Andrei Konchalovsky https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/8217/all cached version 15/07/2018 20:56:54 en Russians, be horrified at yourselves! https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/russians-be-horrified-at-yourselves <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/dragon_Moscow.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Russia’s problems are many and varied – low life expectancy and falling population figures, soaring rates for crime, alcoholism and drug abuse, not to mention ubiquitous corruption. In a country rich in natural resources, half the population lives in poverty. Andrei Konchalovsky takes us through the horrifying facts and figures and argues that things can only change when Russians themselves learn to be horrified by them.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>I chose my title for a reason. There&rsquo;s a famous saying by Marx, that &lsquo;to inspire courage in a nation, you have to make them horrified at themselves&rsquo;.</p> <p>For many years now I have been appealing to my fellow-Russians to be horrified by many facts and conditions of Russian life, in order to gain courage and the desire to desire. To desire to change oneself and the life around oneself. </p> <p>I have long since been dismissed as a Russophobe who holds his people in contempt. That is nonsense &ndash; if it were the case then you could apply the name of Russophobe&nbsp; to Chekhov, Gorky, Herzen and Chaadayev &ndash; great Russians who wished to awake Russia from its sleep, and not just constantly find others to blame for its own woes. </p> <p>The Russian people are not a corpse, to be spoken only good of. They are a living people, full of energy and talent, who have just not yet completed the historical journey that leads to wellbeing and success for each individual. So let&rsquo;s look for a moment at what is horrific in Russian life today. And anyone who wants to hear good things about themselves can go and read President Medvedev&rsquo;s speeches or Afanasyev&rsquo;s folk tales. </p> <h3>Life expectancy and population loss</h3> <p>Today I would like to remind you of a few startling facts and figures showing that according to many social indicators Russia is on a par not with Europe and not even with Asia &ndash; in terms of levels of corruption, life expectancy, investment in science etc. we are comparable to Africa! </p> <blockquote> <p><em>&lsquo;The figures for suicide, poisoning, murder and accidental deaths in Russia are comparable with death rates in Angola and Burundi.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>I will go further and say that it is not we that should feel insulted by such a comparison, but the Africans. They at least have an explanation for their lack of development: they had four centuries of exploitation and extermination by racists and colonisers, whereas over the last three centuries who colonised us Russians and treated us with contempt but ourselves? </p> <p>We often ignore statistics, and it is true that it can be difficult to grasp the reality behind dry figures. But the scale of the tragedy being played out in our country is so great that I urge you to give it your full attention. </p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/vodka_russia.jpg" alt="Vodka_Russia" width="460" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Museums of Russian vodka seen throughout Russia convey a simple message: drink and have fun. Yet alcoholism has remained one of Russia&rsquo;s major social problems. With consumption of 15 litres of pure alcohol per head, millions of Russians ruin their health and die early (photo: flickr.com, jimjimovich's photostream). </p> <p>Russia&rsquo;s death rate: the last 20 years saw the deaths of more than seven million Russians.&nbsp;This converts to a death rate 50% higher than in Brazil and Turkey, and several times the rate for Europe.</p> <p>In terms of population, Russia loses each year the equivalent of a district similar to&nbsp; Pskov, or a city the size of Krasnodar.</p> <p>The figures for suicide, poisoning, murder and accidental deaths in Russia are comparable with death rates in Angola and Burundi. </p> <p>Global tables of male life expectancy put Russia in about the 160th place, below Bangladesh.</p> <p>Russia has the highest rate of absolute population loss in the world. </p> <p>According to UN estimates, the population of Russia will fall from its present 140 million to 121-136 million by 2025.&nbsp; </p> <h3>The family in crisis</h3> <p>Other statistics reflect the crisis of the family in Russia. Eight out of ten elderly people in residential care have relatives who could support them. Nevertheless they are sent off to care homes. </p> <p>Between two and five million kids live on our streets (after World War Two the figure was around 700,000). In China, a country with a population of 1.4 billion, there are only 200, 000 homeless children &ndash; 100 times less. That&rsquo;s how important children are to the Chinese! And surely the welfare of children and the elderly is the foundation of a healthy nation. </p> <p>Eighty percent of children in care in Russia have living parents. But they are being looked after by the state!&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>We head the world for the number of children abandoned by their parents. </p> <p>All these figures bear witness to the erosion of the family in this country. </p> <h3>Crime and corruption</h3> <p>Crimes against children: according to data published by the Russian Federation Investigative Commission, in 2010 there were 100,000 child victims of crime, of whom 1700 were raped and murdered (theses figures are higher even than those for South Africa).&nbsp; </p> <blockquote> <p><em>'Four or five children are murdered in Russia every day'</em></p></blockquote> <p>This means that four or five children are murdered in Russia every day.</p> <p>In 2010, 9500 sexual offences were committed against underage victims, including 2600 rapes and 3600 cases of non-violent sexual relations (the last eight years have seen a twentyfold rise in sexual crime). Only South Africa has a higher rate of such crimes. </p> <p>Drug addiction and alcoholism. Thirty thousand Russians, equivalent to the population of a small town, die annually from drug overdoses.&nbsp; </p> <p>Seventy thousand Russians drink themselves to death each year.</p> <p>According to WHO statistics, Russia gets through the annual equivalent of 15 litres of pure alcohol per head of population. And bear in mind the fact that alcohol consumption of more than eight litres per annum per head of population constitutes a threat to a nation&rsquo;s survival. </p> <p>Corruption: the scale of bribery in Russia has increased tenfold, and the goings on in a London court battle between two oligarchs have made us the laughing stock of the global business world.&nbsp; The impunity of our judicial system is such that a criminal charge has been instigated against Sergey Magnitsky, a lawyer who died in prison in 2009. In Europe such a thing last happened in the 17th century!</p> <p>Russia comes out as one of the world&rsquo;s most corrupt places (154th out of 178 countries) in Transparency International&rsquo;s annual Corruption Index, where it is listed next to Guinea-Bissau and Kenya. </p> <p>Looking at all these figures one can safely talk of a decline in national morality &ndash; and it is our rulers who are ultimately responsible for this state of affairs. </p> <blockquote> <p><em>&lsquo;It is shameful that in a country with such rich natural and aquatic resources over 50% of the population should be classified as poor.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>And now, did you know that:</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; in the last 10 years 11,000 villages and 290 towns have disappeared in Siberia;</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; average population density in Siberia and the Russian Far East is two people per square kilometre;</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; average population density in Russia&rsquo;s central regions is 46 people per square kilometre;</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; average population density in China is 140 people per square kilometre;</p> <p>-&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; average population density in Japan is 338 people per square kilometre?</p> <p>It is shameful that in a country with such rich natural and aquatic resources over 50% of the population should be classified as poor.</p> <p>All these figures send me into a state of shock. I am sure that all the facts are known to Putin. I wonder what effect they have on him.</p> <h3>And it will only get worse...</h3> <p>The tragedy is that I believe things will only get worse; we still haven&rsquo;t touched bottom, and the Russian people has still not reached the stage where it can feel horrified at itself and finally gain the courage to ask &lsquo;Where are we living?&rsquo;. We no longer notice the stink in hallways and public toilets. We are used to people being murdered around us. We are accustomed to the fact that people all over Russia are literally fighting for their lives. </p> <p>Journalist Anatoly Yermolin was born in Kushevskaya, a village in Southern Russia which was the scene of a mass murder in 2010. He wrote of this incident: &lsquo;If twelve people hadn&rsquo;t been murdered in one go, if there had been five incidents with two people killed in each, no one would have paid any attention to it, as is normally the case in our country&rsquo;. But surely it is obvious that Kushevskaya doesn&rsquo;t just belong to the Krasnodar region &ndash; it&rsquo;s part of Russia as a whole! Local mafia boss (and district councillor) Sergey Tsapok and his gangsters are the people you put into power by voting for them at local elections! Everybody everywhere knows who the local hard man is, who has connections with the police and the prosecutor&rsquo;s office. </p> <p>The Kremlin is only pretending to fight corruption when it sacks Interior Ministry generals and middle level bureaucrats by the dozen. In the old days they would have been shot &ndash; now they get to spend a &lsquo;well-earned retirement&rsquo; in Dubai or the Cote d&rsquo;Azur!&nbsp; Do our rulers really believe that is the way to end corruption? But then you all elect to your local council candidates with the words &lsquo;I am a thief&rsquo; branded on their foreheads, and then wonder why corruption rules!</p> <blockquote> <p><em>&lsquo;Russia today is facing a demographic and moral catastrophe, the like of which it has never seen before.&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>I wonder: will it take the extinction of half the nation and the shrinkage of Russia to the Urals, for the people (that is, the mass of the population, not a tiny group of thinking people) to wake up and demand of their rulers not pleasant, reassuring news stories and the usual promises, but the truth, and in the first place an admission of how bad things are. </p> <p>That, as you may remember, was what Stalin was forced to do in the face of a German invasion in 1941. </p> <p>It is also what Khrushchev was forced to do in 1956, when the Bolsheviks realised they might be called to account for decades of terror. </p> <p>Russia today is facing a demographic and moral catastrophe, the like of which it has never seen before.&nbsp;&nbsp; </p> <p>There are many reasons for this, the chief one being the irresponsible economic policies of the 1990s that overwhelmed people accustomed to feudal rule, without any experience of either private property or capitalism, and who in seventy years of Soviet rule had lost any potential entrepreneurial spirit. </p> <h3>So what is to be done?</h3> <p>As the writer and cultural commentator Mikhail Berg has written (I quote from memory): &lsquo;We live in one country, but we are two nations. There is a tiny handful of thinking people who demand freedom and fair elections, and the enormous &lsquo;slumbering&rsquo; mass of &lsquo;ordinary&rsquo; Russians. And between them lies a huge gulf of fear, fear of the most acute and dangerous kind, and social distrust&hellip;We can fight the &lsquo;party of swindlers and thieves&rsquo;, we can blame the Russian bureaucratic mindset that has messed up the whole of Russian history, but we can&rsquo;t escape the fact that a definite majority of the Russian population has not changed its basic mentality for centuries.&rsquo; And I would add to that - your oppressors come from your own ranks. </p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Juvenile_prison.jpg" alt="Juvenile_prison" width="450" /></p> <p class="image-caption">Homelessness and juvenile crime have remained serious problems in Russia. Pictured is a Russian youth detention center in a remote part of the Urals. The boys, many under 12, are doing time for crimes. Mostly they are there for thieving, but there are a fair number of murderers too (from &lsquo;Alone in four walls&rsquo;, a documentary film directed by German filmmaker Alexandra Westmeier). </p> <p>So I don&rsquo;t know what is to be done, apart from trying to shake people up and make them horrified at themselves. Yulia Latynina thinks me not only a pessimist, but a de-motivator. I think one can motivate someone who is conscious and wants to be saved. But what if he is unconscious or in a lethargic doze? Sometimes, to bring someone round, a doctor will slap their cheeks.&nbsp; </p> <p>I know what you will say to that, but I know that if a third of the people who will read these words agree with me, Russia would be a different place. </p> <blockquote> <p><em>&lsquo;I don&rsquo;t know whether Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has it in him to proclaim the equality of all before the law. If he does have it in him, he will win himself a prominent place in the Pantheon of Russian history. If not&hellip;&rsquo;</em></p></blockquote> <p>I am convinced that Russia needs a leader with the daring of Peter the Great, who would tell people things they haven&rsquo;t heard for a long time. The truth will be bitter, for it is difficult to accept that the reason why Russia cannot move forward is because it doesn&rsquo;t want to admit to itself how far it lags behind Europe in terms of developed civilisation. Only a clear and inspiring message - let it be harsh, so long as it is invigorating and sincere - can provide an impetus for the nation to awake from its feudal torpor. </p> <p>Only if that happens can one hope that the nation&rsquo;s instinctive wisdom will prompt it to take the hard and possibly unforgiving road which is the only way to drag our country out of the pit in which it currently languishes. I don&rsquo;t know whether Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin has it in him to take such a suicidal step, to take the bull by the horns and proclaim the equality of all before the law. If he does have it in him, he will win himself a prominent place in the Pantheon of Russian history. If not&hellip; </p> <p>I am a Russian and I miss my country, because I don&rsquo;t see it! I don&rsquo;t see a country of which I want to be proud. I see a crowd of unhappy, frustrated faces and people alienated and afraid of one another. I want to be proud of my country, and instead I am ashamed of it. When did I last feel any pride in Russia? I don&rsquo;t remember! But I know for a fact that if the truth, the truth about the situation our people find themselves in, were to be shouted loud and clear to the whole world, I would feel even more pride than if our hockey team were to win gold at the Olympics. </p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society Democracy and government democracy & power russia & eurasia russia Andrei Konchalovsky Reforms twenty years on Russia in depth Internal Fri, 09 Mar 2012 12:21:25 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 64635 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Protests and the badly ground flour of Russian history https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/badly-ground-flour-of-russian-history <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Andrei_Konchalovskiy.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Intellectuals are excited that this winter’s protests are a sign Russia could finally be turning into a democratic state. Andrei Konchalovsky urges them to look back into the country’s past and see how far Russians still must travel to become normal Europeans. The protesters must show caution, he argues, or risk the kind of bloodshed that has accompanied other attempts to modernise the country.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>&ldquo;Russia has not yet ground that flour from which a Socialist pie can be baked.&rdquo; This remark by the Russian Marxist Georgy Plekhanov (1856-1918) seems to me as relevant to Russia today as it was when he made it, and I&rsquo;ll explain why. </p><p>Plekhanov was warning the Bolsheviks that seizing power would have tragic consequences for Russia. Plekhanov was trying to convince them that their plans for modernising Russian society could end up in bloody dictatorship. And today, at a moment of reawakening for socially minded sections of society, Plekhanov&rsquo;s prophecy is of particular relevance. </p><blockquote><p>'Russia is not yet ready for a democratic transformation of society. And to develop a strategy we need a dispassionate analysis of what sort of society exists in Russia today and to what extent it differs from that of a century, or even three centuries, ago.'</p></blockquote> <p>Opposition calls to take the Kremlin, overthrow our current rulers and create a new, government echo, in effect, Vladimir Lenin&rsquo;s plan &ldquo;to seize power and use it like Archimedes&rsquo; lever, to compensate for a lack of civilisation and culture and enable Russia to catch up with more advanced countries&rdquo;.</p> <p>The mass protests in Moscow and other cities since the rigged parliamentary elections have created an impression of aroused public consciousness. But this is a mere illusion.</p><p>Take Moscow, with its population of 15 million (some sources suggest that it is more like 18-20 million). Let&rsquo;s assume that 100,000 turned out for the rally; that&rsquo;s less than one percent of the city, and half of those were people working in the public sector, who would not even dream of being independent of the Kremlin. And then think about that as a proportion of the country as a whole.</p><p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/776px-A_Korzukhin_z_4.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Russian peasants: the backbone of the modern Russian<br />society, according to the author.</span></p><p>Another factor of relevance today: according to research by the Institute of Sociology, only 19 percent of households own computers, including just six percent of the poorest households. Only 42.3 out of every thousand Russians are active internet users. This is a clear indication that internet penetration is very low in Russia, and that its influence on current political developments has obviously been exaggerated. The figures show that a catastrophically large majority of the population has no understanding of the burgeoning reform movement. </p> <p>What is to be done? I think it is essential to look the truth fearlessly in the eye and admit that Plekhanov&rsquo;s warnings are still relevant today. Russia is not yet ready for a democratic transformation of society. And to develop a strategy we need a dispassionate analysis of what sort of society exists in Russia today and to what extent it differs from that of a century, or even three centuries, ago. </p> <p>The American cultural historian Richard Pipes, in an article analysing the state of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, listed several factors contributing to Russia&rsquo;s developmental lag: the adoption of Christianity from Byzantium rather than from Rome; the cultural impact of the Mongol invasion; the weakness of the state resulting from the vast areas of conquered territories and so on.