Chauvinism or Chaos?

7 june 2014

A Vicious Choice for Russia

Alexander Lukin is Department Head, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, School of International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics; Director, Center for East Asian and SCO Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Resume: Instead of chauvinism and chaos Russia needs a third alternative. And that is a combination of moderate patriotism and moderate liberalism manifesting itself in the commitment to freer life by law, without corruption, but with mature self-government.

The latest events in Ukraine and in Crimea and certain related political tendencies inside Russia create a new reality to deal with. The entire system of international relations and domestic life in Russia may no longer be what they were before. We can see changes in the very paradigm of our life which developed after the disintegration of the Soviet Union and within which Russia and its major partners were acting during both Yeltsin’s and Putin’s rule. This system can be described as post-Soviet consensus. What is it like? Since the Soviet Union’s breakup Russia has been considered the West’s partner, not a close one as members of its economic and political alliances but still sharing its main foreign and domestic policy goals. Some disagreements (for example, over Yugoslavia, Iraq, Iran, etc.) were ascribed to Russia’s big size and its long estrangement from the West and were resolved fairly quickly. Specific domestic policy approaches were explained by the fact that Russian democracy was still quite young and imperfect (this was admitted by Moscow leaders themselves) and by certain national features. Russia’s position could be compared with that of Turkey, Ukraine or Mexico, large countries that do not fully conform to Western standards but are aspiring to meet them and making progress on the way.

THE COLLAPSE OF THE POST-SOVIET CONSENSUS

The post-Soviet consensus was based on the mutual understanding with the West that both sides would move towards closer cooperation, respect each other’s interests and make mutual compromises. However, these conditions were met only by Russia. While not having fully given up its national interests, Russia was showing readiness to give up some of them for the sake of cooperation with the “civilized world” in order to become its part. However, despite numerous encouragements, the “civilized world” was thinking in Cold War terms and sincerely considering itself the winner. Having forgotten all of its promises (for example, not to enlarge NATO eastward), the West was trying to do what it had failed to do during the Cold War because of the Soviet resistance – it was incorporating more and more countries and territories and moving its military infrastructure closer to the Russian border, often doing so on the territory of Moscow’s historical allies. 

 There are different explanations for this behavior. The Russian authorities believe that the real Western foreign policy is determined solely by geopolitical goals such as subordinating more countries and territories and becoming the only dominating force in the world (in a single-polar world) and uses different values such as democracy and human rights simply as a cover-up. This perception stems from the fact that most of the incumbent Russian leaders came from law enforcement services of the late Soviet period when only a few believed in the official communist ideology, which was in fact used as a front for real policy. 

In reality, however, the Western community is much more ideologized than Russian society. The West is virtually the only existing ideological empire in the world (in fact, communist China or Vietnam can hardly be seriously considered ideologized as ideology there is no more than just a ritual and even their leaders cannot state its communist essence).  In the West, practically everyone believes in its ideology, it is imbibed from childhood in kindergarten, school, university, and then at work. This ideology of “democratism” (described quite well by Ilya Smirnov, who coined the term ‘liberastia’, in his book of the same name) is quite simple: Western society, albeit not ideal, is nevertheless more perfect than all the others, it is at the forefront of public progress, and the rest of the world should try to use the Western model as we know it. In principle, this is primitive cultural chauvinism which is characteristic of many nations and countries from small tribes to large civilizations which considered themselves the center of the Universe, and all the others were barbarians. What makes the modern West different from them is its size. 

