portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

imperialism & war | legacies

Between Russophobia and Russophilia

The neoconservative revolutionaries wanted to make the export of democracy into the absolute military hit and harvested bloody noses. Western values and western democracy cannot be simply exported or forced on foreign countries.

By Rudolf Maresch

Our picture of Russia is still ruled by prejudices, traditional reflexes and old stereotypes

[This article published in the German-English cyber journal Telepolis 1/3/2009 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web,  http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/29/29444/1.html.]

The picture circulated about Russia in Germany and in vast parts of the liberal-enlightened West is often full of clichés and dominated by prejudices, traditional reflexes and stereotypes that largely came from the time of the Cold War. One thinks only of the vehement public reactions triggered by Gabriele Krone-Schmalz "What is Happening in Russia?" in the fall of 2007 when the former ARD-correspondent tried to carefully examine some of these stereotypes and paint a different more realistic picture of the current political situation in Russia.

The West did not win world domination through the superiority of its ideas or values but through its superiority in using organized force.
Samuel P. Huntington, Clash of Civilizations


Even the fall of the wall, the collapse of the Soviet empire and the end of the bipolar world order could hardly change this perspective. Although the world since then has become completely different, Russia-debates are still carried on with the same arguments oscillating between resentment and appeasement that traditionally look at the country with a mixture of fear, aversion and sympathy. This is true since Vladimir Putin manages the political business of the country and self-assuredly resists the political exactions of the western superpower and its allies.

If some see in Putin's Russia that Soviet bear with global ambitions to strengthen and expand its influence in Europe and bring its immediate neighbors under its thumb [The Dream of the Restoration of the Russian Empire (1)], others urge more understanding for its special situation and the special status of the giant empire situated geographically and historically at that juncture where western and Asian cultures collide. On account of its enormous size, the huge distances to be overcome and the many peoples and cultures naturalized on its territory, Russia cannot be measured with "western" standards and therefore must go its own way [Europe experiences a cold peace (2)].

The question I will tackle is whether bivalent observation models that judge Russia according to theoretical-democratic standards and only reproduce the bipolar enemy order of the past century can do justice to the development of the world after 1989 and the geo-political situation of present-day Russia. Or whether only a limited rudimentary picture of those world-political realities is formed with which the land is now confronted and will be confronted in the future with this value-laden judgment of Moscow [Stand Up to Putin (3)]


When the wall fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union and the old second-rate order collapsed like a house of cards, it seemed for a short while that all totalitarianism disappeared and did not stand in the way of the triumphant worldwide advance of capitalism, liberalism and democracy. In fact, a large number of new democracies soon formed in the area of the Warsaw Pact that supported this hope.

However faith in the hegemony only had a short summer. If one follows Farced Zakaria [The Rise of Illiberal Democracy (4)], democracy from a global perspective has been in retreat at least since the middle of the 1990s. Political systems are advancing that show that prosperity and autocracy, open economy and closed political systems are thoroughly compatible and that this combination can be a successful option for other nations. These states have a basic free enterprise structure but leave their power base in the hands of an elite, dynasty or party.

This shows modernization can also take another direction. It no longer flows with a certain inevitability to a liberal democracy. Prosperity and security can be attained without forcing a country to pay the price of political liberalization. So Russia and China offer an autocratic competitive model to the West that guarantees order, prosperity and development and grants a large number of personal freedoms to its population. Thanks to its enormous resources and its raw material wealth, the center of society has been satisfied with consumer goods and social transfers and the striking increase of its living standard. In this way, today's Russia has become a modern state that has nothing in common any more with the old totalitarian system.

"For the first time in many years," the Russian foreign minister Sergej Lawrow said, "a genuine competition on the market of ideas has existed between different value systems and models of development." If other countries take the successes of Russia and China as their model, this could lead to a global competition in which the West could gradually lose its monopoly in the globalization process.