</p> <p>I have discussed the Russian mentality more than once, and indeed cited Pipes&rsquo; work. But today, with a growing mood among the public and revived hopes among many for the establishment of a democratic state, I would like to look at some specific aspects of Russian history. </p> <p>So, what has the phrase &ldquo;Russian civilisation&rdquo; meant throughout the centuries, and what does it mean today?</p> <p>Alexei Kara-Murza, in his book <em>The New Barbarism as a Problem of Russian Civilisation</em>, wrote: &ldquo;Russian civilisation was constructed like a &ldquo;military camp&rdquo;, when direct material production (carried out by the labouring classes) was subjugated to a system of distribution of life&rsquo;s necessities to members of the &ldquo;service class&rdquo; (i.e. oprichniks, gendarmes, judges, Interior Ministry officers, mobsters - AK) thus ensuring the defence, leadership and spiritual integration of society&rdquo;. </p> <p>In other words, the fruits of the workingman&rsquo;s labour were taken from him and reallocated. This is what is known as &ldquo;the corporate distribution system&rdquo;. </p> <p>This means that it is not so important what is produced and how it is produced. What is important is how it is distributed. This is what we mean by a barbaric society. So why did the philosopher Sergei Solovyov consider such a society barbaric?</p> <p>In his article <em>The Chickens of Peter the Great</em> (1861) he asked the question: &ldquo;what is a barbaric society and what is a civilised society? What is the essential difference between them?&rdquo; He answered it thus: &ldquo;the defining feature of barbarism is a desire not to do anything, or to do as little as possible, and to live off the fruits of other men&rsquo;s labour, to force others to work for you&rdquo;. </p> <p>In contrast to this society there is another, more highly developed society, where the individual strives to develop useful qualities in himself. </p> <p>Everyone, naturally, would like to know at what point a society moves from barbarism to civilisation. Solovyov&rsquo;s answer is: &ldquo;society moves out of a state of barbarism when it recognises and fosters a need for honest and free labour; a desire to live off one&rsquo;s own labour, and not the labour of others; through labour the individual grows in moral strength and society becomes richer and stronger&rdquo;.</p> <p>This would appear to be an obvious truth, but tell me: have you ever seen the owner of a Russian restaurant working in its kitchens, or a mine owner doing a shift in his own mine? I haven&rsquo;t either. These businessmen usually confine their activity to their traditional role of emptying the till and checking for theft by the staff. What is this, if not barbarism?</p> <p>In Europe, on the contrary, it is common to find business owners working in their own companies, demonstrating what might be called their &ldquo;individual ability&rdquo;.</p><p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Piotr_Struve.jpg" alt="" width="300" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Pyotr Struve was a distinguished Russian philosopher. <br />Once a Marxist, he disliked Russian Communism <br />and joined the White movement after the revolution.</span></p><p>Pyotr Struve, a Marxist and opponent of Lenin, once defined an individual&rsquo;s level of civilisation as the growth of his or her productivity, which he called &ldquo;individual ability&rdquo; in contrast to the barbarism of the &ldquo;parasitic individual&rdquo;. </p> <p>Struve formulated this concept thus: &ldquo;individual ability is the sum total of certain spiritual qualities: moderation, self-possession, conscientiousness, frugality. A society bent on progress can be built only on the concept of individual ability, as the basis and measure of all social relations&rdquo;.</p> <p>The growth of a person&rsquo;s<em> </em>individual ability<em> </em>is therefore<em> </em>a process of moving from barbarism to civilisation, and this principle leads to certain individuals being raised above others who are less active and fosters competition between individuals, which creates the necessary differentiation of society. </p> <p>The desire of the individual to develop his or her own abilities and productivity is a feature of life in Western society, which is based on individualism. The Russian peasant&rsquo;s consciousness, however, has always been community-based. The individual was mercilessly repressed, hence his irresponsibility and tendency to become a parasite. This is the theme of my film Kurochka Ryaba. Many people, watching the film, came to the conclusion that I hated or despised Russia. And my articles often cause the same reaction. But, my friends, all I do is allude to our classics, and remind you of what is written there.</p><p>For example, Vasily Klyuchevsky wrote: &ldquo;Russia has no average talents or run-of-the-mill artists; instead, there are lonely geniuses and millions of useless people. The geniuses cannot achieve anything because they have no apprentices, and there&rsquo;s nothing that can be done with the millions because they have no masters. The first are useless because they are too few; the second helpless because they are too many&rdquo;.</p> <p>Not for the first time are Russia&rsquo;s rulers trying to modernise our people, and achieving nothing. Some mystical obstacles stand in the way of our country&rsquo;s development. It will take much to overcome them, starting at the very least with an understanding of the fact that these are objective problems that no one can ignore. </p><p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/kurochka_ryaba_01_display.jpg" alt="" width="460" />&nbsp; </p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">A scene from Andrei Konchalovsky's 'Kurochka Ryaba',<br />which addresses&nbsp;Russian peasant consciousness.<br /></span></p><p><span class="image-caption"></span>It was precisely the communal Russians&rsquo; tendency towards being parasites that the Bolsheviks exploited to foment hatred of the kulak and the bourgeois with their cry of &ldquo;Rob the Robbers!&rdquo;</p> <p>Struve wrote:<em> &ldquo;</em>the idea of individual ability disappeared completely in the Russian Revolution. It was submerged in the idea of the equality of irresponsible individuals. The idea of individual lack of responsibility is the direct opposite of the idea of individual ability. I demand this or that, whether or not my individual actions can justify this demand&rdquo;.</p> <p>Does this philosophy not sound familiar?</p> <p>&ldquo;The more advanced a society,&rdquo; wrote Sergei Solovyov, &ldquo;the stronger its orientation towards work; the weaker a society, the stronger the desire of its members to live off other people&rsquo;s work.&rdquo; </p> <p>And he continued: &ldquo;our Russia was weak precisely because of this inherent barbaric principle, the principle of inertia that led to the desire to live off others&rsquo; work, and that was in turn maintained by this desire&rdquo;.</p> <p>He went on to say: &ldquo;symptoms of this barbarisation were evident in all aspects of social life: in the woeful condition of the rural population, in the poverty of the cities, in the absence of industry, in the paucity of trade, in the omnipresence of serfdom, in the habit of men of substance to surround themselves with crowds of people to serve their private needs&rdquo;.</p> <p>One could argue that these features are still typical of our society. The lives of Russians today continue to reflect their consciousness. They are still, at heart, the same Russian peasants with the same archaic values, and not just in the villages. </p> <p>The principle, that &ldquo;it is not so important what is produced and how it is produced. What is important is how it is distributed&rdquo; is still current today. And not just in the sticks: all over the country &ldquo;service&rdquo; people aid and abet the bandits who prey on defenceless working people. Everyone knows that there is no way out. Our power structures are hand in glove with the criminal world. What is this but medieval barbarism? </p><blockquote><p>'The lives of Russians today continue to reflect their consciousness. They are still, at heart, the same Russian peasants with the same archaic values, and not just in the villages.'</p></blockquote> <p>This archaic peasant consciousness is the ultimate cause of Russia&rsquo;s weakness and what differentiates it from Europe. In some ways life in Russia over the centuries has more in common with colonial Africa. </p> <p>The socialist writer Sergey Kondulukov analyses this process as follows: &ldquo;the productive power of such capitalist countries as England and France depended to a large, if not principle, extent, on the exploitation of their overseas colonies. For England the chief colony was India; for France it was countries in Africa. The exploitation of these territories was the main source of development of England&rsquo;s and France&rsquo;s productive power. Russia had no such colonies, at any rate in an obvious sense. On the other hand, it had an enormous peasant class. 75 percent of the population of pre-revolutionary Russia were peasants.&rdquo;</p> <p>Kondulukov equates the enormous mass of Russian peasantry exploited by the aristocracy to the African continent exploited by Europe. </p> <p>And certainly Russia could be regarded as a huge continent with a barbaric population consisting of a benighted peasant mass, out of which rose &ldquo;foreign&rdquo; islands of Europeanised civilisation in the shape of aristocrats and officials, for whom the thoughts and emotions of the simple peasant were alien and incomprehensible. </p><p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/German_colonial_lord.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">Some thinkers have suggested that Russia continues<br />to exploit a colony&nbsp;within its own borders &mdash; where <br />the peasantry is the colony&nbsp;and aristocrats and <br />govenment officials &mdash; the colonizers.</span></p><p>Tolstoy, for example, wrote with some pride in his foreword to one version of War and Peace: &ldquo;I could never work out what the watchman was thinking as he stood by his box, or what a market trader was thinking and feeling as he urged passers-by to buy his braces and ties&hellip; and so on. I can no more understand this than I can understand what a cow thinks when she is being milked or a horse when it is transporting a barrel&hellip; I myself belong to the upper classes, to high society, and I love it&rdquo;.</p> <p>Plekhanov noted that: &ldquo;Europeanised Russian &ldquo;society&rdquo; could be likened to a European colony living among barbarians. That would be quite an accurate comparison. But the only way to improve the lot of this foreign colony abandoned amidst Russian barbarians would be to Europeanise the barbarians themselves&rdquo;.</p> <p>Unfortunately, this Europeanisation did not take place, despite the efforts of Peter the Great and his grandson Paul. Kondulukov wrote further: &ldquo;it was the exploitation of the peasant class that allowed the development, first of Russian capitalism, and later, after the October Revolution, of Russian Authoritarian Socialism&rdquo;. </p> <p>And today we have the same social consciousness, the legacy of ancient Rus, the same slave mentality that never received any private property or political independence from the all-powerful sovereign, the Khan-Tsar. </p> <p>Kondulukov, in his book <em>Karl Marx, Achievements and Errors, </em>wrote: &ldquo;Lenin, and later Stalin, in their attempts to build socialism, constantly came up against the Marxian formula &ndash; the life of a society determines its consciousness. They tried to circumvent it&hellip; But people did not have a new social consciousness. They had the same old consciousness, that merely reflected their own way of life and that of the class to which they belonged, and not Marx&rsquo;s theoretical constructs&rdquo;.</p> <p>And now we once again have individual social groups demanding social justice, greater democracy and so on. This revival of political activity has been welcomed by democratically inclined politicians as the emergence of a middle class, as a hopeful sign of activism among the protesters. For all my positive feelings towards the green shoots of a public movement, I feel the need to share with you my doubts about the aims and, especially, the scale, of this phenomenon.</p> <p>What is this middle class: a bourgeoisie, or something else? Is it an economic or a political category? What percentage of the population is accounted for by this group? </p> <p>Yevgeny Yasin wrote in a blog on the Ekho Moskvy radio station&rsquo;s web site of the pleasure he takes in reading statistics about the growth of China&rsquo;s urban demographic.</p> <p>&ldquo;In Russia a similar process of industrialisation took place between 1921 and 1990. Somewhere in the middle of the 1960s the number of city dwellers overtook the rural population. At the end of the Civil War 80 percent of Russians lived in villages. One third of the population moved to towns within 40 years, a gigantic change,&rdquo; he wrote.</p><blockquote><p>'Today we have the same social consciousness, the legacy of ancient Rus, the same slave mentality that never received any private property or political independence from the all-powerful sovereign, the Khan-Tsar.'</p></blockquote> <p>&ldquo;Russia has just been through parliamentary elections in which the majority of voters, three quarters of them from towns and cities, expressed their wish to live in a democratic system that would allow the possibility of a change of government. This has happened twice in the last 20 years, despite the assumption of many &ldquo;thinkers&rdquo; that the peoples of Russia are conditioned by their mind-set to accept subjugation and the sanctification of power. This has turned out to be far from the truth.&rdquo; &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Yasin&rsquo;s ironic attitude to conservative &ldquo;thinkers&rdquo; is understandable, but I would suggest that his optimism about the growth of the middle classes is premature. </p> <p>The expectation from radical democrats that a new middle class is emerging and is capable of taking on the reform of the system, and that this process has begun, is illusory. One only has to look at the figures in the 2011 edition of <em>Russian Society as It Is</em>. </p> <p>Research by the Russian Academy of Sciences&rsquo; Institute of Sociology shows that 59 percent of Russians live in poverty. Russia&rsquo;s middle class, as defined by European standards, comprises a mere six to eight percent of the population. Yasin, and indeed Yulia Latynina, forget that half of this so-called middle class consists of people who work in the public sector and who therefore lack political independence, a defining feature of being middle class.&nbsp; </p> <p>&ldquo;The specific character of the Russian middle class presents a serious problem,&rdquo; wrote the blogger Bog-Odin, &ldquo;since it may determine a lower level of autonomy from the structures of power, and aspects of consciousness and behaviour. This is a defining characteristic of the structural positioning of the middle class in Russia which distinguishes its make-up from that of the middle class in the West.&rdquo;</p><p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/800px-Russia-Suzdal-MWAPL-House_of_Peasant_of_Average_Means-3.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">A change from the peasant routine does not necessarily <br />mean a shift in mentality. Did the people's way of<br />thinking really change as a result of rapid urbanization<br />of the 20th Century in Russia? Photo CC: Alex Zelenko<br /></span></p><p>Yasin claims that only people living off the land have a peasant mentality. It never<em> </em>ceases to amaze me how such an eminent intellectual can believe that when a peasant moves from a village to a city his mind-set changes to that of an urban dweller. </p> <p>As for China, one mustn&rsquo;t forget that the ethical code of the Chinese peasant, with at its centre the continuing importance of care for children and the elderly and the primacy of society over the individual, lies at the core of every social class in Chinese society. This is very different from the enormous gulf between the Russian communal mentality and that of the intellectual or technocrat. &nbsp;</p> <p>Russia&rsquo;s recent history shows that the movement of enormous peasant masses into the cities does not necessarily turn them into city people or citizens. A change in place of residence does not mean a change in mentality; in fact, it may even exacerbate the negative aspects of the peasant mentality. I would like to briefly examine this phenomenon: the emergence of negative traits in the peasant who lives in a city. </p> <p>The city, as a collection of people mostly unknown to one another, is anonymous. The &ldquo;lumpenisation&rdquo; of the Russian peasantry, fleeing en masse from their villages into the cities after the Revolution, introduced the peasant to this previously unknown to him state of anonymity. In the village everyone knew everyone else; no one was a stranger. The wholesale migration to the city of a mass of people whose consciousness had not undergone the education in legal awareness of the centuries-old European town-dweller class, created this unaccustomed state of anonymity for them, and turned them without difficulty into a criminal element that exploited this situation for gain. Criminality does not necessarily manifest itself in violence against people. It may be just a question of using peasant cunning to infringe some rule or another (remember the constant destruction of landowners&rsquo; forests and crops), the breaking of a law, a quick rouble made out of an unknown neighbour or an anonymous state (the famous freeloading!). In short, this was the kind of behaviour that a law-abiding European city dweller would not permit himself. Does this not explain why Russians, in a predominantly peasant country, did not demonstrate this criminal mentality while they lived in villages? </p> <p>In the village, with no anonymity, they always knew who was a thief, who a poacher, who a too merry widow. The new lumpen prole acquired the anonymity of the city. If a Western psychologist were to get inside the head of a Russian, he would be amazed at his subject&rsquo;s motives and actions: the fact that a Russian will happily break any rule and collaborate with criminals, for money or to secure his own safety. Something that seems normal and natural to a Russian may suggest a criminal mentality to a Western mind. And this mentality is characteristic of all Russians, from a lift operator to the President of the Constitutional Court!</p> <p>I am therefore convinced that in the eyes of contemporary European legal science, the Russian mindset is barbarically anachronistic, and, you could say, criminal.</p> <p>Imagine the expression on the face of Elizabeth Gloster, the London High Court Judge, when Roman Abramovich answered the question &ldquo;Why did you not pay tax on your excess profits?&rdquo; by saying &ldquo;It didn&rsquo;t make any sense&rdquo;.