The West’s foreign policy is based on this belief. The main vector of its foreign policy is determined, paradoxical as it may seem, by pragmatic-minded ideologists who think that the best way to incorporate all “barbaric” nations and countries into the world of “freedom and democracy” is to subordinate them to political influence through economic and political alliances. To achieve that, the reins of power in these countries should be in the hands of those who understand that they themselves can benefit from doing that (i.e. West-oriented forces) and they should be helped in every possible way. Even if these forces do not quite conform to “democratic” standards, it’s not a big problem. Let them get subordinated economically and politically first, and then they will be pulled to the required standards under the West’s influence. This explains why Europe has been so mild in rebuking Estonia and Latvia for the fact that a considerable part of the Russian-speaking people there has no civil rights. And although the real reasons for this shortsightedness are not made public, they do come to the surface from time to time. Germany’s independent 2008 Bertelsmann Foundation’s report on Estonia is quite noteworthy in this respect: “Estonia has never had any direct or indirect challenges to its democratization or transition to a market economy. There are no embedded social classes who might resist reform, since the communist era leveled society’s social structure. The military has also been firmly under civilian control and well integrated into NATO structures. Although Estonia’s ethnic cleavages remain serious, the restrictive citizenship policy has meant that Russians have much less political power, which otherwise might have enabled them to slow the pace of reform.” It states very clearly that Russians in Estonia are the only obstacle to westernization and it is for this reason that their rights had to be limited.

This explains also why radical nationalists in Ukraine remain unnoticed: they are the ones who are acting toward progress and from the historical point of view they can be justified and some of their crimes can even be overlooked (as was the case with Kosovar nationalists and the Croatian army in Serbian Krajina, etc.). It’s worth mentioning how Catherine Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, reacted by condemning the attempt to storm the Ukrainian parliament building by Right Sector militants after the anti-Russian opposition had come to power, even though she had basically supported their similar actions when “the bad guys” who were not fully committed to the EU had a majority in the Verkhovna Rada. At the same time, the crimes committed by the forces of regress must be exposed and condemned in full.

There are also idealists among ideologists in the West who say that it’s bad to befriend even “progressive” dictators and who try to criticize “their own guys” and the authorities for sidetracking from the ideals of “democratism”. But they make no political decisions, they are considered impractical office dreamers who get in the way of real business. As a result, the drive for global geopolitical control gets mixed with ideological goals, and it’s hard to say whichever comes first.   

Interestingly, a similar dispute was conducted in another ideological empire, in Soviet Russia, when communist values were still worshipped. We know about discussions on the Brest peace deal whereby communist idealists suggested dying rather than starting negotiations with the “class enemy”. They almost gained the upper hand, but more pragmatic Lenin managed to convince his colleagues that there was no need to die and that the power of ideologists was more important than the purity of ideas: as long as they were in power, the gradual worldwide triumph of ideology was guaranteed, but death would destroy the chance. 

Also interesting is the dispute among Russian Bolsheviks on the need to keep the promises made in the Karakhan Declaration under which Moscow gave up all of tsarist Russia’s rights and privileges in China. Russian envoy to China Adolf Ioffe described Moscow’s reluctance to honor its obligations in full as a fatal tendency toward the revival of imperialism.  In reply, Leon Trotsky pointed out to his colleague that Russia was poor and the strengthening of its material situation as the basis for global communism was not imperialism.     

Stalin, who is often accused of having revived the traditional Russian imperialism, kept a significant ideological element in his foreign policy too. In 1927, he said in one of his speeches: “An internationalist is the one who unconditionally and unhesitatingly is prepared to defend the Soviet Union because the Soviet Union is the base of the global revolutionary movement, and it is impossible to defend and advance this revolutionary movement without defending the Soviet Union.”  From this point of view, the Soviet Union’s enlargement was not traditional imperialism but the strengthening and expansion of global progress.

The West is acting likewise today. As long as its influence spread over minor Eastern European countries, it was fine. But it didn’t work with Russia which refused to get fully incorporated into the Western system and insisted on its own views, at least on key issues, but not because its leaders were congenital anti-Westerners. On the contrary, Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin started with concessions in hope for reciprocity but got only empty promises and, pressed by the circumstances, had to assume a harder position.        