This new self-confidence manifest in Russia's leaders has not risen for any good reason. Russia's leaders are convinced that an autocratic system of government is more suitable for their nation than a democracy of the Western type. They also believe that only a strong government can guarantee political stability and the prospect of more prosperity for their population and save the4ir multi-ethnic state from chaos and collapse. For them, democracy is not the answer to the material distresses and worries of people. For them, order, stability, security and protection from robbery, murder and crimes are more important than individual political freedoms. When a political community can first guarantee these basic needs for its population, the question about political freedoms will first be loud and relevant.


In its value-oriented over-zealousness, western democratic theory neglected for years this anthropological neediness or simply faded it out of its discourse. Western theory only oriented itself in universalist values gathered from the western European enlightenment but can only justify them in a circular way. Not surprisingly it has its scientific roots in Great Britain and the US and is supported by western ideas that are explicitly universalist.

Often the observer only sees what he can or wants to see. In Russia's case, there are considerable deficits in safeguarding political freedoms. The population does not regard these as so important because they have long had negative experiences and therefore value legal security, prosperity and national pride as higher. This blind speck becomes clear when political science passes to an "observation of the second order" where the observer observes how he observes, how and according to what criteria, values or standards distinctions are made when he reproaches contemporary Russia for a lack of political freedoms...

In practical international politics, a value-oriented judgment is fatal. It promotes fundamentalist worldviews that judge other states, cultures and values only according to its own superior values and norms. As the most recent past shows, a large number of humanitarian interventions further the "world civil war" and lead to more misery, war and death instead of more freedom and self-determination...

In WWI, Korea, Vietnam, Iran, Somalia and Afghanistan, the bloody consequences of this value-laden policy are manifest. The neo-conservative revolutionaries sorrowfully noted this when they wanted to make the export of democracy into the absolute military hit and harvested bloody noses. Western values and western democracy cannot be simply exported from here to there or forced on foreign cultures. What functions in Japan or Germany does not necessarily function in Central Asia, the Caucasus or the Middle East. Political transformations can only come from the interior, from the population and not decreed from outside.


The West has broken all its promises to post-1989 Russia. The West has neither disarmed militarily nor reduced its military arsenal or troops to the degree announced. On the contrary, Nato and the EU have shifted their spheres of influence little by little to the East and crowded Russia... (5)

Not entirely unjustly, Russia feels encircled by the US and Nato. Russia lacks international respect and fears for the security of its borders. In the liberal West, Moscow sees the hegemon that likes to play the teacher and disciplinarian [The Limits of the Teacher (6)], always imagining itself on the side of justice and goodness. All others must follow its orders, suggestions and insights.

Therefore not surprisingly every oppositional movement is seen automatically and immediately as a strategic partner of the West. The suspicion arises that every opposition is operated by remote control from the West. "There is a growing influence of foreign money used to meddle directly in our affairs," Putin declared at the plenary assembly in April 2007. "Everyone is not interested in a stable development of our country. Some want to go back to the past when the state and the people were ransacked, our national riches plundered and our political and economic independence threatened."

As we know, this worry is not completely justified. Nearly all civil society actors in Russia, the Ukraine and Georgia receive media or financial support from the West, either from the Soros Foundation and other non-profit enterprises or directly from the CIA budget. Without this support, the revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgia would presumably not have occurred. Whoever dismisses Putin's suspicion as national paranoia to liquidate refractory political institutions does not do justice to actual events in the country.


On the other hand, the US commonly regarded as the light tower of liberal-democratic consciousness is not marked with glory in the last years as to safeguarding and respecting international law. The American nation has done some things to discredit liberal democracy worldwide. America waged a war in the Balkans against international law on Western Europe's urging. Its leaders consciously and intentionally lied to the Security Council and its people and falsified the evidence to attack and occupy Iraq militarily with a coalition of the willing, not to mention the illegal conditions in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and other secret prisons in Iraq, the Indian Ocean and elsewhere.

The West would do well to modernize its moral claims. Putin recalled Ms. Merkel's criticism of Russian police action against regime critics and referred to the police state conditions in Heiligendamm on the occasion of the G7-meeting. It is an open secret that liberal democracies increasingly mistrust their citizens. They monitor telephone conversations and data processing, download personal data and supervise their money affairs. For years, French philosophers have spoken of a proliferating "surveillance- and control society" that spreads in western democracies.