</p> <p>To sum up: I would just like to express my hope that a serious study of Russian society as it is today will help the newly-emerging middle class acquire what I would call historical forbearance. <em>&nbsp;</em>&nbsp;</p> <p>I understand impatience, I welcome the wish to act straight away, but let&rsquo;s not forget the tragic consequences that are inevitable when &ldquo;the cork is broken and the wine needs to be drunk&rdquo;. The lives of Lenin and Che Guevara are only too obvious examples of what happens. &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/where-have-all-russias-citizens-gone">Where have all Russia&#039;s citizens gone? </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/russia-land-of-mob">Russia: land of the Mob </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/living-legacy-of-russia%E2%80%99s-slavery">The living legacy of Russia’s slavery</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/update-software-of-russian-soul">Update the software of the Russian soul?</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/awkward-histories-holocaust">Awkward histories: the Holocaust</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/kushchevskaya-crime-and-punishment-in-russian-village">Kushchevskaya: crime and punishment in a Russian village</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/prof-ian-christie/meeting-with-andrei-konchalovsky-part-i">A meeting with Andrei Konchalovsky: Part I</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/prof-ian-christie/meeting-with-andrei-konchalovsky-part-ii">A meeting with Andrei Konchalovsky: Part II </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society Culture Democracy and government Andrei Konchalovsky Internal Cultural politics Wed, 08 Feb 2012 20:57:44 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 64082 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Where have all Russia's citizens gone? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/where-have-all-russias-citizens-gone <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/yedro.jpeg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Russian political observers have been titillated by Medvedev’s announcement that he will not be running for president. But what were they expecting? Andrei Konchalovsky was under no illusions: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="p1">Watching the recent United Russia party congress on television recently was interesting. You got a kind of familiar feeling, exactly like you were watching a Soviet Communist party congress. When you see all That, you understand it&rsquo;s not a question of lies or the truth, but simply the degree of untruth: is it total deception or are there some grains of truth left behind?&nbsp;</p><div><p class="p1">On the other hand, what could you have hoped for from such a congress? What did you want? Debate? Who could be the debators? Just consider a bit &ndash; what kind of a party is this?</p><p class="p1">Our admirable former Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin once said that whatever kind of party you try to establish in Russia, it will always turn out like the Soviet Communist Party. A profound comment, because &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo;, like the Communist Party, is a mirror of the Russian people. Whereas the Communist Party was a mirror of the Soviet people, &lsquo;United Russia&rsquo; mirrors the Russian people of today, a people who are just-getting-ready to modernise. United Russia is the mirror of the nation.</p><p class="p1">And what of the people who actually join the party? In the first instance, we are talking about active Russian citizens who know that in Russia business without proximity to power is an impossibility. Undeniably, that power is to be found in United Russia.&nbsp; I've seen it with my own eyes: people sitting and writing on their knee, filling out application forms to join the party because they've been told that membership will help to advance their business. In my youth I thought the same: as soon as I was 25 I would join the party so as to be able to travel abroad. At that time this was only possible with 'support'. Luckily, I was spared. By the time I was 24 I had realised you actually had to dodge the party and I somehow managed to do that.</p><p class="p1"><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/con2_0.jpeg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="p1"><span class="image-caption">Former Russian PM Chernomyrdin once said: whatever party you try to create, it will always turn out like the Communist Party. In an entirely predicable way, the United Russia party has come to serve as a mirror of the Russian nation. Photo (c) United Russia</span></p><p class="p1">Other active Russian citizens &ndash; by which I mean those who do not want to get closer to Power &ndash; try and do business on their own. And then there is a third group of active citizens who are bitter that that UR is a 'party of thieves and crooks'. For them, it is as if we had another party in Russia united by a serious and profound idea that was worth dying for.</p><p class="p1">That's the active party of society. But what do we actually mean by that? And just how many Russians are active citizens?&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">If you remember back to August 1991, the time of the putsch. Out of a population of 140 million, how many were enthused by the idea of this 'revolution'?&nbsp; Petersburg and Moscow &ndash; that's all.</p><p class="p1">And 1993, when Parliament was being shot at, how many people were defending it?&nbsp; I remember standing on the bridge in front of the White House. There was a crowd of gawpers enthusiastically watching the cannons puffing and people running. But a bit further away from the bridge there was another crowd of people, grumbling and asking when would it be over &mdash; because the trolleybuses had stopped running.</p><p class="p1">Can you imagine something like this happening in Paris or in England?&nbsp; If tanks were firing on the English Parliament the whole nation would come to a stop!&nbsp; In Moscow with its population of 12 million &ndash; just like a sovereign country &ndash; there were perhaps 40-50,000 people swept up by revolutionary fervour. Out of a country of 140 million!</p><p class="p1">So any idea that we might have a party with politically active members building a state is both na&iuml;ve and futile.</p><blockquote><p class="p1">'In 1993, when Parliament was being shot at, how many people were defending it?&nbsp; I remember ... a crowd of gawpers enthusiastically watching the cannons puffing and people running. A bit further away from the bridge there was another crowd of people, grumbling and asking when would it be over &mdash; because the trolleybuses had stopped running'</p></blockquote><p class="p1">Then you hear: 'We don't want Putin!' 'We want someone else!' But who could that be? Some say 'We don't want Putin, we have to get away somewhere else' and I am overcome by despair.&nbsp; Dear friends, exclaiming that you don't want Putin, who do you want?&nbsp; A goodie or a baddie?&nbsp; Or someone to do what?&nbsp; Deal with corruption?&nbsp; Do you really and sincerely believe that Putin is to blame for the corruption that has corroded the whole country?&nbsp; Who is it that is up to the neck in corruption? Have they emerged out of nowhere?&nbsp; It's those same Russians. By the same score you also have to ask yourself why the Russians in government organisations are so successfully engaged in gangsterism and protection rackets while everyone else wants to get the hell out of Russia.</p><p class="p1">The point is there are no&nbsp;<strong>citizens</strong>&nbsp;in Russia.&nbsp; What we have is a&nbsp;<strong>population</strong>. I wrote about this recently in my&nbsp;<a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/russia-land-of-mob">article</a>&nbsp;on openDemocracy 'Russia: land of the Mob.'&nbsp; Victor Loshak, the editor-in-chief of the political magazine&nbsp;<em>Ogonyok&nbsp;</em>&nbsp;recently wrote 'the authorities behave in this way because society itself has abdicated responsibility'.&nbsp;</p><p class="p1">When did society do this?&nbsp; Tell me, when exactly?</p><p class="p1">Let me answer my own question: in the 10th century. The philosopher Vladimir Kantor has written very eloquently on this subject: Russian culture has the habit of voluntarily delegating all power to one person, then expecting this person to do everything right.&nbsp; This has been going on since the 10th century, and still is.</p><p class="p1">I'm trying to get my head round where Russian citizens are. Take <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/12/world/europe/12russia.html">Kushchevskaya</a>&nbsp;&ndash; where were those people? There just wasn't anyone to stop the Mob from raping and murdering people. The screams could be heard in the street, but no one came out, no one got involved. Now no one will give evidence because they are still afraid &ndash; the investigators will go back to Moscow, but the horror will remain there.</p><p class="p1">In that sense, a governor visited by the mob with machine guns can't run out into the street and shout for help because he's being pressurised and corrupted. No one would come to his help, because they're the<strong> population</strong>, not&nbsp;<strong>citizens</strong>.</p><p class="p1">We have no idea how long this will continue, or I don't at any rate. So it's no good thinking that some other politician should to come to power, neither Putin nor Medvedev, but someone else who will do everything right. He won't do anything either. One could, of course, sack everyone in office at the moment and appoint new people &ndash; but they will just be the same kind of people.</p><p class="p1">Who is to blame?&nbsp; Anton Chekhov said 'We are all guilty, you and me, which means NO ONE &hellip;.'</p></div><p>&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/vladimir_putin_for_ever">Vladimir Putin forever</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/globalization-institutions_government/putin_4025.jsp">Vladimir Putin, &quot;Soviet man&quot; who missed class</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/putin-medvedev-russias-managed-drama">Putin-Medvedev: Russia&#039;s managed drama</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/russia-land-of-mob">Russia: land of the Mob </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/kushchevskaya-crime-and-punishment-in-russian-village">Kushchevskaya: crime and punishment in a Russian village</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/anna-sevortian/many-problems-but-one-purpose-human-rights-in-russia">Many problems, but one purpose: human rights in Russia</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Andrei Konchalovsky Whistles and tears: Russia's year of elections Politics Internal Cultural politics Thu, 27 Oct 2011 17:00:26 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 62315 at https://www.opendemocracy.net The living legacy of Russia’s slavery https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/living-legacy-of-russia%E2%80%99s-slavery <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/krestyane-pomeshiki_0.jpg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Russian society has never learnt what it is to feel responsibility for anything. Serfdom was abolished 150 years ago, engendering feelings of panic in many of the ‘liberated’ peasants. Ivan Karamazov uses the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor to demonstrate that it’s easier when there is no freedom and decisions are taken higher up the vertical of power. Slavery too is a vertical, says Andrei Konchalovsky.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><em><strong>&ldquo;Cursed be those who express our thoughts before us!&rdquo;</strong></em></p> <p><em><strong>(Aelius Donatus, Roman grammarian and teacher of rhetoric)</strong></em></p> <p>Donatus, living in ancient Rome, was fortunate &ndash; he wanted to be the first to express a seditious thought. If I, living in today&rsquo;s Russia, wish to express an opinion that someone might find offensive, I need to attribute it to some recognised authority, ideally an eminent Russian thinker. Otherwise I will be accused of every sin in general, and of hatred of everything Russian in particular.</p> <p>So, here are my thoughts.</p> <p>&ldquo;I am particularly suspicious, particularly distrustful of a Russian in power &ndash; a recent slave himself, he becomes the most unbridled despot as soon as he is given any authority over his neighbour. &ldquo;&nbsp; Thus wrote Maxim Gorky in his <a href="http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300060690">&lsquo;Untimely Thoughts&rsquo;</a> ninety years ago, but just as timely today.</p> <p>We encounter despots on an hourly basis &ndash; the doorman demanding to see your pass; the woman in the ID card office asking for extra documents; the customs officer going through your luggage &ndash; at such moments you have a clammy sensation of terror and humiliation &ndash; another symptom of slavery. In Gorky&rsquo;s words, we are recent slaves who, having cast off &ldquo;our outward slavery, continue to feel ourselves slaves within&rdquo;. This is how we should understand Chekhov&rsquo;s remark that we must &ldquo;squeeze the slave out of us drop by drop&rdquo;. And that is not easy.</p> <p><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/krestyane-pomeshiki_0.jpg" alt="Serfs_slaves" width="400" /></p> <p><span class="image-caption">Serfdom in Russia lasted much longer than slavery in other European countries. Slavery in Russia was an important institution, but in 1723 Peter the Great ordained that household slaves should become house serfs. Until the Emancipation in 1861, at least half of Russia&rsquo;s population were serfs.</span></p> <p>"Truth&rdquo;, to quote Gorky again, &ldquo;in its &lsquo;honest&rsquo; form, untainted by the interests of individuals, groups, classes or nations &hellip;. is highly inconvenient to the man in the street and therefore unacceptable to him. This is the damned annoying thing about &lsquo;honest truth&rsquo;, but it is still the kind of truth we need most&rdquo;. So, let&rsquo;s talk honestly about &nbsp;us &ndash; Russians.&nbsp;</p> <p>When analysing the Russian character, we can undoubtedly count among its positive elements sensitivity, kindness and hospitableness, quick wittedness, sympathy and compassion, as well as a capacity for self-sacrifice and altruism. Its main negative features, on the other hand, are inconsistency and low self-esteem, cruelty, lack of belief in oneself and one&rsquo;s future, indifference to one&rsquo;s present, lack of interest in, and respect for, property. The Russian religious philosopher <a href="http://www.berdyaev.com/">Nikolai Berdyaev</a> discussed this in his 1915 article &lsquo;The Psychology of the Russian People. The Soul of Russia&rsquo;, where he wrote, &ldquo;Russia is a country of unbelievable servility and terrible humility, a country lacking any consciousness of the rights of the individual, and which fails to stand up for the dignity of the individual&hellip;&rdquo; Is it hard to read this? It certainly is. But there it is - the honest truth.</p> <blockquote> <p><em>"We encounter despots on an hourly basis &ndash; the doorman demanding to see your pass; the woman in the ID card office asking for extra documents; the customs officer going through your luggage &ndash; at such moments you have a clammy sensation of terror and humiliation &ndash; another symptom of slavery." </em></p></blockquote> <p>Where did this aspect of the Russian character come from? I think a lot of it can be explained by our history, in which slavery, in the form of serfdom, survived until the middle of the 19th century. Serfdom existed in Russia until later than anywhere else, and was <a href="http://www.historytoday.com/michael-lynch/emancipation-russian-serfs-1861-charter-freedom-or-act-betrayal">abolished a mere 150 years ago</a>, whereas in most Western countries it ceased to exist several hundred years earlier, in the 12th-14th centuries. In Europe such concepts as civil society and economic relations as the basis of life, with the concomitant organisation of production, are also several centuries old. We need to admit that Russia lags several centuries behind Western Europe.</p> <p>The abolition of serfdom led to widespread misery and disaster. The peasants may have been granted personal freedom, but they received no land outright, and had to pay the landlord to redeem it or work out an obligation to their landlord to have the use of it. They had expected their liberty and land, but their expectations were cruelly dashed. The government of the day delayed the publication of the Emancipation Manifesto signed by the Tsar until they had redeployed troops around the country. In the Kazan and Penza districts gunfire was used to disperse angry peasant crowds. The clandestine organisation &lsquo;Land and Liberty&rsquo; was founded in 1876 to spread discontent with the reforms among the peasants and provoke social unrest, and the government responded with renewed force. It was only five years after the abolition of serfdom that the terrorist <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dmitry_Karakozov">Karakozov</a> made an attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander II.</p> <p>Firs, the old servant in Chekhov&rsquo;s &lsquo;Cherry Orchard&rsquo;, says that all these troubles began with the Emancipation: &ldquo;The peasants had their masters, the masters their peasants, and now everything&rsquo;s all over the place, there&rsquo;s no sense any more.&rdquo; Emancipation aroused feelings of panic among the peasants, who were left without anywhere to turn for their social needs. Their landlord may have been a despot to them, but he also provided for their basic needs from cradle to grave. Over time this system had inevitably become, if not a tradition, at least a way of life. To quote Gorky again, &ldquo;The conditions in which they [the Russian people &ndash; AK] lived could foster neither respect for the individual, nor any concept of civil rights, nor a feeling for justice &ndash; they lived without any rights, under total oppression, shamelessly lied to and subject to bestial cruelty. One can only be amazed that after all that the people retained a degree of human emotion and a certain amount of common sense.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p>Chekhov&rsquo;s phrase about &ldquo;squeezing the slave out of us drop by drop&rdquo; says a lot. Not about the author&rsquo;s own serf background, but about the fact that Russians have an inbuilt tendency to defer to people in power. Consider me, for example &ndash; I have written about this before. As you walk through the Kremlin&rsquo;s corridors of power, the higher the official you meet, the &lsquo;lower&rsquo; you become. I get to then Prime Minister Kosygin&rsquo;s office, and &hellip;can&rsquo;t even touch the door handle.&nbsp; As French writer Pierre Beauchamp wrote, &ldquo;Palace doors are not as tall as people think. The only way to get through them is to bow low.&rdquo;&nbsp;</p> <p><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/orthodox_mass_0.jpg" alt="Orthodox_mass" width="400" /></p> <p><span class="image-caption">Orthodox churches have no benches and the faithful stand or kneel throughout the mass, which may last for hours. Is this one of the reasons why the Russians idolize power? (photo: pravoslavie.ru)</span></p> <p>This is a typical Russian thing &ndash; reverence towards the bosses. You need to constantly &lsquo;squeeze&rsquo; this inherited Byzantine trait out of yourself &ndash; this residual feeling of obsequiousness, cringing, fawning and servility. You smile particularly widely at a VIP &ndash; it&rsquo;s terrible, but there it is. If, on the other hand, someone is not, or not yet, a VIP, you can be as rude to them as you like, and even spit contemptuously in their direction after they pass. As Saltykov-Schedrin remarked, &ldquo;We have no middle way &ndash; we either kiss someone&rsquo;s hand or slap their face&rdquo;.