The ongoing polemics between the proponents and opponents of
President Vladimir Putin, which have intensified since the
President began to initiate more resolute steps in September, is
producing a rather confusing impression.
Personally, I agree with Putin’s chief aide Vladislav Surkov
when he said that the staunch opponents of the regime, who pretend
to hate Putin’s Russia, actually hate Russia per se. This certainly
applies to the majority of our professional democrats and ardent
champions of universal human values, as well as those who presently
live in Russia (hopefully, they will not remain here for long).
The picture looks less cogent, however, if you take the views of
the more moderate people who utter statements like, “I’m not a foe
of Russia, I’m not against the Great Russia (this would be
considered a taboo notion for the Russian “democrats,” who readily
welcome, at the same time, the Great America). Or they say: “I have
nothing against Putin as president but I really think that all his
actions after Beslan are doing real harm to Russia.” But how should
we consider those who sincerely believe that appointing regional
governors is destructive for Russia, not so much because this move
infringes on democracy, but because the Kremlin is simply unable to
select worthy people for the posts (the last years of the Soviet
Union provide a good example)? Or what should we make of those who
oppose proportionate elections to the State Duma on the grounds
that this measure is aimed at artificially forming an institution
of political parties that is ostensibly alien to Russia? In other
words, allowing another attempt to subject the nation to the
prescriptions of radical liberals? Are those people Russia’s foes
Since the President says we are at war, the people who are
against us must be called foes, not opponents. However, listing
individuals among the opponents is one thing and among the foes,
quite another – even if such an act does not produce any
“retribution measures.” Incidentally, these measures will
immediately and quite naturally get on the agenda since it would be
absurd for a country engaged in a war to tolerate its internal
enemies (more figuratively referred to as the “fifth column”). So,
if we rehabilitate the notion of “an internal enemy” – and life
will surely force us to do so – we must have clear criteria for
categorizing the disagreeing people into the foes and the
opponents, many of whom are our friends harmlessly debating along
the principle that says “Lovers’ tiffs are harmless.” It is
essential that we spare the innocent and “not throw out the baby
(that is, original opinions that are good for the country) with the
WHERE IS THE WATERSHED?
The basic question is: Where is the watershed between the
genuinely wholesome plurality of opinions – the only remedy to
prevent stagnation – and the totally alien hostile ideas. In a
country at war and under siege, such ideas must be removed, since
they may evolve into a discussion of whether surrendering to the
enemy would somehow make more sense. However, alien ideas must not
be sanitized at the price of plunging into a dull mental
uniformity, which paves the way to defeat.
Such problems are encountered by every nation that is not simply a
mass of voters, and each nation provides its own answers to them.
Take the U.S., for example. An American may believe that the U.S.
should not export democracy to other countries, national minorities
should not have social preferences, or that homosexuals should not
be given employment at schools. These views actually contradict
official U.S. policies and generally accepted viewpoints, and
people will simply regard anybody holding such ideas as an
The same Americans, however, will treat as an enemy anybody who
insists on liquidating the U.S. democratic system of government.
They will brand a foe anybody who says national minorities should
be driven onto reservations, and sexual minorities marooned in
jails. This is not because such ideas run counter to the
Constitution. As regards the ethnic minorities, U.S. constitutional
provisions have changed several times; as for the sexual
minorities, the Constitution does not mention them at all. If you
take the UK, it has never had a Constitution, but the watershed
separating opponents and foes also exists there, although it is
different from that in the U.S. In both cases, however, anyone
calling for capitulation to the enemy (or to Osama bin Laden) will
certainly be labeled an outcast.
This watershed reflects the difference between society’s
outlooks and values, that is, the difference between the
changeable, passing ideas and the basic convictions. The system of
values of every society at a given period of time is the
cornerstone of its identity. It would be a different society
without it, although it might be situated in the same place. That
is why the person who is against those basic values is also against
society as such, even though he or she may be saying the opposite.
A set of those basic values makes up the national idea – something
that Russia has been looking for over the past ten years at Boris
Yeltsin’s original behest, yet looking in the wrong place, as is so
often the case.
RUSSIAN NATIONAL IDEA
This brings us to the conclusion that reviving the notion of an
internal enemy is possible if you have a fully conceived national
idea; a foe is the one who transgresses this idea. A national idea
does not come as a teaching, like Marxism-Leninism, that must be
communicated to the whole world. Nor is it limited to
characteristics of a given country that make it different from all
other countries. On the contrary, the national ideas of various
countries have a similar essence. A national idea cannot be
bestowed on society from above or pushed through from below. It
must inherently exist in the nation, although not in a fully
conceived form. If it does, it can be formulated clearly, but only
A person has a chance to become a great politician if he is
capable of trailing the society’s essence, gleaning it out of the
ephemeral and nonessential, and then setting it out in plain terms.
People who attempt to impose a certain ideology on the nation have
no such chance. It is obvious for me that it makes no sense arguing
about what concept must become the national idea; the debate should
focus on what values Russia already possesses as the national
1. Russia is a great state and must remain as such. This means
that our existence as Russians inside Russia, not as nationals of a
different country living in this country, however affluent and free
it may be, is a value of the highest order. Another paramount value
is that Russia must be a strong and powerful state, not a weak and
dismal one. Its power should be greater than just the defense power
that awes the whole world, although this is also a crucial factor.
Power also implies advanced science and high education, two
mandatory components of any civilization.