What were those circumstances like? According to numerous public opinion polls, the majority of Russians do not consider Western society ideal. This is what makes Russia different from Eastern Europe. But even there the West has some problems: conservative Catholics, who do not accept the moral norms of contemporary Europe, are quite strong in Poland and Hungary; Bulgaria and Romania are plagued with corruption and have weak democratic institutions. But these countries are relatively small and can be gradually absorbed. Besides, an alliance with the West gives them hope for prosperity and security. Russia is too big and cannot be westernized without the support of the majority of people.  But people do not want to be westernized and they are not concerned about Western society’s problems such as human rights, the rights of women, same-sex marriages, etc.  On the contrary, many of these things irritate them. Religious organizations (both Orthodox and Muslim) springing up everywhere now consider the West not an ideal society but the breeding ground for sin and stress the need to choose our own path. Persistent attempts to impose alien values, tear away culturally close neighbors from Russia and deploy troops even closer to its border are viewed as a policy of encirclement and suffocation.

There is a Westernized minority in major Russian cities but it’s not big. As a result, Western-type democracy whereby the government’s policy is determined by a majority (or at least actively influenced by it) along with the West’s hostile foreign policy make the leaders appealing to this traditional majority increasingly popular.  

The West cannot understand this for ideological reasons. As surveys indicate, any ideology tends to reject facts that do not fit in. This is vividly demonstrated by Michael McFaul’s position. Most of his forecasts about Russia and the world proved wrong, but he is still considered a leading American expert on Russia for ideological reasons as he sacredly believes in the infallibility of “democratism”.   

In 1999, in a special edition of American Journal of Democracy, McFaul insisted that the democratic system in Russia, albeit imperfect (he called it “electoral democracy”), was strong enough institutionally to be scrapped by Yeltsin’s successors. He wrote in particular: “…the current electoral democracy in place possesses the same staying power as the illiberal features… Russian democracy will not be able to survive if the economy continues to deteriorate for a sustained period of time. Russia needs a quick economic turnaround that will create more propitious conditions for the consolidation of liberal democracy in the future. Ironically, however, the most surprising outcome of Russia’s recent financial meltdown has been the demonstration of democracy’s resilience, not its weakness. Declarations of the demise of Russian democracy are premature.”

In fact, everything happened the other way round: a quick economic upturn strengthened illiberal features of the regime. I pointed to this possibility in the same edition and noted that a high level of pluralism was guaranteed not so much by institutions as by Yeltsin’s personal qualities and that the next leader could do whatever he liked and even put serious restrictions on pluralism:

“Electoral clanism” is unlikely to evolve into liberal democracy. It may move closer to the situation in Chechnya today or in China after 1911, with the central government present in name only and local military-administrative clans constantly fighting with one another. Or it may be consolidated by a strong nondemocratic leader. In both cases democratic freedoms are bound to be further curbed. In view of the role that supreme leaders have traditionally played in Russia, a future Russian president… may be able to alter the current temporary balance of power, either by changing the constitution or by abolishing it altogether…”

Later, when McFaul as ambassador to Russia spoke at the Moscow Carnegie Center and defended the American support for the Arab revolutions, I asked him if democratization and demolition of secular authoritarian regimes in those countries would not have the same consequences as we had seen earlier in Algeria, that is, the victory of Islamic fundamentalists and chaos. In fact, Arab Muslim political culture does not accept Western values, and people would vote for the leaders who were clearer to them.  McFaul cited American experts as saying that the situation might develop not by the Algerian but by the Indonesian scenario where the collapse of authoritarianism had led to democratization. This conclusion may stem from the simple lack of knowledge about the substantial differences between Arab Islam and its mild version in Southeast Asia, where it was influenced by other more tolerant religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism. But this is not the most important point. The most important point is the ideology-induced wishful thinking. The results of the Western policy are clearly seen today: complete chaos in Libya where Islamic fundamentalists killed the American ambassador; the fierce civil war in Syria; and the recapture of power in Egypt by the military that were the only force capable of stopping the chaos created by the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. Having failed to understand the situation, McFaul is once again calling for isolating “wrongful” Russia as part of the ideological fight between “democracy” and “autocracy” and for exerting further pressure on all fronts in Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. This approach will certainly lead to greater confrontation and definitive disintegration of these and probably other post-Soviet states. In addition, it will strengthen the positions of those who advocate authoritarianism in Russia and will create prerequisites for the emergence of an anti-Western alliance among Russia, China and probably some other Asian countries (such as Iran, Pakistan, etc.).   