</p> <p>Slavery is a vertical, a continuation of &lsquo;Byzantine excesses&rsquo;. For us Orthodox, God is above us, and we won&rsquo;t sit in church &ndash; we either stand or kneel. And we see the earthly powers-that-be also as having their place on that vertical, between the individual and God. That is why a Russian idolises power, and a Swede, for example, not. Catholic churches have pews, and it seems to me that if you can sit, and your legs don&rsquo;t go numb, then you can direct all your thoughts towards prayer, and not just long for the service to end. For Protestants, God is on a horizontal; that is why you can sit with him at a Communion table.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote> <p>"The lack of a sense of responsibility that is characteristic of Russians is perhaps the most terrible legacy of slavery."</p></blockquote> <p>Nikolai Berdyaev said that &ldquo;freedom is difficult, slavery easy&rdquo;. Indeed, being a &lsquo;slave&rsquo; is very convenient: the boss takes all the decisions, &ldquo;and I won&rsquo;t lift a finger until someone tells me to&rdquo;. The lack of a sense of responsibility that is characteristic of Russians is perhaps the most terrible legacy of slavery. A lack of responsibility to your country, the society of which you are a member, even your own parents and children!&nbsp; And without a sense of responsibility there can be no sense of guilt. To quote Berdyaev again, &ldquo;A feeling of guilt is the feeling of a master&rdquo;. And this is why it is naive to call for a collective national act of repentance for the evils of Bolshevism.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe that the sense of historical guilt for Nazism shown by the German people demonstrates that this is a nation capable of taking responsibility for those tragic years when it took a <strong>conscious</strong> decision that resulted in monstrous acts of evil against humanity. We, on the other hand, do not suffer from a sense of historical guilt &ndash; we are convinced that Bolshevism was imposed on us, hammered into our souls, and that we are not responsible for anything &ndash; it is &lsquo;THEY&rsquo; who are responsible! And how many more centuries will this continue?</p><div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society russia & eurasia russia Andrei Konchalovsky Religion Internal History Fri, 09 Sep 2011 12:14:59 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 61325 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Gorbachev: the wrong man for Andropov’s reforms https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/gorbachev-wrong-man-for-andropov%E2%80%99s-reforms <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/for%20standfirst_0.jpeg" alt="" width="160" align="right" />Gorbachev is hailed for doing away with Soviet totalitarianism, yet his predecessor Andropov was the man actually responsible for preparing liberal reform some twenty years earlier. With Gorbachev hopelessly unaware of the forces he was unleashing, failure was inevitable, argues Andrei Konchalovsky</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>The title of this article may come as a great surprise to anyone who is not a student of late Soviet history.&nbsp;For many of my fellow countrymen (not to mention most foreigners), the name of Yury Andropov is firmly associated with the sinister abbreviation K-G-B.&nbsp;Yet what I write here is from the perspective of a witness (much of what I will say has also appeared in various source materials, particularly in Gorbachev&rsquo;s own memoirs). Willing or unwilling, I observed an evolution in the Soviet political system, including in that grim and secretive organisation. And Yury Andropov, not Mikhail Gorbachev, was instrumental in bringing that evolution about.</p> <h3><strong>The roots of liberal reform</strong></h3> <p>Right from the death of Stalin, there were what I would call tectonic shifts in the structure of the party elite. Stalinists were desperately trying to cling on to power, and were busy&nbsp; defending the criminal system, responsible as they were for the crimes of the Stalinist regime. Other, more pragmatic people &mdash; not necessarily young, for there were young defenders of Stalin too &mdash; understood that the Stalinist method of ruling the country restricted the development of society. Few of these &ldquo;reformers&rdquo; would have given much thought to the idea of a liberal government or to &ldquo;equality of rights&rdquo; &ndash; the fig-leaf slogan the Soviet authorities had always hidden behind.&nbsp;For them, it was more a question of modernising society: an issue which had arisen in Stalin's time but which was not able to be properly developed until 1956, when Krushchev made his <a href="http://www.soviethistory.org/index.php?page=subject&amp;SubjectID=1956secret&amp;Year=1956">famous speech</a> at the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR (CPSU).</p> <p class="image-left"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Khrushchev%20speech_0.jpeg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-left"><span class="image-caption">Some suggest Khruschev&rsquo;s &ldquo;secret&rdquo; speech in 1956, in which<br />he denounced Stalin, was actually a&nbsp;counter-attack designed &nbsp;<br />to protect himself and colleagues from history.</span></p> <p>Krushchev's move has been interpreted in various ways. People in the know at the time, however, were quite clear that his attack on Stalinism was dictated less by a desire to liberalise, more by an attempt to save part of the party elite that had realised their time was up and they would soon be called to account for their actions.&nbsp; Krushchev said as much in an unpublished part of his speech: &ldquo;If we don't do this, we shall be swept away and end up in the dock ourselves&rdquo;, he said. He didn't even attempt to keep his intentions secret.</p> <p>From that moment the battle between the Soviet &ldquo;conservatives&rdquo; and &ldquo;liberals&rdquo; became ever fiercer.&nbsp; The first victim was Beria.&nbsp; Rumours circulating at the time suggested that if Khrushchev hadn't had Beria shot, then Beria would have meted out the same punishment to him: Beria was supposedly planning to embark on reforms under the guise of a campaign against the cult of personality, but this time with Khrushchev's group. Other more complex versions have it that Beria planned to dismantle the whole socialist system.&nbsp; Everyone knows he was a great lover of life and a sybarite, so it would have been hardly surprising if he had been tempted to become a dictator of the &ldquo;Latin American&rdquo; type.</p> <p>Khrushchev's next victim was the group of so-called Stalinists &ndash; Molotov, Malenkov and Shepilov.&nbsp; After that the battle raged unabated.&nbsp; The confrontation within the party between the &ldquo;liberals&rdquo; and the &ldquo;conservatives&rdquo; was particularly intense in the fields of economics and ideology.&nbsp; The Soviet system was so rigid and unbending, virtually moribund, that it became ever more difficult to develop the Military Industrial Complex, let alone the well-being of the people.</p> <h3><strong>The democratic interregnum</strong></h3> <p>Paradoxically, however, there was a kind of democracy flourishing in the USSR, and that was inside the narrow circle of Politburo members &mdash; the governing body of the Central Committee (CC).&nbsp;All Politburo meetings were strictly secret, but the archives reveal that there were fairly heated discussions and confrontations between opposing points of view.&nbsp;No one was subsequently held responsible, or punished: people simply said what they thought. These Politburo discussions sometimes got as far as the CC itself, if it was necessary to publicise a new tendency.&nbsp;</p> <p>The next period of tension between the so-called liberals and conservatives blew up at the beginning of the 1960s.&nbsp;In the corridors of Dom Kino [the building at the centre of the film industry], I remember, there were intense discussions of the rumours about ideological debates going on inside the Kremlin.&nbsp;The new ideological head of the Party, Demichev, attempted to loosen control over literature and art, but this provoked a violent reaction from officials in the Soviet republics.&nbsp;Everyone was discussing the news that the Georgian Ideology Secretary had leapt on to the stage and shouted &ldquo;I was a Stalinist and I still am!&nbsp;We will not permit the Party to be deprived of its leading ideological role!&rdquo;&nbsp;A direct challenge to the Politburo!&nbsp; Clearly these were no longer Stalinist times, when disagreement with the proposed party course meant instant death.&nbsp;But it was a sign that no reforms would get through without difficulty and that the party bosses were not afraid to protect their own interests.</p> <blockquote><p><strong><em>Meeting Andropov&rsquo;s advisors was a complete revelation, because they were young, free-thinking, educated, polyglot intellectuals.&nbsp; The freedom of thought enjoyed during our discussions at the dinner table made me think that Andropov was different from those that had gone before him.</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p>In 1957, Yuri Andropov was head of the CC international department under Khrushchev.&nbsp; He was then appointed Secretary to the Central Committee, in charge of interparty relations within the Soviet Bloc.&nbsp; I remember the time very well: <a href="http://people.ucalgary.ca/%7Etstronds/nostalghia.com/index.html">Andrei Tarkovsky</a> and I were friends with some young people who were working in Andropov's foreign policy consultancy group in the CC administration.&nbsp; There was Kolya Shishlin, Sasha Bovin, Zhora Shakhnazarov, Arbatov&hellip;. Andropov had employed them so as to inject some flexibility into the work of the all-powerful but cumbersome party apparatus.&nbsp;For Tarkovsky and me, meeting these people was a complete revelation, because they were young, free-thinking, educated, polyglot intellectuals.&nbsp;The freedom of thought that we enjoyed during our discussions at the dinner table &mdash; over lots of vodka &mdash; made me think that Andropov was different from those that had gone before him.&nbsp;If the likes of these people were his consultants, it indicated a wide-ranging world view, which didn't fit neatly into the dogma of the official elite.&nbsp;</p> <p>I should add that both Bovin and Shishlin, as well as other like-minded people in the department, were also responsible for writing the Secretary General's speeches. They told me that they always tried to see the text last, just before it was put in front of Brezhnev, and each time they checked to see that their paragraph condemning the cult of personality had not been taken out.&nbsp;The Stalinists working in the editorial section never failed to remove any negative references to Stalin or to the cult of personality.&nbsp; Every time, Andropov's people would promptly put the offending paragraph back into the text and &ldquo;guard&rdquo; it until it was time for the speech. This was a legitimate way of putting their anti-Stalinist ideas into action.</p> <p>As far as I can see, Andropov symbolised a wing of the Soviet &ldquo;liberals&rdquo;, to a certain extent anti-Stalinists, though of course he never revealed this publicly.&nbsp;He was interested in European communism, which was natural, as he had always had dealings with Western communists.&nbsp;At the time, Western Marxism was moving actively in the direction of revising Stalinist dogma.</p> <p>This long preamble is motivated by a wish to remind readers that the ideas of liberalisation and reform began not just anywhere, but from the heart of the Central Committee, and were implemented by people I knew.</p> <h3><strong>A false start</strong></h3> <p>In the middle of the 1960s, and under constant pressure from the liberal wing, the party signed itself up to <a href="http://www.joeinvestoronline.com/library/1965-Soviet-economic-reform.php">economic reform</a>. Prime Minister Kosygin was charged with putting the reform into effect.&nbsp;Kosygin was an economist and was quite unenthusiastic about the reforms, knowing the resistance this liberalisation would provoke among the Stalinists.&nbsp; Understandably, for at that time the party had the monopoly of hearts, minds and the subsoil &ndash; in short, the riches of the whole country.&nbsp;The party elite had unlimited control over everything that was produced at that time in the Soviet Union, so any liberalisation would deprive the communists of their monopolistic privileges.</p> <blockquote><p><strong><em>I remember meeting my friend Kolya Shishlin as he was returning from talks between the leaders of the Communist Parties of Czechoslovakia and the USSR.&nbsp; He came towards me with a tragic face.&nbsp;&ldquo;It's all over&rdquo;, he said.&nbsp;&ldquo;We spent 10 years 'creeping up' on the enemy (Stalinist) trenches and that idiot (Dubcek) got up and 'ran for it', giving us all away.&nbsp;We&rsquo;ll have to forget about reforms for another 20 years.&rdquo;</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p>The reforms and all the liberalising tendencies came to a tragic end, however, for Alexander Dubcek, Czechoslovakia's communist leader, sensed an opportunity and decided to get in first.&nbsp; His <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/august/21/newsid_2781000/2781867.stm">Prague Spring (1968)</a> set in motion an active programme to reform state organisations and the party.&nbsp; Dubcek's project to decentralise the economy was christened &ldquo;socialism with a human face&rdquo;.&nbsp; We watched what was happening in Prague with amazement and delight, in sharp contrast to my friends in the Central Committee, who were afraid that it could all come badly unstuck.&nbsp; Which, in the end, is exactly what happened.&nbsp; The Soviet Stalinists, exploiting the rapid growth of anti-Soviet attitudes in Czechoslovakia, sent in the tanks and immediately put paid to all reforms in the USSR.&nbsp; The reason given was that reforms could result in a similar catastrophe: the turning of the Soviet people against the whole totalitarian system.</p> <p>I remember meeting my friend Kolya Shishlin at the airport.&nbsp; He was returning from talks between the leaders of the Communist Parties of Czechoslovakia and the USSR.&nbsp; He came towards me with a tragic expression on his face.&nbsp;&ldquo;It's all over&rdquo;, he said.&nbsp;&ldquo;We spent 10 years 'creeping up' on the enemy (Stalinist) trenches and that idiot got up and 'ran for it', giving us all away.&nbsp;Our generation won&rsquo;t be able to carry out reforms now: we&rsquo;ll have to forget about them for another 20 years.&rdquo;</p> <p>Wise Kolya turned out to be absolutely right.&nbsp;It was 20 years later, in the middle of the 1980s, that the idea of progress dawned again, when Mikhail Gorbachev appeared on the scene as a reformer. He had been transferred to Moscow at the end of the 70s under the direct protection of Andropov, who often took his holidays in the south, where he had treatment for his kidneys and where Gorbachev was First Secretary of the Stavropol Regional Committee of the CPSU.&nbsp;Andropov took a shine to him and introduced him to Brezhnev, who also liked the young, educated, modern party activist.&nbsp;This was how Gorbachev came to Moscow in 1978 as CC Secretary of Agriculture.</p> <h3><strong>Andropov&rsquo;s legacy</strong></h3> <p>The idea of reform and liberalisation was entirely Andropov&rsquo;s.&nbsp;As head of the KGB, he was better informed than anyone else about the catastrophic economic situation in the USSR.&nbsp;When he became head of state, he was able to start putting into effect the plan he had been hatching for a long time.&nbsp; I don't think Andropov completely trusted Gorbachev.&nbsp;He, Andropov, belonged to the older generation and was not intending to dismantle the system; the maximum he was prepared to consider was that a new type of person should be able to rule the country.</p> <p>In many ways <a href="http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2964779.stm">Heydar Aliyev</a> was Andropov's more obvious successor and student. It was Aliyev that Andropov counselled to embark on reforms in his country, Azerbaijan, without worrying about the Soviet leadership.&nbsp; He also recommended to Aliyev that he should study the Hungarian economy and visit Hungary more often. There, economic reforms were in full swing after the 1958 uprising and there were even private companies, something quite unimaginable in the USSR.</p> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/aliyev2.png" alt="" width="400" /></p><p><em><span class="image-caption">Strongman Heydar Aliyev was arguably Andropov&rsquo;s more obvious (some say preferred) successor.</span></em></p> <p>Andropov rang Aliyev and invited him to Moscow as First Deputy Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers (Sovmin), which was an important economic post.&nbsp;To my mind this offer of an All-Union [central] position meant significantly more than we can imagine.</p> <p>Perhaps Andropov realised Gorbachev did not have the required authority to introduce reforms in the empire that was the USSR. Perhaps he understood what was needed was a politician of a different calibre.&nbsp; I've heard many times from friends of Aliyev that the terminally ill Andropov was torn with uncertainty over whom he should appoint as his successor.&nbsp; Many thought it might be Aliyev who would become the head of this great state.&nbsp; But Aliyev himself realised the impossibility of this for a non-Russian.&nbsp; After Stalin, the Russian people would not have wanted to see an Azeri from an Islamic republic as their head of state.</p> <p>Thus there were two fairly strong political figures in the CC Politburo when Andropov left the scene:&nbsp; Heydar Aliyev, believer in a strong state and national hero of Azerbaijan; and Mikhail Gorbachev, young and raring to go out and make historic changes.&nbsp;Gorbachev denies that he did everything to ensure Aliyev was not part of a possible leadership battle. At the same time, Heydar Aliyev told me himself that when he had a heart attack in 1987, Gorbachev failed to visit him in hospital, and even ignored repeated requests to meet once he had recovered. This belied the fact that Aliyev had been one of Andropov's closest disciples and had many times spoken out in favour of Gorbachev.&nbsp;The battle between these two powerful figures ended when Gorbachev achieved supreme power, while Aliyev was left under a cloud and forced to retire from the scene.</p> <blockquote><p><strong><em>Gorbachev didn&rsquo;t expect the course that events took, and for most of his time in power he was completely lost. The simple reason is that he didn't have (nor could he have had!) any real political experience which would have enabled him to perceive the results of his historical actions.</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p>As a &ldquo;new man&rdquo;,&nbsp; Gorbachev (who was born in 1931) probably thought he could free the Soviet system from all its economic and ideological encumbrances. He probably hoped that this would guarantee unprecedented economic growth and inspire the people to new heights of achievement in the field of labour and so on.&nbsp;But it didn't happen.&nbsp;What happened was exactly the opposite.