What We Know About Post-Soviet Countries

13 october 2006

Modest Kolerov

Resume: Throughout the post-Soviet space, at the helm of political, spiritual and all other kinds of power, there comes nationalism. Nationalism may vary from soft political to rigid ethnocratic, but one way or another, states that have seen the rise of their statehood, regard their national idea not as something shameful but as a long-formulated ideology.

There is an abundance of various institutions in Russia set up to study the post-Soviet space, yet we still lack whole branches of knowledge and even firsthand information about this region. Below, I will describe our knowledge of the post-Soviet space, in which we will consider the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Baltic States in 13 points. The following may seem obvious and perhaps even banal, but they are not obvious to the mass media and even to many of our analysts.


Point One. Recently, a booklet was published, entitled Integration in Eurasia, which was based on the results of public opinion polls. Its main conclusion, which seems a bit scandalous and contradictory to its title, is that the sociological research in Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia has revealed a trend opposite to integration. Countries with a growing population and a steadily improving education system view possible integration as a secondary objective after sovereignization. Imperial sentiments or complaints by ’red directors’ [Soviet-style general managers – Ed.] that it is time to restore Soviet-era economic ties in the ex-Soviet Union fail to take into account a fait accompli: societies do not want integration prior to sovereignization or in place of it. They view any integration as a freedom of choice after they are able to “stand on our own feet.” It is an interesting conclusion, and it equally applies to the four states covered by the Single Economic Space [Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus – Ed.].


Point Two. There is also another variety of sovereignization in the post-Soviet space that exists in other states, among them the Baltics, Georgia, Moldova and some Central Asian countries. They view sovereignization not as the construction of a bona-fide sovereign state, but speaking in rather rough and primitive terms, as the reception of a right to life. In other words, they interpret sovereignization solely as a result of international legitimacy. In this kind of sovereignization, a country’s constitution cannot open with the words: “We the people.” Theoretically, such a document should open with the words: “We have been allowed.” Strangely enough, this kind of sovereignization, which drastically limits economic, social, ecological and other types of sovereignty, has become the closest objective of the Baltic States and the “European Union neighbors,” which are not really much welcome in the EU. Figuratively speaking, these countries are being offered very long “passenger loading bridges” in order that their “boarding” the EU be delayed as much as possible. This is really surprising, because we all remember the sincere enthusiasm with which these states struggled for their freedom and independence. They discarded any intermediary stages and mythologies and immediately set themselves down to the task of building new and stringent frameworks – sometimes even more stringent frameworks than those that could be found in the Soviet Union.


Point Three. Every day one can hear the widespread myth that there are “pro-Russian forces” in the post-Soviet countries, or that Russia is constantly busy creating such forces in those territories. There are no pro-Russian forces in the post-Soviet space whatsoever. Even those parties that demonstrate and declare their close ties with Russian politicians, parliament deputies and authorities are only part of a much more extensive pattern, and they are certainly not voluntary suicides, ready to pin the “pro-Russian” label on themselves. In the meantime, even in the Baltic States there are significant electoral forces that would be ready to voluntary call themselves pro-Russian or, in some cases, even pro-Soviet. And these are not an insignificant number of people; they number 9, 10 or possibly up to 12 percent of the population, and they uphold obscurantist pro-Russian positions. In other states this electorate may reach 40 or even 60 percent, but it is not represented among the political forces. I repeat, there are no political entities representing these numbers; there is nobody planning such entities or reacting to such myths. By force of habit, some “compatriots” still come to Russia to say that they are “pro-Russian,” but they inspire no trust and, to a greater or lesser extent, they are on the fringes of society. When people in Georgia, for example, bring up the question, “Does Russia not need a pro-Russian force in Georgia, like the pro-American one in this country,” each time I reply: “Under no circumstances. God grant there appears a pro-Georgian force in Georgia one day, and then everything will be OK.” From the point of view of the aforementioned kinds of sovereignty which I describe as “We the people,” in contrast to the “We-have-been-allowed” variety, we would like to see people among our neighbors, who would say “We the Georgian people” and so on. There is an obvious lack of pro-national forces like that in the post-Soviet space.