The intellectual superiority of the liberal-free enterprise ideology of the West that shared in the collapse of eastern Marxist-Leninist ideology has not looked too good in the last years. The so-called universalist systems are not free from hypocrisy and double standards. Democracy is supported when it benefits geo-politically, in Iraq but not in Lebanon, Jordan or Gaza. The human rights question is politicized in China and Tibet while eyes are politely shut in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Israel and Pakistan are supplied with weapons of mass destruction; a nuclear pact is signed with India while other states are blocked with a prohibition on proliferation.


Media pluralism, freedoms of opinion, press and other elective political freedoms are not the only criteria for the weal and woe of a political state or system. We have known that for a long time. Through free and independent elections, fundamentalist or other actors or groups opposed to freedom often come to power as history frequently shows. One does not need to think of Hitler Germany. A glance at the Middle East is enough. Free elections in Egypt would not have taken place if the Muslim brotherhood held political power. Even American thinkers tend to give priority to "liberal autocracy" over "illiberal democracy" [Venturing Less Democracy (7)].

Possession of this or that right to the mentioned political freedoms is secondary when the basic necessities like electricity, food and housing or the legitimate defensive and security interests of citizens are not safeguarded or cannot be safeguarded any more. "Eating comes first and then morality," Bertolt Brecht explained in his ballad "From what do we live?" "This struggle of all against all" prompted Thomas Hobbes to write Leviathan that became the basic text of every state theory. This must be in the back of our heads when contemporary Russia is judged objectively, fairly and differentiatingly.

"Post-Soviet" development began with the assumption of office of the last General Secretary of the USSR Michael Gorbachev, not with the first presidency of Boris Jelzin. The new man in the Kremlin faced the tricky question where he should start in making fundamental change in the economy or in politics given the desperate economic situation in which the empire maneuvered thanks to its technological backwardness, meager steel power and economic clumsiness and thanks to the military arms race that the United States in the form of Reaganomics forced on the communist enemy.


Gorbachev's tragedy, error or mistake was to decide for politics differently than the Chinese communists. He granted political freedoms in the vague hope that this would inevitably lead to more prosperity in Russia. He became Gorbi-superstar in the West through his misguided decision to introduce glasnost before any perestroika. Wherever he went he was greeted with "Gorbi! Gorbi!" shouts and acclaimed and celebrated as a charismatic revitalizer like Barack Obama today. But with this mistake he was the "gravedigger" of the Soviet empire. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of a third of its former empire left behind deep marks in the mental framework of political and military elites that still influences contemporary Russia.

The years that followed under Boris Jelzin may have been a treasure of political freedoms. But freedoms for whom and at what price? Under Jelzin and his liberal comrade-in-arms Jegor Gaidar (8), Putin's wicked game with the fascist threat (9) and Anatoli Tshubais, legal security in the country grew constantly. While corruption and criminality prospered, the population was increasingly impoverished. Simultaneously Russia was driven to the economic wall under the powerful assistance of the Chicago-boys (10) like Chile under the dictator Pinochet. After praising the economic advisors, Jelzin became the plaything of unscrupulous oligarchs who appropriated the material wealth of the country and then seized political power when they began to rule autocratically over the people.

Jelzin was miles removed from being a perfect democrat. He bombarded the Russian parliament in 1993 and enacted a constitution that excluded refractory parties and groups from elections and granted himself autocratic power. The West did not vigorously scold him for these illegal acts at that time. This was simply because the moody populist and notorious drinker was seen as a lesser evil compared to a possible return of the communists to the reins of power.

Since Jelzin's constitutional reform, the formal political structures have not noticeably changed. Therefore it makes little sense to play off Putin's political "pseudo-democracy" against Jelzin's "semi-democracy." While Jelzin was certainly pro-western, Putin who experienced his political socialization in the old DDR (East Germany) and in St. Petersburg as anti-western is too daring.