&nbsp;</p> <h3><strong>The novice leader</strong></h3> <p>Gorbachev certainly didn&rsquo;t expect the course that events took, and for most of his time in power he was completely lost. The simple reason is that he didn't have (nor could he have done!) any real political experience which would have enabled him to perceive the results of his actions.&nbsp;It's unlikely that he could have imagined dismantling the system without being buried in the resulting wreckage.&nbsp;His lack of experience, education and intellectual potential meant that he had no idea of what was needed to embark on such a grandiose plan.&nbsp;Of course, it's easy for us to say this now. Back then, few people had any understanding of how complicated everything was &ndash; the one passionate desire was to destroy everything &ldquo;quickly and for ever&rdquo;.&nbsp;</p> <blockquote><p><strong><em>Glasnost [openness] was not Gorbachev's invention: there was already a crying need for it.&nbsp;Likewise, the system no longer operated by itself, so it had to be changed in some way, which is what Gorbachev called perestroika.</em></strong></p></blockquote> <p>I myself was in America at the time and I remember listening to Gorbachev's speeches with such enthusiasm that my delight brought tears to my eyes. I started living in expectation of different times: dreaming about how Leningrad would once more become St Petersburg and the bells would once more ring in St Isaac's Cathedral, as they had before the Revolution.&nbsp; I know that I had enormous hopes of Mikhail Sergeevich, and I think all my generation were the same. And a great deal of what he did for the country and for the world deserves a positive historical assessment &mdash; these was his achievements and no one else&rsquo;s. At the same time he should never have forget Lenin&rsquo;s sage words: that you must know where the crowd is going and be ahead of it. In other words, you have to forsee the currents of history and be in time to exploit them. Gorbachev failed on both counts.</p> <p>By the time Gorbachev came to power, the Soviet Union's economy was in ruins and the country was on the edge of total bankruptcy.&nbsp; I remember reading one of Kissinger&rsquo;s articles where he argued the socialist system was destined to collapse since there was no free access to information within the Soviet Union, and development of the military-industrial complex is impossible without it. It was indeed absolutely true that there could not have been a free access to information in the Soviet Union at that time, since that would have threatened the whole system.</p> <p>In other words, <em>glasnost</em> [openness] was not Gorbachev's invention: there was already a crying need for it.&nbsp;Likewise, the system no longer operated by itself, so it had to be changed in some way, which is what Gorbachev called <em>perestroika</em>.&nbsp;Perestroika began very promisingly, but almost immediately the cracks appeared, and these eventually brought Gorbachev to his political demise.</p> <p>The Gorbachev reforms took no account of the mentality of party officials.&nbsp; Most of these people were Russians: some 8-10,000 individuals who represented the nucleus of the party across the whole country.&nbsp;They would certainly not have been happy about losing their economic privileges. Economic reforms without wresting control of the economy from the party were therefore simply an impossibility. Whatever reform Gorbachev undertook &ndash; the party always blocked his way forward.&nbsp;His assumption that liberal reforms would bring democracy to the country were na&iuml;ve and that was his fatal mistake.</p> <p class="image-right"><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Stolypin_0.jpeg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="image-right"><span class="image-caption">The great statesman Pyotr Stolypin was sure of one&nbsp;<br />thing: liberal reforms are only possible in Russia&nbsp;if you <br />first toughen the system, and are in control over&nbsp;society.</span></p> <p>Gorbachev would probably not have known the wise words of the outstanding Russian prime minister<span> <a href="http://www.day.kiev.ua/309493">Pyotr Stolypin</a></span>, but perhaps it is worth repeating them here: &ldquo;in Russia liberal reforms can only be possible if the regime first clamps down, because for a Russian any relaxation in the system represents weakness&rdquo;. To wrest control of the economy from the party, it was essential to strengthen the control of both the party and the state.&nbsp;Gorbachev didn't do this, though I think that the wiser Aliyev would have done.&nbsp;For Gorbachev, it was exactly as Stolypin: neither popular nor understood, and rejected by his own people as a &ldquo;man of no guts&rdquo;, &ldquo;hiding behind his wife's skirts&rdquo;.</p> <p>In failing to to establish any control over society and within the party, Gorbachev allowed it to splinter into factions over which he no longer had any say.&nbsp;This gave rise to strong groups, and in particular to the Yeltsin bloc.</p> <p>Gorbachev's greatness is not that he was a strong politician or a visionary, but that he was at the helm of government at that unique moment when internal and external forces created a gigantic tsunami wave in the Soviet Union:&nbsp; first it lifted him up, then it cast him down.&nbsp;He will, of course, go down in history as the opposite: a strong politician who liberated the Soviet Union from totalitarianism, and as the man who brought down the Berlin Wall (which, incidentally, he neither expected, wanted, or had any control over).&nbsp;</p> <p>I shall never forget Gorbachev's bewildered expression as he protested indignantly on TV: &ldquo;Can you believe it?&nbsp; Yeltsin came into my study with someone I can&rsquo;t remember.... and they drank all my brandy!&rdquo;</p> <p>Or did I dream it?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><em>* This article was amended on 31 March in view of an error. Kadar's economic reforms in Hungary did not institute private banks, as was suggested in the original article: the new policy concerned only private enterprise.&nbsp;</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/archie-brown/gorbachev-at-eighty-evaluating-his-achievements">Gorbachev at eighty: evaluating his achievements</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/lilia-shevtsova/gorbachev-history-will-be-fairer-judge">Gorbachev: history will be a fairer judge</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/tatyana_zaslavskaya_s_moment">Tatyana Zaslavskaya’s moment</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/people/article_1945.jsp">Reagan: a savvy realist</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/openrussia/forward-mr-president">Forward, Mr President!</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> <div class="field-item even"> International politics </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Democracy and government International politics Andrei Konchalovsky USSR - 20 USSR-20 Politics History Security in Europe Militarisation Wed, 30 Mar 2011 16:23:17 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 58757 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Awkward histories: the Holocaust https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/awkward-histories-holocaust <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Andrei-Konchalovskiy-crop.jpg" width="160" align="right" />Whether in Russia or beyond, moves to rewrite awkward histories are always done with evil intent. When it is done in relation to genocide, it is doubly offensive. Andrei Konchalovsky reflects on last month's Holocaust Memorial Day <br /><br /> </div> </div> </div> <p>Writing in <em>The Origin and Goal of History</em> (1949), the German philosopher <a href="http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/jaspers/">Karl Jaspers</a> said: &ldquo;We cannot allow the horrors of the past to be consigned to oblivion. We have to keep them in the forefront of the public mind. We have seen that the events of the past were possible and this possibility has not gone away. Only knowledge can prevent it happening again. The danger is that people do not want to know: they try to forget it happened at all.&rdquo;</p> <p>The desire to forget &ldquo;awkward&rdquo; truths is still in evidence among those who try to rewrite history, which they always do with evil intent. One of the most horrendous examples is the attempt to deny the most heinous crime mankind has ever committed &ndash; the Holocaust.</p> <p>Man is given to cherishing the illusion that he can create an ideal world. The twentieth century was full of these illusions and they all ended in ruins. But the most horrific illusion of the twentieth century was the Nazi desire to build a perfect world by excluding individual nations. Jaspers' thought is extremely important, for it would be na&iuml;ve to think that mankind cannot once more retreat into barbarity.</p> <p><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Holocaust.jpg" alt="" width="150" /></p> <blockquote><p><strong>"The Holocaust was not relative in magnitude. It's an absolute magnitude, as is that sense of guilt we should all feel, preserving this terrible crime for ever in the human memory"&nbsp;</strong></p> <p class="image-caption">Andrei Konchalovsky</p></blockquote> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The eminent English philosopher <a href="http://www.newstatesman.com/199904090020">John Gray</a> once expressed an idea that might make many today uncomfortable. His assertion was that progress, as a concept, exists only in science. Science is a gathering, an accumulation of facts, but there is no such thing as progress in the field of the ethics of human relationships, because ethics is not accumulative. Just think how many of the great works &mdash; from the Tora, Koran, Bhagavad-gita and the Bible, not to mention the marvellous works of art &mdash; were written to assert simple truths common for all, one of which is that human life is priceless.</p> <p><a href="http://shestov.by.ru/sar/gershenzon.html">Mikhail Gershenzon</a>, the illustrious Russian historian and philosopher writing at the turn of the twentieth century, said that &ldquo;We educated people know so much about God's truth that one thousandth of what we know would be enough to make us saints. But it is well known that knowing the truth and living by it are different things&rdquo;. Human morality has not changed in the last three thousand years, so on more than one occasion we have seen the considerable achievements of a civilisation destroyed during the life of just one generation. A period of highly-developed civilisation has often been succeeded by a period of barbarity. What is significant here is that archaic barbarity recedes gradually, but it is replaced by a new, modern barbarity, which proves that in a very short space of time man can descend to the level of animals and brutishness. One doesn't have to be incarcerated in, say, Abu Ghraib. It's enough to be a guard or a supervising officer there.&nbsp; We are all familiar with unfortunate confirmations of this uncomfortable thought.&nbsp;</p> <p>As an idea of destroying a chosen ethnic group, the Holocaust remains with us to this day. It is even now being played out in various parts of our planet, which is why it is so important not to forget that illusions and the desire to build an ideal state turn in the event into the construction of hell. There is only one way to atone for such a crime: we must never allow it to be forgotten and we must feel that sense of guilt which is essential to avoid a repetition of the horror in the future.</p> <blockquote><p><strong>I have heard Russians say: &ldquo;so&hellip;6 million Jews were murdered? Well, 25 million were murdered here under Stalin, and not so much as a word!&rdquo; What does this tell us? Not only that the cost of a life in Russia is extremely low, but that the price of a Jewish life is extremely high.</strong></p> <p class="image-caption">Andrei Konchalovsky</p></blockquote> <p>The post-war generation of Germans has shown the world that they have a national conscience and a feeling of historical guilt for what happened in their country in the first half of the twentieth century. This feeling of guilt confirms that the Germans recognise their responsibility to the human race for the Holocaust, that tragic choice which they made quite consciously with their majority support for racism and Nazism.</p> <p>But no less terrifying is the absence of historical guilt. This shows that a nation feels no responsibility for what happened: they exteriorise i.e. offload the guilt on to others outside the nation. It may be sad, but I can't fail to agree with Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, who, in a <a href="http://www.readeasily.com/anton-chekhov/00261/002610223.php">letter</a> to publisher Alexei Suvorin, wrote: &ldquo;When something is wrong with us we look for the causes outside ourselves, and readily find them. 'It's the Frenchman's nastiness, it's the Jews', it's Wilhelm's'. Capital, brimstone, the freemasons, the Syndicate, the Jesuits&hellip; they are all phantoms, but how they relieve our uneasiness!&rdquo;</p> <p>I note &mdash; not without sadness &mdash; that I have heard Russians say: &ldquo;so&hellip;6 million Jews were murdered? Well, 25 million were murdered here under Stalin, and not so much as a word!&rdquo; What does this tell us? Not only that the cost of a life in Russia is extremely low, but that the price of a Jewish life is extremely high. The marvellous Jewish tradition of caring for one's parents and one's children is no coincidence. As the ancient Jewish saying from the time of Exodus goes: &ldquo;The caravan should go no faster than the pace of old men and children.&rdquo;</p> <p>There's a joke about the six Jews who changed the world. Moses said that everything came from heaven; Solomon said it came from the head; Christ said it came from the heart; Marx said it was the stomach; Freud said it was sex; and Einstein said: &ldquo;My friends, everything in this world is relative&rdquo;.&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the only time the great scholar and philosopher was wrong. The Holocaust is not relative in magnitude. It's an absolute magnitude, as is that sense of guilt we should all feel, preserving this terrible crime for ever in the human memory.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><strong>Andrei Konchalovsky</strong></p> <p>Theatre and film director and scriptwriter; a National Artist of Russia; a member of Russia’s National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.</p> <p>His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals. Films include The First Teacher, The Story of Asya Klyachina, Siberiada and The Speckled Hen.&nbsp;His most popular Hollywood releases are Maria's Lovers, Runaway Train based on a script by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and Tango &amp; Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell.</p> <p>Andrei Konchalovsky has written 33 film scripts and made 25 films. He has worked as a stage director in Russia, France, Italy and Poland. He is the brother of film director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov and the son of poet Sergei Mikhalkov. He has written over 100 sparkling and trenchant essays and 6 books.</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/martin-shaw/holocaust-genocide-studies-and-modern-politics">The Holocaust, genocide studies, and politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/gilbert-achcar/arab-israeli-war-of-narratives">The Arab-Israeli war of narratives </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/martin-shaw/britain-and-genocide">Britain and genocide</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/martin-shaw/politics-of-genocide-rwanda-and-dr-congo">The politics of genocide: Rwanda &amp; DR Congo</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/blood_and_soil_the_global_history_of_genocide">Blood and soil: the global history of genocide</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/vicken-cheterian/armenian-genocide-and-turkey-then-and-now">Armenian genocide and Turkey: then and now </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/armenia/armenia-and-turkey-forgetting-genocide">Armenia and Turkey: forgetting genocide </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/peter-lippman/visegrad-memory-and-justice">Visegrad, memory and justice</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item even"> Ideas </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Culture Ideas Andrei Konchalovsky Politics History Cultural politics Thu, 24 Feb 2011 18:32:19 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 58262 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Russia: land of the Mob https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/russia-land-of-mob <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Russia is deep in reflection about a mass murder that left twelve dead. For Andrei Konchalovsky, the most shocking thing about the Kuschevskaya killings was neither crime nor bungled cover-up, but the sobering thought that Russians are not really citizens. He implores his fellow countrymen to find their collective moral voice.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p></p> <p><em><strong>"We persist with the idea of introducing arbitrary rule into everything...Each of us conducts himself like Batu Khan surrounded by members of the tribe he has conquered&nbsp;<span>... and the tribe in turn gets used to thinking that things simply could not be any other way..." </span></strong></em></p> <p><em><strong><span>Chernyshevksy</span></strong></em></p><p><em><strong><span>&nbsp;</span></strong></em>Fellow Russians, countrymen and defenders of Mother Russia, please tell me one thing&nbsp; &ndash; are you really surprised by what is going on, and will continue to go on, in the Cossack village of <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/kushchevskaya-crime-and-punishment-in-russian-village">Kushchevskaya</a>?&nbsp;</p> <p class="p2"><img class="image-left" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/12829cbc_1.jpeg" alt="" width="400" /></p><p class="p2"><span class="image-caption">The horror of Kushchevskaya killings was compounded by the facts that soon emerged: the mobsters that were openly fraternising with the militia and the local authorities that had systematically ignored crimes of rape, grievous assault, murder and enslavement &nbsp;</span></p> <p class="p2"><span>Personally, I&rsquo;m surprised by one thing alone: that the government is granting the press access to so much information. I&rsquo;m also convinced that the main truth will remain hidden, which is that the governor [Alexander Tkachev] and the presidential representative [Vladimir Ustinov] were well informed about everything that was going on in Kushchevskaya long before the tragedy occurred. Punishing them will be easy, yet accusing them is pointless. They are not to blame. They are flesh and blood of their country. They (and I too) are 100% Russian. Russians who know that in their country, life is arranged not according to the law, but along the lines of &nbsp;&ldquo;understandings&rdquo;.</span></p> <p class="p1">I&rsquo;ll repeat what I've been saying for many years. <em>Russia has no citizens, which means there can be no state. </em>Or, more accurately, there is a state, but it exists for itself. It can&rsquo;t inspire its citizens to participate in building a better society. This is the Kremlin's drama.