Point Four, however paradoxical this may sound after Point Three, states that throughout the post-Soviet space, at the helm of political, spiritual and all other kinds of power, there comes nationalism. It is a reality. Nationalism may vary from soft political to rigid ethnocratic, but one way or another, states that have seen the rise of their statehood, regard their national idea not as something shameful but as a long-formulated ideology. And whoever describes the eternal race of our neighbors to progress and prosperity, everywhere nationalism is at the helm. In the first five years since gaining their independence, these states pushed forward an all-out, successful and irreversible “cleansing” of textbooks, official histories, and official ideology. This kind of state, nationalist ideology – in the Western or Russian meaning of the word (all these gradations can be taken into account) – has emerged victorious. And over the last 10 years, new generations of people have grown up in those countries, who live with this ideology and who view us from this point of view. Russia has not seen developments of that kind.


Point Five, in my opinion, is not that obvious, and I would like to illustrate it with fresh statistics. These are figures provided by Swedish analysts; they have already been published, yet I would like to draw your attention to them once again. Over the last year, defense spending in Armenia increased by more than 20 percent; in Azerbaijan by 51 percent; and in Georgia by 137 percent. These are direct budget allocations, which do not include serious aid from Turkey, the United States and other countries. It is noteworthy that this rearmament is taking place in conflict areas, to which our esteemed third parties, naturally, shut their eyes. So Point Five stresses that the post-Soviet space (with rare and historically justified exceptions) is a zone of accelerated and intensive militarization. This fact is often ignored.


Point Six. As distinct from what we see around us, in very many post-Soviet states, most of all in the Baltics, Moldova and Ukraine, there has been established, as fact, a special political, extrajudicial role of the special services. No one denies this, and all participants in the political process point to this factor in their activities. Officials from the State Security Department or the Security Service of Ukraine, for example, or the Security Service in Moldova openly admit this issue – even if only at a cafй table; these are active and very serious political players. By way of example, I can cite the special services of Lithuania that have in the last few years been the main driving force of governmental reshufflings. All this happens amidst democratic rhetoric and democratic appearances.


Point Seven is, perhaps, more obvious to those who visit post-Soviet states, yet few can see its real scope. In those countries there has happened, irreversibly and irreparably, an absolute de-internationalization of society. First of all, it is seen in the departure of the democratic majority in the application of the Russian language, while no other language is used on such a comparable scale, as well. This is an irreparable factor because it aggravates a natural decline in the quality of education under crisis conditions. In some cases, the reduction of the use of Russian stems from the governments’ policies in the last 15 years. However, this is a fait accompli and the choice of the nations themselves, which Russia must accept. At the same time, while the democratic majority has been ousted from the international sphere via the Russian language, the same majority often votes with their feet, and migrate to Russia as labor migrants, thus dooming themselves to work in low-paid occupations. As regards the elites, we have not lost common language with them; the elites are all well educated and have preserved their knowledge of Russian. Russia is interested in having direct dialogue with representatives of post-Soviet states. This de-internationalization is rather of social nature and does not pose any threat.


Point Eight. In the overwhelming majority of the post-Soviet states, including those that have joined the European Union or seek its membership, there have been established clan politics and a clan economy, which are much harsher than in Russia. Ukraine, for example, has easily recognizable oligarchic politics and economy, like we had in the 1990s. But this kind of politics and economy is not called into question. Even the various kinds of “colored revolutions” in some of those countries have not changed the essence of clan politics and economy.


Point Nine. I have repeatedly pointed out that Russia is the only federation in the post-Soviet space. The others remain rigid unitary states, despite the challenges of the times, and pressure to comply with European standards, U.S. benefactors, etc. Moreover, the benefactors themselves choose unitarism – and rigid unitarism – as the national model. I am not a lawyer, yet it makes me laugh when someone criticizes Russia for abolishing the free elections of governors, describing this decision as undemocratic. This accusation flies from one province to another, where people repeat it uncritically, not realizing that they fall into a trap, because in exemplary Ukraine, for example, all the officials through the entire chain of command, from top to bottom, are simply appointed, and no one criticizes anyone for that. These are the fruits of direct, primitive, rigidly controlled unitarism, spiced with tight policing control over the political situation.