When Jelzin had to resign, the state autonomy of the country was enormously restricted internally and externally. The Russian institutions were weak and fragile. The Russian federation that ensures and manages the residue of the old empire lost control over the state territory more and more. In the West, Moscow was so massively in debt that the currency crash in the fall of 1998 was almost inevitable. To severely weaken a permanent adversary, the IMF dominated by Washington refused immediate financial relief.

Moscow completely lost its trifling foreign policy reputation in the world. At the end of the 1990s, its authority was as degraded as the value of the ruble. Although Jelzin waged war in Chechnya, power in many places was in the hands of heavily armed criminal bands and extremists. Chechnya was a training camp for Jihadists from more than 50 states. The West and by human rights fighters like Bernhard Levy and Andre Glucksmann suppressed this [Putin, The Evil (11)].


The economic turnaround began with the left-liberal Primakov government enthroned by Jelzin on pressure of parliament. Through its fiscal policy and the devaluation of the ruble, imports were made cheaper and Russian exports abroad were eased. The economic- and political security situation in Russia noticeably improved when Jelzin made Vladimir Putin the prime minister. In the fall of 1999, Putin completely annexed the insurgent Caucasus republic. Russian troops occupied the area at the price of continuous grave human rights violations. When the resistance was broken, Putin installed a government loyal to Moscow.

With the help of the domestic secret service, Putin deprived oligarchs of their power in the first year of his presidency. These oligarchs included two pro-western media- and financial tycoons Vladimir Gussinski and Boris Beresowski. Putin drove both into exile. At the same time, he stopped the economic sale of the land. He condemned the oil billionaire and US-friend Michael Chodorkovski [Big Fish in the Net (12)] who wanted to sell off parts of the Yukos oil conglomerate. Subsequently he smashed the Yukos oil conglomerate and nationalized its remains [State-oil corporation seizes former Yukos-subsidiary (13)]

To prevent Russia's geo-political collapse, Putin abolished the far-reaching federalization of the country by weakening the Dama, abolished the relative political autonomy of the "regional prefects" and concentrated all power in the Kremlin again (re-centralization). Frightened by the kidnappings in a Moscow theater and the school in Beslan, he strengthened and modernized the security forces.

Parallel to building an authoritarian system in Russia's interior, the prices for oil and gas rose worldwide. Putin could modernize the army and security forces, renew education programs, greatly improve the infrastructure and further the genesis of a larger middle class that has supported him and his political system since then. Putin inaugurated a period of law and order that the country urgently needed. He restored to Russians their pride and respect (re-nationalization) lost first under Gorbachev and later under Jelzin, his liberal friends and his well-traveled American economic advisors.


With authority and not with democracy, Russia regained the lost status of a super-power. All observers agree about this. Meanwhile Russia reclaims what is expected of other powers of similar size and what is claimed as self-evident, national interest. Interference in the affairs of the Ukraine [Embraceable EU (14)] and the war in Georgia [How to Manage Moscow (15)} show that Moscow is back on the world stage. Russia's conduct is not different strategically or morally from the conduct of the United States. Moscow claims a political zone of influence, interests and security for itself and tolerates no geo-political rivals at its borders or in its backyards. Whether it involves torture slaves or unpopular tyrants, geo-politically important states are kept in line with money, weapons and secret services.

Whoever wants to tackle this political realism with value-orientation and censure diverts from the hard struggle of powers over influence, authority and reputation. The world order, even a liberal order, is not only based on ideas and institutions. This order is marked by power constellations. Since the US is overstrained militarily and the unipolar moment of the US belongs to the past, we face a multipolar world for good or ill. Through the financial crisis, this geo-political drift is accelerating. With Poland, Russia, China, the US, India and Europe, this multipolar world will undoubtedly produce its own order with different rules and norms that do not absolutely agree with the interests, ideas or claims of a liberal democracy.

The US and Western democracies as Dean Acheson, the architect of the Truman doctrine, formulated at the beginning of the Cold War are no longer the "locomotive leading humanity" since the rest of the world sits "in the official car." To realize binding agreements on the world climate, prohibition of proliferation or deployment of UN troops, we will not advance far with a political theology of human rights. Peking, Moscow and Teheran will not worry about this.