Countries close to Russia are being torn apart by the West’s ideologized expansion which has already led to the territorial division of Moldova and Georgia, and now Ukraine is falling apart in front of our eyes. What makes these countries distinct is that the cultural border was drawn across their territories and they could stay undivided only if their leaders would have taken into account the interests of people living in both the regions that gravitate toward Europe and those that would like to preserve historical ties with Russia. The one-sided policy in support of pro-Western nationalists in post-Soviet states resulted in deep internal conflicts and the oppression of ethnic Russians, and Russia could not stay away. When it came to “brotherly” Ukraine and there had emerged the threat of NATO’s moving into Crimea, which has always been an object of passion in Russia and where most residents consider themselves Russians, there was no way Russia, which had grown much stronger by that time, could retreat.      

Moscow’s strong reaction obviously caught the West off guard. In late March 2014, Supreme Allied Commander Europe Philip Breedlove said, with surprise: “now it is very clear that Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner.” But since NATO itself acted likewise since its foundation and never altered its stance toward Russia after the end of the Cold War, one can hardly be surprised. Changing Russia’s tack was a matter of time.

What can this change mean? Everyone would want common sense to prevail in the West and Russia’s proposals on how to ensure the rights of pro-Russian people in the ex-Soviet republics to be seriously considered. The proposals Russia is putting forth seem to be quite sensible and could help to settle the situation in Ukraine if accepted: formation of a coalition government by taking into account the interests of both eastern and southern regions; federalization and neutrality; official status for the Russian language, etc. But accepting these proposals would be interpreted by Western ideologists not as a solution that satisfies all sides but as an attempt by “the bad guys” to slow down Ukraine’s movement toward progress, and that is an ideological taboo.  For the West, accepting Russia’s proposals would mean admitting that there is someone else, except the West, who has the right to determine what public progress is, and what is good and what is bad for other societies and states. The ideology of “democratism” can hardly allow that. The West will most likely choose another approach and will support pro-Western radicals everywhere in the post-Soviet region, thus generating new conflicts.      

This will force Russia to reorient its policy to the South and East. On one hand, this may help to solve its strategic task of boosting the development of its own Asian regions. On the other hand, this can make it dependent on strong Asian partners, primarily China. But there is no choice: the West’s animosity and misunderstanding leave no options.    

A VICIOUS COICE

As we say that Russia, as any other country, has the right to defend its own interests and will actually defend them the way they are understood by the elite and the majority of people, we cannot but note the following tendency. Why do most of those who advocate liberalization in modern Russia completely fail to understand the national tasks of the country and show disregard for the feelings and values shared by the majority of people, considering them retrograde and ignorant about the benefits of Europeanization and progress? Many liberals think that Russia exerts negative influence in the world, therefore this influence must be reduced to benefit internal liberalization and its decline should by all means accompany it. At the same time, those who insist that Russia should play its own role in the world and strengthen its influence support for the most part a strong-arm political regime, authoritarianism and sometimes even the revival of Stalinism inside the country. 

Such a strong link between foreign policy and internal political programs appears obvious to many people. But it wasn’t always like this in Russia. Conservatives in tsarist Russia usually did not advocate an active foreign policy. Suffice it recall Slavophiles who insisted that Russia should develop in its own way or the cautious policy of Alexander III who said that “all of the Balkans are not worth the life of one Russian soldier” and during whose reign Russia did not fight any wars.     

By contrast, liberals pursued an active foreign policy. It was Alexander II who carried out liberal reforms and liberated the Balkans, while Constitutional Democrats leader Pavel Milyukov was nicknamed “Milukoff of Dardanelles” for urging war until victory and division of Turkey.  