</p> <p class="p1">The two main facts that the Ministry of the Interior has so far felt obliged to publish will surprise no Russian:</p> <p class="p1">- Mobsters not only openly fraternised with the police, but rather touchingly helped them keep the rules of the Highway Code by exacting fines from those who broke the rules</p> <p class="p1">- The office of the Prosecutor, the investigators, the state and medical institutions covered for the gangsters by closing their eyes and not following up&nbsp;<em>hundreds</em> of criminal cases of rapes, beatings, murders, enslavement and so on.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I sympathise with every judge and procurator in every region of our vast Russian land. Their lives are worth nothing and hang by a thread. Especially if they go against the organised crime group that is in charge in the region. As the Regional Prosecutor said in a sage response to a question from <a href="http://kp.ru">Komsomolskaya Pravda</a> (this paper was, please note, writing about the Kushchevskaya gang as far back as 2006): &ldquo;life is our reflection: we get what we deserve. The people get the government they deserve&rdquo;.</p> <blockquote><span>&ldquo;<em>Who is to blame</em>?&rdquo;&nbsp; asked Anton Chekhov. </span><span>&ldquo;<em>Everyone, which means no one</em>&rdquo;</span></blockquote> <p class="p1">Who can provide legislators with protection from the lawlessness? Where can an elected MP (if he is not a thug himself) turn to to protect from that lawlessness the people who elected him? For a state with real citizens, those same citizens are its main defence: people, townspeople, who can be an immensely strong force when they unite. This is how it has been in Europe since the time of the Renaissance.</p> <p class="p1">We often lament the fact that our regional governors are <a href="http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=events.event_summary&amp;event_id=3900">appointed</a> rather than elected. But what is actually the difference? Whether elected or appointed, anyone with access to the budget falls under the same colossal pressure from the &ldquo;Mob&rdquo;&nbsp; &mdash; those same organised criminal groups, soldiers of fortune and mediaeval knights who live off the people like parasites, &ldquo;protecting&rdquo; them from the encroachment of others (which is what we call a protection racket).</p> <p class="p1">Let me state this unreservedly: this is precisely where Russia is,<em>&nbsp;in the Middle Ages!&nbsp;</em></p> <p>Of course, had a Moscow TV group not been at the scene of the crime by chance, then this whole affair would have been unlikely to hit the headlines. But this is not what is so horrific.&nbsp; Nor is it that the people who were so brutally slaughtered were actually the bold ones attempting to stand up to the mob. Nor yet is it that the thugs were well organised, didn&rsquo;t drink, took care of abandoned youths and were ardent Orthodox believers for whom going to church was mandatory. No &ndash; it&rsquo;s something else. What is so horrific is that Russia has no citizens! Neighbours heard cries for help, but were afraid to come out and intervene. How many brave people are there in Russia &mdash; brave enough to stand up to the beasts &mdash; and where are they now?</p> <p>Most of them, of course, have either gone somewhere else or been murdered, with the cause recorded by the militia as &ldquo;domestic&rdquo;. What is so horrific is that, in Russia, the everyday, domestic reality is too often murder.</p> <p class="p2">What&rsquo;s equally horrific is that in Kushchevskaya, people are still afraid to give evidence or name names &ndash; &ldquo;the officials from Moscow will go back home, but ours will still be here&rdquo;. Those who remain will still be face to face with people who have gone into the shadows, those who are still in power or once more appointed, those who might just try to put things in order, but the pressure of the local customs, which are so resistant to change, will mean that they will actually be almost indistinguishable from their predecessors. &nbsp;</p> <p class="p2">&ldquo;<em>Who is to blame</em>?&rdquo;&nbsp; asked Anton Chekhov. &ldquo;<em>Everyone, which means no one</em>&rdquo;. What exactly did he mean by that?</p> <blockquote>It&rsquo;s not about getting the right people in the right place, it&rsquo;s about the places ... the philistine environments that breed a certain kind of relationship, forcing everyone to live by Russian &ldquo;understandings&rdquo;.... &nbsp;It&rsquo;s about Russian mentality and Russian culture, which, without wishing to do so, nourishes the brutish way of life"</blockquote> <p><span>A society with no real citizens, no understanding of personal responsibility to one&rsquo;s country; a society dominated by peasant consciousness, where loyalties are limited to realms of the family and where everything outside the family circle is regarded as in some way inimical,<em> can have no law.&nbsp;</em> <em>It can only have tacit &ldquo;understandings&rdquo;!</em> No amount of fair or free elections could bring to power anyone able to destroy this primitive way of thinking. Why? Because he will not be able to rely on those who voted for him to take to the streets. The people cannot seem to grasp that, united, they are a force to reckoned with. <em>It&rsquo;s as if they don&rsquo;t care! </em>&ldquo;Nothing to do with me, gov&rdquo;.</span></p> <p class="p1">The whole vicious circle, the interpenetration and symbiosis of the state and the mediaeval &ldquo;understandings&rdquo; will inevitably be confirmed all over again.&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">What can be done?</p> <p class="p1">I can imagine the despair felt, but not put into words, by the President and the Prime Minister.&nbsp; Where can they find the "right people"?&nbsp; It&rsquo;s not, after all, about getting the right people in the right places, it&rsquo;s about the places themselves, the philistine environments that breed a certain kind of relationship, forcing everyone to live by Russian &ldquo;understandings&rdquo;. It&rsquo;s about Russian mentality and Russian culture, which, without wishing to do so, nourishes the brutish way of life. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1">I repeat, no modernisation or reform can be successful until those in power realise that serious thought must be given to reforming the Russian mentality.&nbsp;<span>The events at Kushchevskaya are of themselves clearly not enough for this to be understood. Indeed, it is quite possible that by the time we come to watch the inauguration of the next President, we'll see some new faces among the well-known, popular and respectable people. And we'll have to ask ourselves: "Oh god, isn't that another one of the Mob?"</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><a href="http://themoscownews.com/russia/20101206/188259583.html?referfrommn">A criminal cancer in Krasnodar</a>, by Anna Arutunyan&nbsp; , Moscow News, Dec.6, 2010</p> <p>Insight into the True State of Affairs in Russia: <a href="http://shlapentokh.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/insight-into-the-true-state-of-affairs-in-russia-the-november-massacre-in-the-krasnodar-region/">The November Massacre in the Krasnodar Region</a>, Vladimir Shlapentokh blog, Dec.2, 1010</p> <p>The Russian mafia: private protection in a new market economy, by Federico Varese, Oxford University Press, 2001, 290 pages</p> <p><a href="http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2005/is_n4_v28/ai_17150039/">Stalin's Peasants: Resistance and Survival in the Russian Village After Collectivization</a>, by Nellie Hauke Ohr, Journal of Social History, 1995</p> <p><a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=B57vx3r0Rj4C&amp;pg=PA25&amp;lpg=PA25&amp;dq=Korotaev+civil+society+citizenry&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=C0FjQQn8D0&amp;sig=vkstxgfO8AvJSHrTU55I0N6QkHw&amp;hl=pl&amp;ei=o1v-TPmRHY648gPq7rGMCw&amp;sa=X&amp;oi=book_result&amp;ct=result&amp;resnum=5&amp;ved=0CEYQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&amp;q=K">Russian society and the Orthodox Church: religion in Russia after communism</a>, Zoe Katrina Knox, RoutledgeCurzon, 2005</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p><img src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/konchalovskiy_0.jpg" alt="Konchalovsky" width="100" height="110" /></p> <p><strong><em>Theatre and film director and scriptwriter; a National Artist of Russia; a member of Russia’s National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals. Films include The First Teacher, The Story of Asya Klyachina, &nbsp;Siberiada and The Speckled Hen. His most popular Hollywood releases are Maria's Lovers, Runaway Train based on a script by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and Tango &amp; Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Andrei Konchalovsky has written 33 film scripts and made 25 films. He has worked as a stage director in Russia, France, Italy and Poland. He is the brother of film director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov and the son of poet Sergei Mikhalkov. He has written over 100 sparkling and trenchant essays and 6 books.&nbsp;&nbsp;</em></strong></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/grigorii-golosov/kushchevskaya-crime-and-punishment-in-russian-village">Kushchevskaya: crime and punishment in a Russian village</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/node/253">How Russia really works</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/oliver-carroll/sergei-magnitsky-death-that-failed-to-die">Sergei Magnitsky: a death that failed to die</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/legal-nihilism-in-russia">Legal Nihilism in Russia</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/od-russia/andrei-loshak/kafka%E2%80%99s-castle-is-collapsing">Kafka’s Castle is collapsing</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/andrei-loshak/parallel-worlds-how-connected-russians-now-live-without-state">Parallel worlds: how connected Russians now live without the state</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society Democracy and government Andrei Konchalovsky Politics Justice Human rights Mon, 06 Dec 2010 19:31:26 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 57143 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Andrei Konchalovsky https://www.opendemocracy.net/author-profile/andrei-konchalovsky <div class="field field-au-term"> <div class="field-label">Author:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Andrei Konchalovsky </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-firstname"> <div class="field-label">First name(s):&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Andrei </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-surname"> <div class="field-label">Surname:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Konchalovsky </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-city"> <div class="field-label">City:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Moscow </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-au-country"> <div class="field-label">Country:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <P><EM>Andrei Konchalovsky is theatre and film director and scriptwriter. His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals.</em></p><div class="field field-au-shortbio"> <div class="field-label">One-Line Biography:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Andrei Konchalovsky is theatre, film director and scriptwriter. His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals. </div> </div> </div> Andrei Konchalovsky Thu, 14 Oct 2010 22:02:14 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 56400 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Update the software of the Russian soul? https://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russia/andrei-konchalovsky/update-software-of-russian-soul <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/konchalovskiy.jpg" alt="" width="120" align="right" /> Government attempts to modernise Russia are doomed because the Russian mindset remains stuck in an unchanging peasant mentality, laments film-director Andrei Konchalovsky. No change will be possible without reloading our spiritual software, but do we want to change?<br /><br /> </div> </div> </div> <p>&lsquo;It&rsquo;s much more difficult to discern the problem than to find the solution. The former demands imagination, while the latter just demands know-how.&rsquo;</p> <p>J.D. Bernal</p> <p>This article is based on a lecture I gave at the <a href="http://huntington.hse.ru/lingua/en/bio">international symposium</a> &lsquo;Culture, Cultural Change and Economic Development&rsquo;. Participants included world-renowned Russian and foreign academic economists, sociologists, and culturologists and included some Nobel Prize winners. Needless to say, for me it was a revelation to meet my idols, my teachers in the world of culturology: the American <a href="http://fletcher.tufts.edu/faculty/harrison/default.shtml">Lawrence E. Harrison</a> and the Argentinian <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mariano_Grondona">Mariano Grondona</a>. I owe a great debt to them for my own understanding of the destiny of my country and, of course, to the works of the late <a href="http://www.historyorb.com/world/clashofcivilizations.shtml">Samuel P. Huntington</a>. The very fact that outstanding scholars were in Moscow to discuss the influence of our national mentality on Russia&rsquo;s economic and political development was in itself quite an event, and it happened thanks to the efforts and persistence of our remarkable economist, the director of the Higher School of Economics, <a href="http://www.hse.ru/lingua/en/org/persons/yasin/">Evgenii Yasin</a>. It was good to be there if only because I knew I could learn so much and later pass it off as my own!</p> <p><img alt="Trinity Rublev" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Rublev%20Trinity.jpg" width="230" height="296" /></p> <p><em>Andrei Rublev&rsquo;s icon of the Trinity</em></p> <p><em>Andrei Konchalovsky: Few doubt that religion is one of the determining factors in forming the national culture and mentality.</em></p> <p>To make my lecture clearer, and aim it at a wider readership, I have reworked it here and there. We can start with the title of the conference, because the concept of &lsquo;culture&rsquo; is understood differently by different people. Just what is &lsquo;culture&rsquo;? It&rsquo;s often understood as the creations of art and literature, or the manners of an educated person. But it goes far beyond that. The French sociologist <a href="http://www.tocqueville.culture.fr/en/">Alexis de Tocqueville</a>, who studied the American mindset in the mid-nineteenth century, defined it with the word &lsquo;<em>mores</em>&rsquo;. He wrote (and I quote from memory): &lsquo;<em>Mores </em>enable a people to extract profit from even the most unfavourable climatic conditions and the most atrocious laws. No constitution will be safeguarded if the <em>mores</em> of the people oppose it.&rsquo;</p> <p>Lawrence Harrison spent twenty years in the countries of Latin America trying to get to the bottom of why those countries were developing, economically and politically, so slowly. He wrote: &lsquo;We have to acknowledge that the word &ldquo;culture&rdquo; is quite diffuse and ambiguous, but if we examine those aspects of culture which have an influence on the economic, political, and social behaviour of peoples, then the meaning of that concept becomes more precise. Culture is a logically connected system of values, attitudes and institutions which influences all aspects of personal and collective behaviour.&rsquo; So culture is a system of values and convictions which are indispensable for a person of a given culture; culture is an ethical code, a mindset, <em>mores</em>&hellip; We more often use the concept of &lsquo;national characteristics&rsquo;. Culture is shaped by so many factors: geography, space, religion, history, size of population, climate, and so on. In my opinion, how any national culture comes to be shaped is as constrained and gradual as the emergence of an ecological system. It&rsquo;s the same set of elements in which nature, in its unhurried way, achieves creation, all based on a stratification of circumstances. And, of course, we are dealing with <a href="http://www.historyguide.org/intellect/bpascal.html">Pascal</a>&rsquo;s &lsquo;thinking reed&rsquo; &ndash; man, so religion is of primary significance in forming the ethics and culture of a given nation.</p> <p>Harrison needed many years of unremitting work in Latin America to work out which values and attitudes in Iberian culture slowed up progress and economic prosperity. He came to the conclusion that some cultures not only opposed progress, but actually stifled it (he had Haiti in mind). He resolved to establish what the cultural forces were which favoured or suppressed the development of man&rsquo;s creative capacities. He uncovered four basic factors determining whether a given culture was closed or open to new tendencies, whether it was inert or dynamic:</p> <p>1: <strong>The radius of trust</strong>.</p> <p>&lsquo;An ability to identify oneself with other members of society, to &ldquo;co-experience&rdquo;, to take pleasure in the success of another person and be disappointed by their failure &ndash; such is trust. In most backward countries the radius of trust is on the whole restricted to the family circle. Whatever is beyond that circle usually evokes indifference, even hostility. Nepotism and other forms of corruption are usually typical of such types of society...&rsquo;&nbsp; Does that bring anywhere to mind? Do similarities with anywhere strike you? Let&rsquo;s go on...</p> <p>2: <strong>The severity of the moral code</strong>.</p> <p>Religion is the usual source of the ethical and moral system. According to Judeo-Christian morality man is responsible to God for his actions, whether in his relations with people or his work. But the extent of the responsibility in different religions is different. It may or may not be possible to redeem infringements of the moral code. So in different cultures individual responsibility can be very different.</p> <p>3. <strong>The exercise of authority</strong>.</p> <p>&lsquo;In Latin America authority is traditionally conceived as &ldquo;licence&rdquo;, a right to enrichment... If such a stereotype seems offensive and unfounded to anyone, he should just give a thought to how the typical president of a Latin-American state leaves his post an extremely rich man...&rsquo;. Sounds familiar, doesn&rsquo;t it?</p> <p>4. <strong>Attitude to work, innovation, wealth</strong>.</p> <p>People in backward countries treat work as an obligation. They work in order to live. In &lsquo;dynamic&rsquo; countries people live in order to work. Innovation is perceived as a threat to the reigning stability, as some sort of heresy. The attitude to wealth is based on the false conception that wealth exists in an immutable quantity, which is just redistributed. Consequently, the economic prosperity of someone else is perceived as depriving you of a bite at the apple. Your neighbour&rsquo;s success is a threat to your own wellbeing. In a dynamic culture wealth is understood as a constantly increasing quantity, enhanced by work, and so excludes the very phenomenon of redistribution.</p> <p>I was literally shaken to the core by these discoveries of Harrison&rsquo;s when I discovered them about ten years ago. But I experienced an even greater shock when Harrison introduced me to the works of the Argentinian sociologist Grondona, where he had elaborated his own typology of cultural values, rooted in the mindset of Latin-American peasants. He had independently come to conclusions which largely coincided with Harrison&rsquo;s and called his system the &lsquo;typology of peasant consciousness&rsquo;. It is no surprise that the ethical code of the peasantry, which dates from the dawn of human civilisation, should be shared by all the peoples of the world. But subsequently, under the influence of the most varied circumstances (wars, migrations, the climate, population, and, of course, religions), this code began to evolve at different rates, and here and there simply ground to a halt in the early Middle Ages.