The political realist knows one cannot pick his conversation- and negotiation- and treaty-partners if one wants political results. Whoever misunderstands this gets stuck like the Bush administration in Iraq, Hindukisch or wherever. Whoever wants to form the world according to his conceptions will need many peace-making troops in the future to successfully carry out military humanitarian interventions.


Prosperity, social ascent, norms and legal security require other political systems. That is the message of the new creation post-1989. Therefore the development in Russia, China and Asia is also threatening for the West. The West that imagined itself in the role of the great triumphant one will be forced again to a global competition in which whether the West and its political export hits will ever turn out as victor or winner is completely uncertain. If the economic dynamic continues in these countries and regions while stagnating or declining in the West, other nations, cultures and peoples will take an example from them. Seen from a world-political and world-historical perspective, liberal democracy could turn out to be a discontinued model.

How demographic problems are handled will be crucial for Russia's further development and stability in the long-term. The Russian population shrivels yearly around 800,000 people. Unlike Russia, Europe or Japan, the US, India and China see themselves better positioned in the medium-term. How Russia copes with the consequences of the financial crisis will be decisive. To all appearances, the political leadership will try to get out of a tight spot with the devaluation of the ruble and those fiscal measures that helped the country in the 1998 monetary crisis. Since imports (e.g. foreign cars) have massively higher prices through their taxation, local auto-production is supported and protected and consumers are pressed to buy Russian Ladas. Whether this protectionism will be helpful given the worldwide concentration and interconnection of goods, capital and services or will intensify the crisis remains to be seen.

For a long time, the political system functioned in a Hobbesian kind of horse-trading. For economic ascent, the population foregoes certain political rights. The social transfers undertaken by the Russian state were only secured when the price per barrel of oil was 70 dollars. Because of the falling price of oil and gas, these transfers can only be defrayed through debts or the enormous currency reserves. If the price falls to the bottom, these payments are endangered in the medium-term. No one knows how the population will react when the promise of more prosperity spreads.

This is also true for everyone else, for China, Europe, Japan and the US. Osama also stands before a huge debt mountain that must be financed by foreign countries, especially by his Chinese rival. Who will master these problems best and quickest and be strengthened from this worldwide misery and emerge as victor is a very tense political question. Thanks to its energy reserves and its raw material wealth, Russia seems well positioned in the long-term for this power-game. Whether something rational for the land and its population is made out of these possibilities is up to its political leaders.

(1)  link to www.welt.de
(2)  link to www.welt.de
(3)  link to www.carnegieendowment.org
(4)  http://fareedzakaria.com/ARTICLES/other/democracy.html
(5)  http://www.welt.de/print-welt/article344876/Verlogene_Kritik_an_Putin.html
(6)  http://www.nzz.ch/2007/02/13/fe/articleEVII3.html
(7)  http://www.netzeitung.de/voiceofgermany/253294.html
(8)  link to www.welt.de
(9)  link to www.welt.de
(10)  http://www.inthesetimes.com/article/3968/chicago_boys_home/
(11)  http://www.perlentaucher.de/artikel/2120.html
(12)  http://www.freitag.de/2004/53/04530201.php
(13)  http://www.spiegel.de/wirtschaft/0,1518,334160,00.html
(14)  link to www.carnegieendowment.org
(15)  http://www.newsweek.com/id/154906
Telepolis Artikel-URL:  http://www.heise.de/tp/r4/artikel/29/29444/1.html

homepage: homepage: http://www.mbtranslations.com
address: address: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info

Russians Not Getting It 17.Feb.2009 11:15

Den Mark, Vancouver

While the U.S., with all its errors & faults, can nevertheless consider Abraham Lincoln as its best president, not that he was perfect, Russia is currently rediscovering & elevating psychopathic Joe Stalin as the best Russian leader since Peter the "Great".

Russia obviously has even more problem with its mental set than we do.