That is to say, all of us will prefer living, albeit less
affluently, in a strong Russia, as opposed to a more affluent but
weak and miserable Russia, or outside Russia for that matter. None
of us will then capitulate to whatever enemy for whatever
2. Russia must remain a state where Russian Orthodoxy is the
main creed. This means that the values and standards take their
origin in the Russian nation and the Orthodox creed, which have a
special status here, together with the Russian language. Developing
and consolidating the Russian nation and Orthodoxy, and fostering
their interests, which in fact are one and the same thing,
constitute the major goal for Russia. It has greater significance
for us than the interests of other peoples, or religions in Russia.
The latter also have importance, and that is why all of Russia, and
not only its constituent territory of North Ossetia, has a duty to
defend the ethnic Ossetians living in Georgia.
In what concerns the interests of foreigners, they are
irrelevant to us and should be taken into account only in the
process of international bargaining of some sort. This does not
mean, however, that we should discriminate against non-Russians or
individuals who espouse creeds that are untraditional for Russia.
Let us recall that Suleiman the Magnificent, the grand Ottoman
sultan, had a devout religious Jew as a vizier, but the Ottoman
Empire remained a Moslem state and a successor to the Caliphate.
Russia can and must establish Russian ethnic and Orthodox religious
feasts, but not the feasts of other ethnic groups and/or religions,
as national holidays. Those who are discontent with such holidays
may simply avoid celebrating them.
3. Russia must retain the status of an imperial country. The
most commonly known definition of empire – that is, a state that
unites under its sway other states which are currently or formerly
independent – has long lost relevance. If this definition is
applied to the U.S., an obviously imperial nation, it suggests that
the U.S. is not an empire per se.
An empire is actually any state whose existence makes sense for
reasons other than simply to be self-supporting. Russia cannot
exist without sense. One does not have to be a wizard to grasp this
sense – that it is important to build public life on the foundation
of Jesus Christ’s commandments.
4. Russia must be a common home to all Russians who live here
and abroad; the conditions of our compatriots in other countries is
our concern. After all, close is the shirt but closer is the skin.
This is a feature of human nature; we cannot simply ignore the
plight of our kith and kin. So if we are unable to treat our
fellow-Russians abroad as brothers, let us at least treat them as
distant relatives. And let us sacrifice some of our interests and
rights, besides the most fundamental, for common interests,
especially in time of turmoil.
5. Russia is a free country and must remain as such. This means
that we have particular rights and freedoms that we will never
renounce on whatever considerations, otherwise we will lose the
essence of ourselves. Those rights and freedoms may sometimes
differ from Constitutional provisions and the plans of our
incumbent authorities. For the time being, it is possible for us to
drop the direct election of governors – or even that of the
president, however menacing this may sound – but we cannot drop the
principle of personal responsibility. We could drop ownership of
mass media, but we cannot restrict free travel between different
parts of the country. Private enterprise, too, must be regarded as
an inalienable right rather than the government’s managerial
This comprises the whole story. In light of it, the secret of
President Putin’s unfading public ratings has a simple explanation
– his words and general style mostly (although not always)
correspond with the national idea that is cherished by the Russian
WHO’S THE FOE?
The gist of what has been said offers a plain criterion for
separating the sheep from the wolves. Those people who call for
talks with Maskhadov and his like (unless they wish to stipulate
their capitulation), or argue that there was no need for an assault
at the Dubrovka Theater or the Beslan school, should be considered
The people who propose a repetition of the 1996 Khasavyurt deal
with Chechen separatists, and listen to the songs of “Ichkerian
fighters” at meetings are foes. Those who recommend Russia disband
its Armed Forces under the pretext that the Great West is
supporting peace on the planet are foes. The people who allege that
Western countries and monetary funds of various colors offer the
only right methods for building Russia’s national economy and
policies are foes. Those who insist that the state has no right to
introduce the basics of religion into school curricula on the basis
of Orthodox teaching are foes (although they should not be confused
with those who say the Church is unready for this task).
The people who shed tears over Gusinsky’s NTV channel and
complain that a dictatorship has arrived because none of the
channels launch broadside attacks at Russia are foes. Those who say
that the billionaires who crave for power should not be jailed
because it spoils the investment climate are foes. The same applies
to the promoters of money and entertainment as the major values of
life, since they dismiss all other values as fantasies of the
Orthodox Church which cause Russia to drag behind the West or even
By contrast, the people who find it necessary to revamp the
secret services in order to make them a more deadly weapon against
the enemy are not foes. Those who believe that we should cooperate
with the Americans in Iraq if we can benefit from it are not foes.
Those people who argue that regional governors should be elected
rather than appointed in order to prevent unnecessary criticism of
the federal center are not foes. Those who argue that the
establishment of political parties as the key element of the
political system has no future here are not foes.
Those who argue that managed democracy limits the opportunity to
express dissatisfaction in a legitimate way and thus will reduce
stability over the medium term are not foes. The people who believe
that even if the government keeps control over political programs
on television, the style of presentation should not resemble the
sugary newscasts of Leonid Brezhnev’s era are not foes. Finally,
those who think we must elect someone besides Putin or his
successor in 2008 are not foes either.
Those people, whose opinions concerning the solution of specific
issues differ from the views of the authorities or their
associates, yet share all the basic values which comprise the
Russian national idea, cannot be considered foes of Russia.
Russia is a great state and must remain as such. This means that
our existence as Russians in Russia, and not the citizens of some
other state, however affluent and free it may be, is the highest