</p> <p>The Grondona-Harrison system may be projected on to Russian culture and so highlight those psychological attitudes which we would do well to set aside if we wish to evolve. Disdain for the law, the unruly character of authority, people&rsquo;s reluctance to work for each other&rsquo;s mutual benefit, passivity in the face of difficulties, the absence of civic consciousness, and the extremely selfish pursuit of one&rsquo;s personal interests &ndash; these are the principal features of peasant consciousness. Of course, such unpleasant problems may also be encountered in other countries, such as America or Sweden. But, in Russia, as in Latin America and Africa, the four factors given above are utterly crucial and play an immense r&ocirc;le in putting a brake on the development of society.</p> <p>I think that the term &lsquo;peasant culture&rsquo; confuses, in spite of its historical status. Many people perceive this term incorrectly. Even Evgenii Yasin, when I called Russia a country with a peasant mindset, intervened and declared that the majority of the Russian population now lives in towns. But that&rsquo;s just it: the peasant ethic lives on in Russia, as it does in some other countries, dictating the behaviour not only of people who live in the countryside, but of those who work in factories, banks and even Parliament or the Kremlin! We may forget our peasant ancestors, though still profess the same values, at the very least the principle of exclusive trust in those close to us, preferably our relations...</p> <p>So, an analysis of fundamental values also allows us to determine to what extent that mentality is capable of being receptive to what is new, and of improving itself. This is precisely the tool, so I thought, which might help us get to the bottom of the Russian national ethical code and get a grip on a roadmap to reforms of our national consciousness. And it was with the intention of hearing some revelations on this interesting subject that I went to the conference.</p> <p>It is cause for regret that Evgenii Yasin&rsquo;s <a href="http://www.hse.ru/lingua/en/">Higher School of Economics</a> is perhaps the only academic organisation in Russia to give serious thought to the problems which could cast light on the reasons for the failure of every effort by the Russian authorities to set the country on the path to modernisation. Since these attempts have been going on for the last three hundred years, I am struck that the Russian government has still not understood that a scientific study of the Russian mindset is needed and overdue. Do we not need a scientific explanation at the very least for the question why almost no Russians have any desire to participate in building their society?&nbsp; We need a scientific explanation for why in Russia the nation and the state<strong> </strong>are still two separate entities and why the Russian regards the state as transcendental.&nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Depressing as it may be, the Marxist <a href="http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSplekhanov.htm">Plekhanov</a>&rsquo;s idea that democracy was impossible in early nineteenth-century Russia because there were no historical preconditions for its development remains utterly topical even now.</p> <p>Here&rsquo;s how one African scholar characterised the situation in his country: &lsquo;Our hardware is democratic, but the software we have is authoritarian.&rsquo; I can apply this directly to Russia. What can we do with our software?&nbsp; It needs updating.&nbsp; We need programmers and I&rsquo;d hoped to meet them at the conference. Mariano Grondona&rsquo;s typology clarified much in my mind. Most comforting for me was the conclusion that, given all the diversity in national cultures, all nations with an inert consciousness have something in common, and that for the moment a peasant consciousness still dominates in most countries. It was somehow reassuring: &lsquo;Thank goodness we&rsquo;re not the only ones left!&rsquo;</p> <p>The values and beliefs of an inert consciousness determine the politics and economics of an inert country, but they also influence more global processes. This may be clearly observed in the European Union. Don&rsquo;t you think that the European Union, carried away by the idea of creating a Single Europe with a single market, currency, and economic rules, has to its surprise come up against an astonishing fact, which today somehow threatens the unity of the union? What has emerged is that some countries are different from others in their understanding of the economic discipline which was devolved on to them from Brussels. The crisis in Greece, the possible coming crisis in Spain and in other countries clearly indicate that ethical values in different European countries are anything but uniform. I shan&rsquo;t be surprised if there are similar problems in Bulgaria or Romania and the question then arises of narrowing the Eurozone, and thus also the fall of &lsquo;Greater Europe&rsquo;. I even risk asserting that <a href="http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article5161990.ece">V&aacute;clav Klaus</a> was prescient when he came out against the unification of Europe, something which aroused the ire of President Barroso and led to unprecedented pressure from Brussels.</p> <p>But it seems to me hardly fortuitous that Greece belongs to the Orthodox Christian tradition.</p> <p>Few doubt that religion is one of the determining factors in forming the national culture and mentality. But few acknowledge that the continuing domination of peasant consciousness in the countries of South-eastern Europe and Russia can be explained by their Byzantine inheritance.&nbsp;&nbsp; In the countries of Eastern Christianity the bourgeoisie, as a political and economic class, began to take shape five centuries later than in Western Europe. Comparing the features of the three main Christian religions in Europe, in accordance with the <a href="http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/">Human Development Index</a> of the United Nations (the most developed country = 1, the most backward = 162), the indicators are as follows:</p> <p>Protestant countries:&nbsp;&nbsp; 9.2</p> <p>Catholic countries:&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; 17.4</p> <p>Orthodox countries:&nbsp;&nbsp; 62.6</p> <p>The figures are persuasive. It struck me that some problems in our country were linked to the flexible ethical code of Orthodoxy. For instance, the idea that sin in Orthodoxy may be redeemed by repentance and confession in church. The Orthodox God is very kind: He forgives a lot, if we sincerely repent through confession. It is not for nothing that the Eastern Church has no conception of &lsquo;mortal sin&rsquo;, given anyone who committed one would unavoidably be deprived of God&rsquo;s grace and burn in Hell. If first-grade students are asked whether they would prefer a kind teacher or a strict one, they certainly go for a kind one &ndash; that way they can misbehave! In this connection Lev Tolstoy wrote: &lsquo;In the regular forgiving of sins at confession I see a harmful deceit which only serves to encourage immorality and destroys the fear of sinning.&rsquo; Is this not the root of the lax attitude to the law?&nbsp; Breaking it brings no punishment from God or Caesar for a person of the Orthodox faith. But there are differences between Orthodox countries. In Greece more tolerance may be observed towards people of other confessions and towards the priest&rsquo;s way of life. For example, in Greece a priest may play football, or share a service with a Catholic priest, etc. Why are the Greeks different? Why do Orthodox Slavs think differently from Catholics?</p> <p>Of course, the climate and history are significant, but I feel that the main reason lies in how Eastern dogma was disseminated.</p> <p>During the first millennium the evolution of Christianity was inseparable from the great traditions of philosophy: the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Plotinus were well known and the question as to whether the theologian should think or not simply didn&rsquo;t arise.</p> <p>The works of the <a href="http://www.meandertravel.com/biblicalanatolia/biblical_anatolia.php?details=majorsaintsii&amp;m=1&amp;md=sc1">church fathers</a> Gregory of Nazianzus, John Chrysostom, Basil the Great and other holy people we revere clearly show that they knew both Greek and Latin and were utterly at home with abstract philosophical concepts. The theological schools in the early days of Christianity taught not just languages, but dialectics, scholasticism, rhetoric, not to mention geometry, astronomy, and even music too. The theological milieu might well be considered to have constituted the intellectual &eacute;lite of Europe, even after the schism of Christianity. But the translation of the Bible into Slavonic by <a href="http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1345803/Saints-Cyril-and-Methodius">Cyril and Methodius</a>, even given the colossal humanistic significance of that presentation of learning to the broad masses, had one vital shortcoming.&nbsp;Greek and Latin remained out of reach, along with the whole invaluable set of scientific tools. Those languages providing the key to the wisdom of the ancient world were practically unknown in Rus [the original name for Russia, ed.]. This isolated Rus from the great European traditions of Graeco-Roman scholasticism, from the critical interpretation of any idea, including the religious. In Rus people had no conception of the political and legal culture of classical antiquity. This isolation from classical and medieval theological and philosophical thought largely contributed to the further schism of the Christian world. As the historians Karatsuba, Kurukin, and Sokolov write in their<a href="http://inostrankabooks.ru/en/author/333/"> book</a> &lsquo;Choosing One&rsquo;s History&rsquo; (2005): &lsquo;Rus failed to take account of the experience of Western European scholasticism, the experience of open theological discussion. The sign of authentic piety in Rus came to be &ldquo;unreasoning reason&rdquo; (&ldquo;Do not dare to have an opinion&rdquo;, &ldquo;Do not read many books, lest you fall into heresy&rdquo;).&rsquo;</p> <p><img alt="Klyuchevski" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Klyuchevski.jpg" width="282" height="372" /></p> <p><em>Russian historian Vasily </em><a href="http://www.answers.com/topic/klyuchevsky-vasily-osipovich"><em>Klyuchevsky</em></a><em>&nbsp; &lsquo;Byzantine influence brought us great blessings, but also one serious shortcoming." </em></p> <p>In this connection the eminent Russian historian <a href="http://www.answers.com/topic/klyuchevsky-vasily-osipovich">Klyuchevsky</a> wrote: &lsquo;Byzantine influence brought us great blessings, but also one serious shortcoming. The essence of this shortcoming was the excess of the Byzantine influence. For centuries Greek, and then Russian, priests schooled us to believe, to believe in everything and to believe everyone. This was very good, because then... in those ages faith was the sole power which could create a reasonable moral communal life.&nbsp; What was not good was that alongside this we were forbidden to think; and this was not good particularly because, as was already the case, we had no particular inclination to think. We were put on our guard against the misuse of thought before we even knew how to use it. Time and again we were told: Believe, but do not philosophise. We began to fear thought, as we had feared sin, before we knew how to think; we began to fear inquisitive reason, as a tempter, before inquisitiveness was awakened in us. So when we encountered an alien thought, we took it on faith. We transformed scientific truths into dogma, scientific authorities became fetishes for us, the Christian temple of science became for us a heathen temple of scientific superstitions and prejudices. We free-thought in the way of the Old Believers, we used Voltaire <em>&agrave;</em><em> la</em> Avvakum... [priest who led the Old Believer schism, ed]. The content of the thought changed, but the method of thinking remained the same. Under Byzantine influence we were serfs of an alien faith; under Western European influence we became serfs of an alien thought. (Thought without ethics is folly; ethics without thought is fanaticism)&hellip;&rsquo;&nbsp;The great Klyuchevsky!</p> <p>He touched on the very nerve of the Russian mindset: HOW WE THINK! Faith without thought is doomed to fanaticism. An intolerance of heterodoxy. Numerous examples from the history of Russia confirm that an intolerance of innovation is rooted in its very innards.</p> <p>Everything said by Klyuchevsky and others in no way denies the great spiritual value of Russian Orthodoxy.&nbsp; Klyuchevsky himself was a believer, but as a thinking man he analysed those aspects of the Russian mentality, which to him seemed deficient, and sought an explanation for them. In any event, the first step towards getting rid of the causes of the inertia of our culture is to identify them. Orthodoxy as a shaping element of Russian culture&nbsp; was and remains the principal spiritual source of the Russian view of the world; nothing has been able to eradicate it from Russian consciousness,&nbsp; however much revolutionary reformers had recourse to fire and the sword to force the people to give it up. But evolution is a characteristic feature of all life:&nbsp; it cannot be stopped, it can only be slowed down. A degree of &lsquo;re-evaluation&rsquo; of the Orthodox value system is unavoidable for the sake of the vitality of this life-giving teaching.</p> <p>Naturally, my reflections do not claim to be scientific arguments. This rather simplified presentation, if we take it to its logical conclusion, might seem amateurish. But even if some regard it as superficial, the proposed approach does suggest a point of view, a base for whoever wishes to REFLECT and COMPARE, in readiness for a perhaps more thorough study.</p> <p>Nevertheless, appraising the r&ocirc;le of Orthodoxy in the development of Russia is an explosive issue. It risks provoking an outburst of indignation, an unhealthy wave of resentment, and a latent, slumbering feeling of inferiority. So, unwilling to touch on a painful subject, economists and politicians prefer not to reflect on the influence of cultural and religious values on the evolution of society. They prefer to refer to unsuccessful policy decisions, poor rulers, the fragility of social institutions, or inadequate civil society, all of which allows them to &lsquo;wrap&rsquo; the politically incorrect problem in cotton wool. But the acceleration of the process is a historical inevitability:&nbsp; this will in the end make people pause to think what it is we have inherited deep down in our culture which is putting the brakes on the evolution of our society.</p> <p>***</p> <p>Russia is an &lsquo;enigma&rsquo; not only for the West &ndash; we all know the expression &lsquo;crazy Russians&rsquo; &ndash; it&rsquo;s an &lsquo;enigma&rsquo; for Russians themselves; and the pity is we don&rsquo;t try to decipher it. I am not aware of a single institution which might have been commissioned by the government to study the typology of the Russian mindset. Or which might be doing it for practical reasons, just to have an idea of how the people might react to one or another step taken by the Government.</p> <p>I should very much like to have meaningful answers to many questions relating to Russia. Here are three of them.</p> <p>First, why is it that since the 14th century no bourgeois consciousness has developed in Russia? Why did no middle class appear after perestroika? The middle class isn&rsquo;t the size of your shopping basket, it isn&rsquo;t your &lsquo;Mercedes&rsquo;, it isn&rsquo;t your villa in Monaco. The middle class is a view of the world formed by economic independence from authority and, consequently, the creation of a party for political independence.</p> <p>Another tricky question: why is it so dangerous to serve in the army in peacetime Russia? There have been more deaths in the Russian army in peacetime than in Iraq and Afghanistan taken together throughout the most recent military campaigns. Why?</p> <p><img alt="Russian Army" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/Russian%20army_0.jpg" width="260" height="194" /></p> <p><em>Andrei Konchalovsky: &bdquo;Why is it so dangerous to serve in the army in peacetime Russia?&rdquo;</em></p> <p>And, thirdly, an utterly simple question: why can Russians build a rocket and send it off into space, but not make a decent car?</p> <p>There&rsquo;s a popular Russian comedy <a href="http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0114055/">film</a>: &lsquo;Peculiarities of the National Hunt&rsquo;. People who have seen it can doubtless imagine a series of similar films: &lsquo;The Characteristics of Russian Banking&rsquo; or &lsquo;The Characteristics of Russian Automobile Construction&rsquo;.</p> <p>Something is preventing us from creating the simplest things of good quality. But incredibly complicated things?&nbsp; No problem!</p> <p>If we pause to think about the profound links, the causes and effects, when searching for answers to such varied questions, we might stumble across one general cause. An answer to the last question will be quite simple: if the rocket didn&rsquo;t fly, then someone would be severely punished. At other times he would have been shot. What does this mean?</p> <p>This means that in areas of STATE IMPORTANCE there is a lofty system of PERSONAL responsibility. As our great writer Chekhov <a href="http://www.oneworldclassics.com/sakhalin-island-p-113-book.html">wrote</a> in &lsquo;Sakhalin Island&rsquo;: &lsquo;If it stinks in the loo, and if you can&rsquo;t get a life because of all the thieving going on, then everyone is guilty, i.e. no one is guilty&rsquo;. &lsquo;No one&rsquo; is guilty, because there just is no concept of individual responsibility.</p> <p>So: (1) a narrow circle of trust; (2) the absence of any feeling of personal responsibility; (3) no fear of breaking the law &ndash; these are just several typological national features which define the everyday life of the Russian. This &lsquo;system&rsquo; of ours still prevails today, and I simply don&rsquo;t know when we&rsquo;ll rid ourselves of it. I remember an old, now legendary, story about Tvardovsky, who wanted to publish &lsquo;<a href="http://www.oneworldclassics.com/sakhalin-island-p-113-book.html">One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich&rsquo;</a> by Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his magazine &lsquo;The New World&rsquo; &ndash; at the time he was editor-in-chief. At that time, in 1962, this was such a revolutionary step that Tvardovsky, without a doubt, could not have proceeded with publication without the permission of the Central Committee of the Party. He went to see the Cultural Department of the Central Committee, where the head, Chernoutsan, read the story and replied: &lsquo;That&rsquo;s great! But there&rsquo; &ndash; and he pointed upstairs &ndash; &lsquo;we won&rsquo;t be understood.&rsquo; Tvardovsky took the story and went off to Lebedev, Khrushchev&rsquo;s cultural assistant. He read it and said: &lsquo;A fantastic talent! But there&rsquo; - and he pointed at the ceiling &ndash; &lsquo;we won&rsquo;t be understood.