Point Ten. In all the post-Soviet states there is an acute shortage of political parties proper. The parties that now dominate there are built according to a fuehrer-, clan- or mafia-type principle. In the post-Soviet space there are no true, traditional political parties, such as we know from the European or even Turkish experience. The few true parties are those that stem from the local Communist parties, be it in Lithuania or Moldova.


Point Eleven. We often forget about it or prefer not to mention it, but between the post-Soviet states, and between them and Russia, there is an acute and constantly growing economic competition. There are even examples of an emerging competition for labor migrants. So far, Russia has been winning this competition; on the other hand, Russia and Kazakhstan, for example, have niches of their own: the urban intelligentsia from Kyrgyzstan is moving to Russia, while the Kyrgyz rural intelligentsia moves to Kazakhstan, replacing rural doctors and teachers who move into the towns. At the same time, there is serious competition for highly qualified engineering personnel. This competition is deliberate, and in some cases it even breaks inter-regional and cross-border ties, which are so much welcome in Russia. All regions in South Russia, except perhaps Rostov, lose a lot to the neighboring Ukrainian regions as regards the number of vacancies and the level of remuneration. In previous years, the capital reserves of Donetsk simply trampled businesses in Rostov and adjacent Russian regions, because it was invincible. This kind of competition is an obvious fact, although not always admitted.


Point Twelve. In the post-Soviet space, despite progress and the growing variety of ties, there is emerging new geo-economic dependence, which is as painful as that which existed in the past. This dependence can be divided into two kinds: first, the dependence of economies, societies and political classes on communications and transit systems in the Baltics, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine and the Caucasus, that is, in Eastern Europe; second, there is a large-scale geo-economic dependence on water and energy resources in Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Prospects for solving the latter problem remain obscure because the largest water and energy resources in the region belong to the poorest states – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, while the most populated and strongest countries of the region – Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – are consumers of these resources. Thus, there is now a difficult and unclear search for a solution; one option is to attract Russian investors. Uzbekistan has recently made attempts to balance its dependence on Kyrgyzstan’s water resources by bargaining over the gas issue, since Uzbekistan has a monopoly on gas supplied to Kyrgyzstan. This problem still remains unsolved, however, as the four sovereign states have not yet even agreed as to whether water can be considered a commodity. Until they make such a decision, the problem will remain unsolved.


And, finally, Point Thirteen. Throughout the 1990s, all partisan observers were wary by the activeness of other states in the post-Soviet space: Norway and Finland in the Baltics, Turkey in Azerbaijan and Central Asia, etc. Now, equally energetic in the region are China, Iran, and Poland, which has appointed itself patron of Ukraine and Belarus (similar to non-Polish territories that once were part of the Rzeczpospolita). But these attempts by outside regional leaders to break the post-Soviet ring have failed. The issue of Turkey’s influence provides the most illustrative example. Turkey was the first to enter the Transcaucasian and Central Asian space in the early 1990s; it began with projects for attaining political influence. But what has transpired now? Turkey has voluntarily left the sphere of political influence and remains in the sphere of education as a strong player. In Kyrgyzstan, for example, Turkish education is an absolute leader beyond any competition. But Turkey’s decision to remove itself from political influence in Kyrgyzstan, and limit itself to the realm of education, was a voluntary decision. I could mention joint efforts by Iran and Tajikistan to work out an ideology between the two Persian states, although they do not share a common border. Thus, it must be understood that attempts by outside regional powers to break the post-Soviet ring and enter the post-Soviet space as leading actors would cause the post-Soviet states to increasingly reject these nations. For example, although the Chinese are huge consumers of Kazakh oil, there is a national consensus of fear and mistrust toward China in Kazakhstan, as well as in Kyrgyzstan. I would say this is a unanimous attitude, registered from about 97 percent of all polled in either country.


There is a dilemma here: Kazakhstan, in order to diversify sales of its energy resources (not only to Russia or Transcaucasia, but also to China), will have to increase its energy supplies to China. This will increase the threat (real or mythical) of the neighboring Chinese province of Xinjiang. Thus, the more the Central Asian states give to China for the sake of diversifying their relations and incomes, the greater and more dominant role China will play near their borders.

Last updated 13 october 2006, 14:33

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