia, during the past ten year, there has been formed a number of institutions relatively Ц even if rather poorly Ц capable of restricting the instincts of the masses. They are Ц the Parliament, political parties and movements (weak and somewhat on a small side, but better than nothing nevertheless), public organizations and, finally, mass-media bodies that can foist some basic propriety notions upon the society. While the above-mentioned institutions remain functional, there exists a possibility to exhort positive influence over the authorities and society (by "society," in this case, we mean the masses and not a community of citizens).

Alexander Verkhovsky:
Ц We are still waiting to find out what Mister Putin shall become.
It is still hard to believe that centralized pogroms of Caucasus nationals in Russian towns will be chosen as a mean to save the power. Not only because the West shall "not allow" anything of the kind (and in this respect, we must not forget that the Western politicians' natural lenience for our level of democracy is not boundless), but primarily because the very essence of Putin's rule is stabilization and building some obscure "new conservatism" on that basis.
Certainly enough, we cannot exclude a possibility of a catastrophic scenario of our country's further development. Yes, we live in Russia and that's something we should always keep in mind. Nevertheless, today, it is more relevant and constructive to carefully consider the quality of the ideology of Putin's rule, which is still in process of formation. This ideology can coagulate legal, economic and imperial-nationalist lawlessness that, consequently, shall become a benchmark for the country's future development and suppress the democratic values of the 1990-ies all-together.
Such a threat is even more feasible because the still vague "new conservatism" is supported not only by Putin and the force structures but also by the undefined "dark masses." To a certain extent our democratic public is also at fault here. Numerous examples can be made when prominent journalists of clearly liberal-democratic orientation also broadcast pro-empire ideology. It can be pointed out that Gleb Pavlovsky is not the only one rendering intellectual services to the regime of "governable democracy." Together with him and independently, numerous people who consider themselves part of the liberal wing or just talented intellectuals are doing the same thing. It should be also recalled that the ominous tyrant-reformer Peter the Great is more of a positive character in Russian historiography, and his famous monument in St. Petersburg used to be a symbol of the party "Vybor Rossii" ("Russia's Choice").
Ideological and political trends in the milieu of intelligentsia (in an extended sense, including officials and businessman that it gave birth to) are not that easily manipulated by Kremlin's political technologists. On the contrary, this circle's reactions serve as a guiding beacon for our careful President.
Presently, one cannot but feel that due to different reasons Ц conformity, cynicism or indifference Ц not only the so-called "masses" but the democratic public as well are leaning towards imperial, authoritarian and partially nationalistic scenario. And this situation, on the one hand, testifies to the gravity of the threat we are facing and, on the other hand, makes this very threat ever more real.
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