&rsquo; Tvardovsky then set off with the story to Suslov, the principal ideologist of the country. Suslov read it and said: &lsquo;Fine! But there&rsquo; &ndash; and he pointed at the ceiling &ndash; &lsquo;we won&rsquo;t be understood.&rsquo; Tvardovsky got a meeting with Khrushchev, to whom his assistant Lebedev had already read &lsquo;Ivan Denisovich&rsquo;. Khrushchev called Tvardovsky in and said to him: &lsquo;Yes, I consider that this is a powerful piece of work, very much so. But I&rsquo;m afraid that they&rsquo; &ndash; and he pointed downstairs &ndash; &lsquo;they won&rsquo;t understand us.&rsquo; In other words, we&rsquo;re all, from &lsquo;bottom&rsquo; to &lsquo;top&rsquo;, utterly hostages of this system.</p> <p>So I think that the most complex problem faced by the Russian government is one of trying to inculcate into Russian society an individual and a collective feeling of responsibility.</p> <p>I am convinced that Russian &lsquo;national characteristics&rsquo; conceal not only constructive latent forces, but also destructive ones.&nbsp; These may have an even more profound influence on the course of events in Russia than the actions of external forces, be they the U.S.A, China, or globalisation.</p> <p>I am also convinced that we will not be able to create a civic society if we do not decipher at least at a superficial level the ethical attitudes, convictions and priorities of the Russian mind, which are putting a brake on the development of Russia.</p> <p>Nonetheless, I have not lost hope that it will be possible to isolate one basic ethical principle, some sort of &lsquo;philosophical stone&rsquo;, the <em>precursor</em> to most of the subsequent connections. Catching Grondona in a corridor, I asked him that question. I asked him whether he didn&rsquo;t think the underlying principle of a dynamic culture was Man&rsquo;s individual responsibility to God.&nbsp; Such a principle had, after all, generated what is known as the alienation of (self-) consciousness, and consequently a whole series of new qualities &ndash; a broad circle of trust, identification of self with the problems of others, a high requirement on the quality of one&rsquo;s work, etc.&nbsp; I really wanted to hear someone&rsquo;s views on this. So I caught up with Grondona in a corridor and asked him the question. Alas, Grondona got away with the polite phrase &lsquo;Very interesting&rsquo; and shot off into the Gents &ndash;&nbsp;understandable, as the sessions and the papers were pretty long!</p> <p>Incidentally, most of the papers devoted to Russia concentrated on problems expressed in figures, illustrations, and in comparisons between Russia and other more successful countries. I don&rsquo;t mean that the presentations were somehow of no consequence, quite the contrary, they were full of information, useful and well argued. But I got the impression that none of the Russian scholars ascribed any significance to the Grondona-Harrison typology of cultural features, something I would call the Mendeleev Table of culturology.&nbsp; At least I didn&rsquo;t hear a single reference to this unique methodological tool.</p> <p>Of the presentations by Russian economists I was impressed by Yasin, Lebedeva, and Tatarko&rsquo;s paper. Here, and in others, the rather sad state of the Russian mindset, still way behind the social consciousness of advanced democratic countries, was convincingly demonstrated. But there were no recommendations for action. Indeed, at the conference there was not a single piece of effective, practical, even mistaken advice, which might answer the question, &lsquo;What do we have to do to push Russian consciousness on to the path of development?&rsquo; Every time I asked this question, some sort of amorphous politically correct response was mumbled, e.g. &lsquo;We must become more responsible&rsquo;, or &lsquo;Until we understand, we can&rsquo;t...&rsquo;, etc. I had to take the floor and say that if we were to generalise what had been said in all the papers about Russia, then we would have the sense of a gathering of doctors stating with regret that the patient was dangerously ill but, instead of designating a course of treatment, declaring that it would be quite good if he recovered. &lsquo;We all know that!&rsquo;, I felt like exclaiming. But, my dear scholars &ndash; what sort of treatment? Where&rsquo;s the medicine?!</p> <p>When Nadezhda Lebedeva came out with the familiar truth that Russia has a very strong hierarchical system, I asked for the nth time what steps she would suggest to get rid of this blemish? Honestly, I&rsquo;d have been glad to hear a sincere &lsquo;I don&rsquo;t know!&rsquo; Instead the much-respected Evgenii Yasin declared that the best &lsquo;medicine&rsquo; for hierarchy was democracy. To my question as to how democracy might actually come into being in Russia, Yasin replied, &lsquo;Wait, it won&rsquo;t be long!&rsquo; Such a thought from the lips of a respected economist stupefied me. I was struck by how differently we all understand the concept of &lsquo;democracy&rsquo; and, indeed, by the tenacity of the typically Russian liberal dream that democracy is nearby, just around the corner! Professor Yasin added that Russia&rsquo;s problem is that its rulers want to be tyrants, that they all demand an instant vertical system of power, and that this is a great shortcoming. In this too I observed a pernicious tendency to choose between the desirable and the undesirable, ignoring the objective presence of the possible and the impossible.</p> <p>Now, this is an important question: is democracy cause or effect? If Evgenii Yasin considers that democracy will produce a new mindset and the hierarchy will disappear, then what forces does he think will establish this democracy in Russia?&nbsp; We could just as successfully switch the concepts round and say that the best medicine for authoritarianism is equality of rights and the absence of hierarchy. I think this is a tragic delusion. Democracy cannot be the cause; democracy is the result of fundamental typological values evolving in the mindset of a people, values which will awaken in that people a longing for a civic society, and, in the final analysis, for democracy.&nbsp; To sum up, we can say that Russia&rsquo;s leading intellectuals, sociologists and economists have an insufficient understanding of which elements of culture will help us realise how culture influences progress. Essentially they were unprepared to hammer out measures which will contribute to change.</p> <p>The English scholar <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_N._Gray">John N. Gray</a>, famous for his disdain for political correctness, wrote: &lsquo;In the twenty-first century the world is full of the grandiose ruins of the unrealised utopias of the twentieth century. Surely we are not going to start constructing another beautiful illusion?&rsquo;</p> <p>It&rsquo;s interesting that now, when the whole financial system of the liberal world has collapsed, John Gray&rsquo;s thoughts sound particularly sobering. For instance, Gray argues that if humanity&rsquo;s scientific knowledge is cumulative, i.e. constantly renews itself and grows, then human ethics do not progress; further, that if science constantly broadens the bounds of our knowledge of the surrounding world and arms man with the ability to transform nature, then human ethics are still as they were three thousand years ago. The ethical progress made in one generation, argues Gray, may be lost in the next. This is a very profound idea. Humanity expands its technical and scientific abilities, perfects its means of communication, aspiring to refashion the world, but human ethics don&rsquo;t change. Man is just as afraid of starvation, poverty, degradation and death as his forefathers were. In the space of a few hours modern man can be transformed into a pitiful, trembling creature, an animal. You don&rsquo;t need to be an inmate of Abu Ghraib, it&rsquo;s enough to be a warder there - the photos of American soldiers maltreating their prisoners are direct proof of that. John Gray argues that any civilisation reaches its peak and then decays. We have an obligation always to bear this in mind and it seems to me that in this sense liberals are endeavouring to avoid politically incorrect doubts because they prefer to hold on to illusions which set their consciousness and their awareness at rest.</p> <p>I&rsquo;m now going to come out with another politically incorrect idea. The brilliant and paradoxical sociologist <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/may/19/guardianobituaries.russia">Alexander Zinoviev</a> argued that our discussions of the development of society are governed by an outdated twentieth-century concept.&nbsp; This concept is based on the conviction that by trial and error humanity moves towards a democratic model of society which is as it were unavoidable. After the fall of the &lsquo;socialist camp&rsquo;, Fukuyama was even upset that he had <a href="http://www.opendemocracy.net/democracy-fukuyama/revisited_3496.jsp">written</a> about the end of history. But actually, a new process is already underway in the world. In various countries there is a slow, but steady fusion of three ruling &eacute;lites: the political, the financial and the media. Of course, the monopolisation by the authorities of the information and media space proceeds with varying degrees of openness.</p> <p>In Russia the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of authority have fused into one monolithic institution. But the result of these processes is that the part played by ruling elites in the construction of social systems is more important than ever before. In various societies we have the formation of a conglomerate which Alexander Zinoviev called a &lsquo;superpower&rsquo;. He wrote: &lsquo;The world is entering a post-democratic era.&nbsp;&nbsp; Civic democracy is being limited in both developing and developed countries. The world is moving from the level of society to that of &ldquo;supersociety&rdquo; and the influence of the conglomerate in power on the historical process has naturally become stronger.&rsquo;&nbsp; Zinoviev even asserts that we are entering an era of &lsquo;planned history&rsquo;. I can already see ironic smiles on readers&rsquo; faces, but, there we are, what I&rsquo;m trying to do today is add fuel to the bonfire of your imagination. If for a moment we suppose that these assertions are not groundless, then we can imagine that the &lsquo;superpower&rsquo; may require a scientific understanding of reality, which is impossible without understanding the cultural code of its country. And if we soberly look that reality in the eyes, we can say that the r&ocirc;le of culturology is to assist the superpower if it realises that reforming the national consciousness is absolutely essential, to give it tools to undertake the analysis.</p> <blockquote> <p><em>I can&rsquo;t be sure that my opinion on this matter will never change. But I am sure that over the next 20 or 30 years my doubts will not become outdated, if only because they will be a reminder of mistakes made in the past and a warning against new ones. So, maybe here in Russia we should try to understand the system of values, which our people share, and stop striving towards the liberal philosophy of the West. Don&rsquo;t you think it&rsquo;s better to rely on our own philosophy, rather than on one borrowed from someone else? A philosophy that will concur with the spirit and mentality of our people, with their history, their attitude to life and natural way of living. I would call this philosophy &ldquo;Realistic conservatism&rdquo;.</em></p> <p><em>Andrei Konchalovsky, Itogi magazine</em></p></blockquote> <p>I often wonder whether it&rsquo;s possible to work out how we can at the very least inculcate the concept of Individual Anonymous Responsibility into our Russian consciousness. From the point of view of a behaviourist psychologist, responsibility is the consequence of a fear of breaking the law since breaking it leads to punishment. Anyone who has worked in the U.S.A. knows what dread a call from the Internal Revenue Service arouses in an ordinary American. However paradoxical, this dread, this conscious refusal to break the law is also a basic constituent of freedom. After all, it makes no difference whether you fear God&rsquo;s punishment or the state legal system, what is important is that you don&rsquo;t break the law &ndash; that&rsquo;s where freedom begins.</p> <p>I often think about how many components and how many centuries it took for history to forge one or another national ethics or mentality. The stability of these formations may be uniquely akin to the stability of the ecosystem. The ecosystem cannot be reversed, it can only be destroyed. In this sense new levels of knowledge or politics are needed if we are to try and influence such subtle and simultaneously stable formations, e.g. the ecosystem, or the national consciousness.</p> <p>Attempting to change the national culture using jackboot tactics leads to the opposite result &ndash; the culture puts up a successful resistance. Examples of this are Iraq and Afghanistan. I have been saying for a long time that George W. Bush may quite rightly be called a Bolshevik, because the methods he used were in no way different from those used by Stalin and Mao. It is na&iuml;ve to try and change the national consciousness with bayonets and decrees. It is as na&iuml;ve as burning wooden idols in order to convert people to another faith, or shaving beards to make men Europeans. These mechanical means are like medieval science. But now we are living in a much more surprising world, where the laws of physics are constantly being enriched, and the laws of mechanics, thanks to nanotechnologies, are revealing new horizons using any of the many chemical elements, thereby upsetting all the usual ideas of the physical qualities of these elements. We live in a time when medicine is on the threshold of great discoveries, of prolonging life, and when genetic discoveries are revealing new and very subtle mechanisms to control the human organism and organic life. We live in a time when we are beginning to understand that the ecology of the planet is fragile, but that this powerful structure is resisting the activities of man on the Earth.</p> <p>We are, however, still far from understanding what subtle non-linear thinking tools we need in order to influence our national culture. I am reminded of something said by the Puerto Rican culturologist Teodore Moscoso, who worked for twenty years in Latin America (quoted in one of his books by Lawrence Harrison): &lsquo;The case of Latin America is so complex; it is so difficult to find a way out, here there is so much grief, there are so many dangers for people and for the whole world, that it is possible, without exaggeration, to talk of the torments of Purgatory. The longer I live, the more I understand: just as one man cannot save another if the other does not have the will to save himself, so one country, even with the best intentions, cannot save another, however hard it may try, if that country does not have the desire to save itself.&rsquo;</p> <p>Russia does not yet seem to have the desire to save itself; we are looking for guilty parties everywhere but in our culture. A grandiose task like CHANGING THE NATIONAL CONSCIOUSNESS will only be possible if Russian political, intellectual, and other social leaders realise that many of our traditional values are hindering the creation of a society headed for democracy and social justice. If all we have are outsiders&rsquo; attempts to realise these recommendations, be they foreign advisers or a foreign state, those attempts are doomed to failure.</p> <p>Einstein was once asked what helped him to discover his revolutionary laws of physics. &lsquo;That&rsquo;s very simple,&rsquo; the scientist replied, &lsquo;I simply listened to the voice of nature.&rsquo; &lsquo;If it were that simple,&rsquo; they objected, &lsquo;then many people could have discovered the theory of relativity.&rsquo; &lsquo;Yes, that&rsquo;s so,&rsquo; Einstein replied. &lsquo;But nature&rsquo;s voice is very soft, and my hearing is very fine...&rsquo;</p> <p>If only humanity could acquire that perfect pitch so that it could hear the cosmic whisper of nature, which created all national characteristics. If we hear this voice, we shall understand how to help countries with an inert consciousness to open themselves up to new vistas, to prosperity and to equality.</p> <p>--------------------</p> <p><em><strong>Andrei Konchalovsky delivered his essay at the Samuel P. Huntington Memorial Symposium on Culture, Cultural Change and Economic Development which took place In Moscow at the State University Higher School of Economics on May 24-26, 2010. The event was organized in coordination with the Cultural Change Institute (Prof. Lawrence Harrison) and the Higher School of Economics (Prof. Evgeny Yasin). The Symposium was a follow-up to the 1999 &laquo;Cultural Values and Human Progress&raquo; Symposium at Harvard, which was co-organized by Prof. Samuel Huntington and Prof. Lawrence Harrison.</strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-read-on"> <div class="field-label"> 'Read On' Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P>Robert Service, Russia: Experiment with a People, Harvard University Press, 2006, 432 pages</p> <P>Peter Reddaway, Dmitri Glinski , The Tragedy of Russia's Reforms: Market Bolshevism Against Democracy, United States Institute of Peace, 2001, 768 pages</p> <P>Andrzej Walicki, Russian Conservatism and Its Critics: A Study in Political Culture, Yale University Press, 2006240 pages</p> <P>Richard Pipes, Property and Freedom, Vintage, 2000, 352 pages</p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-sidebox"> <div class="field-label"> Sidebox:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <P><STRONG><EM>Andrei Konchalovsky</em></strong></p> <P><EM><STRONG><IMG alt="Konchalovsky" src="http://www.opendemocracy.net/files/konchalovskiy.jpg" width="100" height="110" /></strong></em></p> <P><EM><STRONG>Theatre and film director and scriptwriter; a National Artist of Russia; a member of Russia’s National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His films are known and loved in Russia and other countries and have received numerous awards from various international film festivals. Films include The First Teacher, The Story of Asya Klyachina, &nbsp;Siberiada and The Speckled Hen. His most popular Hollywood releases are Maria's Lovers, Runaway Train based on a script by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and Tango &amp; Cash, starring Sylvester Stallone and Kurt Russell. Andrei Konchalovsky has written 33 film scripts and made 25 films. He has worked as a stage director in Russia, France, Italy and Poland. He is the brother of film director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov and the son of poet Sergei Mikhalkov. He has written over 100 sparkling and trenchant essays and 6 books.&nbsp;&nbsp;</strong></em></p> </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/russia-theme/the-end-of-russia">The end of Russia?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/article/email/the-embrace-of-stalinism">The Embrace of Stalinism </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/article/email/russians-don-t-much-like-the-west">Russians don’t much like the West</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Russia </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> </div> </div> oD Russia oD Russia Russia Civil society russia & eurasia russia Andrei Konchalovsky Polit.Ru Religion Internal History Cultural politics Thu, 14 Oct 2010 07:29:14 +0000 Andrei Konchalovsky 56394 at https://www.opendemocracy.net