At that time, conservatives in Russia understood patriotism as the need to preserve the resources of the country and the lives of its people and refused to use them for alien and unclear external goals. At the same time, the majority of liberals thought that modernized and even westernized Russia should become not a subordinated part of the Western world but its legitimate and strong component with its own interests. Many also believed that Russia’s mission was to Europeanize and westernize Oriental countries which it understood better due to its geographical location and the fact that Russia itself had large Muslim and Buddhist communities.

It is hard to imagine that Alexander Pushkin with his “To the Slanderers of Russia” or even more radically-minded Decembrists could have supported the idea of making reformed Russia a junior partner of England or France, let alone its possible division. And yet, the idea that Russia can or even should be divided into “several small and prosperous Switzerlands” is quite popular among Russian liberals. I first heard it from well-known and respected dissident Kronid Lyubarsky when he was living in Munich. And these views soon made their way into a draft constitution authored by Andrei Sakharov who suggested that all Soviet peoples should create republics with the right to separation and that Russia should be divided into several districts with full economic autonomy.    

There are two aspects to these proposals. First, a complete lack of understanding that any division of the country cannot be peaceful, that it will inevitably lead to bloody conflicts resulting not in several Switzerlands but most likely in several Bosnias or Lebanons. This was vividly proved by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. This is a pragmatic aspect indicating that one does not know or does not want to know political realities.  

 But there is an important spiritual aspect, too. Calls for dividing one’s own country reveal failure to recognize its historical and cultural value and essentially ideological hatred toward it. If we assume that any, even small, country is of great interest to humankind because of its unique history, national conventions and culture, such a large country as Russia should be all the more valuable as it played a significant role in world history, and its division into many small parts should be regrettable, to say the least.  

It must be said for the sake of justice that ideological hatred toward Russia, or Russophobia to use the present-day language, was harbored by some liberals in tsarist Russia, too, as evidenced by the concept stated in his first philosophical letter by Pyotr Chaadayev who held that Russia allegedly had no history because real history existed only in the Catholic West.  

However, these views were not characteristic of the liberal majority in the 19th century and were considered odd. 

In the late Soviet Union and independent Russia anti-state ideas started dominating the liberal movement for several reasons. One is that this movement had formed within the Soviet system that had put all spheres of life under state control. In this situation the fight for freedom was inevitably associated with the fight not only against specifically the Soviet state but also against the state as such. Here are some interesting remarks from Valeria Novodvorskaya’s reminiscences: “In August 1968 I became a real enemy of the state, army, navy, air force, party and the Warsaw Pact. I was walking in the street like a member of some underground guerrilla group on an occupied territory. It was then that I thought that there was only one punishment for all this – the destruction of the state. Today, when it is half-ruined and lies in blood and dust, when its demise and that of its people seem to be quite likely, I feel neither sorry nor repentant. Damn the day when the Soviet Union was born! Let it become a common grave for all of us…”  These thoughts may sound too radical and poetic, but they reflect the overall tendency quite correctly. 

Second, Russian liberals were brought up by Soviet ideology and understood its rejection as the creation of a new but opposite ideology. While the authorities thought of the Soviet Union as a great progressive state and a social alternative to the backward West, their enemies considered it a vicious state that had to be subordinated to the progressive and “civilized” West. This attitude was carried over to independent Russia which, from the opposition point of view, more and more resembles the Soviet Union.

The third factor was lack of education and poor knowledge of the history and culture of the country, especially its religious background (which is also a result of Soviet anti-religious education) with its unique wealth of values that differ it from European traditions.

As a matter of fact, the supporters of global democratization, liberals and human rights activists in the West do not oppose foreign policy or even military campaigns of their governments. They only demand that these campaigns be carried out in the interests of “democracy”.  So, traditional Western expansionism in the ideology of democratism has simply changed its form: while crusades were started in the name of true religion and colonial invasions were justified by the civilizing mission of progressive societies, today’s bombing raids against “dictators” and “human rights violators” are ordered for the sake of these same rights. Hypocrisy and senselessness of this approach were vividly illustrated by the Internet meme where Barak Obama was portrayed as saying: “Syrians killed Syrians. This is why we have to kill the Syrians so that Syrians stop killing Syrians.” Anti-state tendencies in the West and especially in the United States are characteristic mainly of ultra-conservatives, definitely not liberals. 

So, the domination of anti-state ideology in today’s liberal and human rights movement is a relic of the Soviet system as are the straightforward attempts to restore Soviet attributes and symbols, but reversed in sign. 

While the fight for liberalization in present-day Russia has been monopolized by the opponents of a strong state and primitive Westerners who do not care about Russia’s national goals and fail to understand that their country cannot be just a simple appendix of the Western system for a number of reasons (due to geographical position, size, cultural traditions and values shared by the majority of people), the fight for the Russian national goals has been basically monopolized by the supporters of dictatorship. The latter tendency manifested itself quite clearly during the recent events in Ukraine when the respectable goal of reunification with Crimea brought back the most repulsive characters from the recent but well forgotten Soviet past. The main advocates and promoters of this event were semi-fascist and Stalinist activists and the 1991 putsch ideologists who would have been kept away from state-run television channels before. Those who disagree are forced out of mass media and universities. Opposition media are closed. Radio and television speak in one voice that sometimes breaks into chauvinist shouts and nuclear war calls. Many television programs bring up the memory of Soviet KGB projects designed to repel “the class enemy”. The seemingly extinct Soviet secret service outlook, which claimed that the authorities were under siege from external and internal enemies who had to be fought mercilessly, is once again beginning to dominate the information space.   

The current situation puts Russians before a vicious choice: either they support democratization but oppose Russia’s growing role in the international arena to become a junior and subordinated partner of the West, or they support Russia’s strengthening to be inevitably accompanied by dictatorship, nationalism and threats to everyone around; either Dugin and Prokhanov or Nemtsov and Kasparov. On one hand, there are new idols of society represented by thievish oligarchs, glossy TV presenters and party girls engaging in sexual intercourse with chickens in supermarkets and doing pranks in churches; on the other hand, there are aggressive and possessed nationalists who wear one and the same uniform and match in columns along the streets of Moscow; and there is nothing in-between.  

The former position suspiciously serves the interests of the corrupt bunch of compradors led by oligarchs and senior government officials who fear for their bank deposits and property in London. The chaos of the 1990s was the balm for them as they could pull strings in the government, rob their own people while remaining unpunished, and then take the loot out of the country. A certain amount of pluralism is even useful since dictatorship can crack down on theft. In fact, it was Mussolini who was most successful in eliminating the Italian Mafia.   

The second tendency is based on the increasingly spreading ideology of security services with its notorious theory of the authoritarian “hook” which allegedly was the only way to save Russia from disintegration, with the siege mentality, the search for enemies among neighbors and traitors among dissidents. Unlike in Soviet and Yeltsin times, their advocates are no longer held back by political power because they themselves hold this power. 

So, who is to choose? On one hand, “thieves are dearer to me than bloodsuckers” who can easily turn the country into the GULAG again; on the other hand, I support the “gathering of Russian land” and greater rationale for the present state because authoritarianism will collapse one day but the country will stay on.  However it is doubtful that it can be preserved by Western-oriented oppositionists, many of whom have already been in power, by the way, and got infamously known for covering up for thievery and chaos. 

The situation is extremely complex. To me, this complexity has been symbolized by a well-known bard, Alexander Gorodnitsky, who wrote his song “Sevastopol Will Stay Russian” in 2007, which became an unofficial anthem of the city, but joined other intellectuals in signing a letter against “the annexation of Crimea” now.

Why is this vicious choice necessary at all? Why can’t one support a free but strong and independent Russia? This has always been the goal of Russian liberalism, while the West was an ideal only in terms of certain internal system elements but never in terms of its pragmatic and often anti-Russian policy. And only downright terrorists and enemies of the Russian state like Bolsheviks called for “turning the imperialist war into a civil one”.  

A close link between democracy and the West’s foreign policy goals are no more than a myth created by the Russian liberal opposition. While strictly abiding by their domestic legislation, Western leaders are much more pragmatic in applying international law. It was not Russia but the West that scrapped the idea of a new system of global politics based on international law, which could have been created after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. It was not Russia but the West that, having believed in the “end of history”, took advantage of its temporary omnipotence to create a world where one can grab everything that comes his way, crush any border and violate any agreement for the sake of “a good goal”.  It was not Russia but the West that purposefully destroyed the post-war legal system based on the sovereignty of states, advancing its theories of “humanitarian interventions” and “responsibility to protect.” It was not Russia but the West that put pressure on the U.N. International Court of Justice to make it rule that the unilateral declaration of Kosovo’s independence was not in breach of international law. Russia repeatedly warned that the bombing precedents in Serbia, Kosovo’s separation, and military operations in Iraq and Libya would undermine the system of international law, including the principle of inviolability of European borders enshrined in the Helsinki documents. If the UN Security Council doesn’t do it, then any strong party will make its own judgments on what its “good goal” is and which piece to grab.  

As a result, the West’s position on Crimea, whereby its leaders refer to the territorial integrity and inviolability of borders, is perceived by Russia as no more than utmost hypocrisy. In a new situation where force is the ultimate argument and ideology is used as a cover-up, it is necessary to determine how force should be used and for what purpose.     

Since the principle of inviolability of borders no longer works, it is the aspirations of the people that must be taken into account. If people in Crimea want to live in Russia, why can’t they do so in much the same way Catalonians want to break up with Spain or Scotland with Britain? In fact, this was done in South Sudan and East Timor. Russian opponents of the reunification with Crimea strike me with their pro-Western doctrinarianism – abstract principles, which the West uses only for others but never for itself, appear to be more important for them than the aspirations of millions of people. 

At the same time, I am not happy about the prospects of living in a besieged fortress under the rule of those who see enemies everywhere and consider anyone who thinks differently a traitor and the fifth column. I want to listen to and watch opposition mass media even if I disagree with them, and I am not prepared to accept the fact that my colleagues get sacked and put in jail simply because they disagree with me or the authorities.

I am convinced that the majority of Russian people would not want to make this vicious choice. Numerous public opinion polls indicate that most people like their country, want it to be strong and prosperous, but they also value the ability to move freely inside the country and travel abroad, they are worried by corruption and irresponsibility of the authorities, and do not want Stalinism or nationalist dictatorship to be restored. 

Faced with a vicious choice, many talented people have to leave the country. I know this from students, many of whom see no employment prospects for themselves here except in the government where salaries are quite high. In fact, all other professions – in science, education, healthcare, industry, private business – are paid better abroad where life is much calmer and more comfortable. And not only the West but also Asian countries such as China, Thailand and India are considered among possible destinations.  

There is only one way out of this situation. People need to be offered a third alternative that would meet the aspirations of the majority. And that is a combination of normal, moderate patriotism, which is natural for people living in a large and proud country, and moderate liberalism manifesting itself in the commitment to freer life by law, without theft and corruption, but with mature self-government. The European path or European vector of development should mean not Russia’s subordination to the EU interests but the borrowing of positive, and acceptable for Russia, elements of the European government system, primarily the supremacy of law, constructive interaction with Europe and the United States, and clarification of one’s position while effectively defending one’s own interests. Instead of promoting the values of “democratism” such as feminism or same-sex marriages, which are of no interest to people in Russia and only irritate them, the advocates of this path should focus on real problems facing the country that do worry people: how to make the judicial system independent, and how to fight corruption, illegal migration, privileges of the ruling elite, nationalism and Xenophobia. It is these phenomena that prevent Russia from becoming a great and strong country. Only a truly liberal movement can offer us a future and make life comfortable for the majority of Russians and the country itself popular and attractive for the rest of the world.

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