?https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 https://www.traditionrolex.com/44 The Source of Success - LEONIDAS DONSKIS

The Source of Success

March 03, 2011

By Leonidas Donskis

One of the most prominent and perceptive experts on the former Soviet Union, the French historian, philosopher, and political scientist Alain Besançon once suggested that “failure to understand the Soviet regime is the principal cause of its successes.” More than that, Besançon went on adding that it is difficult to find in any one Western country at any one time “rarely more than a dozen minds capable of understanding the Soviet phenomenon and of translating what they know into politically useable terms.”    

Curiously, Alain Besançon’s disciple Françoise Thom, a history lecturer at Sorbonne, added fairly recently that never before has misunderstanding of Russia in Western Europe been as huge as it is now. According to her, a sort of self-inflicted blindness fuelled by sweet lies and charms of self-deception, it results in shutting the eyes before the fact that Russia provoked the war against the sovereign state of Georgia, and then occupied and annexed parts of Georgia’s territory. No matter how strongly we agree on Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili as hardly a raw model democrat, the fact remains that the West has swallowed this déjà vu episode that was straight from the geopolitical repertoire of the twentieth century.

We are tempted to believe that Russia is on the way to reforming its economic and political systems. Yet we tend to forget, as Thom points out, that all the waves of modernization of Russia came out as a reaction to its defeats and losses. Peter the Great undertook his reforms after the defeat of Russia by Sweden near Narva, Alexander II after the painful loss of the Crimean War, Nicholas II after the disastrous defeat of Russia by Japan. Let me add Mikhail Gorbachev to this chain: he had good reason to make a desperate attempt to modernize the military and economic potential of the Soviet Union after its disgraceful failure in Afghanistan.

Like for China or other Asian autocracies that try to put together the free-market economy and zero political liberty and pluralism, modernization in Russia continues to be, like it has always been, the development of technology and military potential of the nation. True, perhaps for the first time in modern Russia’s history the political and industrial elite of the country agreed on the import of the new weapons and warfare technologies (just recall the French Mistral history, not to mention Israeli war intelligence planes, etc.), rather than relying exclusively on the export of weapons, which indicates a paradigm shift in strategic planning and thinking about the future.

Yet it does not change the essence of this issue, as modernization, in Russia, is in no way related to such core Western values as the individual’s autonomy and dignity, fundamental liberties and human rights, political liberty and pluralism, subsidiarity and the rule of law. To put it simple, the model of what may well be perceived as a potential club of emerging rival powers, from China to Russia, that position themselves as a new ideological and civilizational alternative to the West, is based on authoritarian capitalism, or capitalism without liberty, a sinister phenomenon of the post-Cold-War world.    

What does modernization signify for present Russia and its political elite? What is the way in which Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev understands modernization? In theory, he appears as a new modernizer inclined to talk about the emergence the new democratic Russia, whereas the omnipotent Prime Minister Vladimir Putin doesn’t use this word clearly preferring “stabilization” – and understandably so, as democracy will never “stabilize” the world in the sense that he is so fond of, that is, imposing the once-and-for-all order and arresting social and political change.      

Unfortunately, never has the will-to-misunderstand Russia been as strong in the EU as it is now. If it did not happen to me in Brussels, I would never have believed that such a pearl of wisdom could come from the lips of a ranking official from the European Commission. Yet the fact remains that the bureaucrat in question once made himself clear, and in presence of academics and exchange students, regarding the role of Russia as a prime stabilizing factor in such areas as Caucasus.

The EU failed to understand the critical aspects of present Russia’s politics. Like in those old days when Soviet dissidents were a lifetime ahead of all Western politicians and political scientists put together in terms of their clear understanding of the logic of power in the USSR, the Russian journalists and human rights defenders cannot stand the rubbish about Russia they hear in the EU. 

The legendary Soviet dissident and Russian human rights defender Sergei Kovalev once told me that the supposed naiveté of the West is merely an illusion. They understand everything. Didn’t they understand what kind of antifascist Stalin was when another antifascist Lion Feuchtwanger brought to the West good news about the paradise on earth in the Soviet Union? They did, and their naiveté was just a trick and self-deception. And then Kovalev aptly summed it up challenging Alain Besançon: “They do not tolerate fascism of their own, but they tolerate it elsewhere.”          

A sincere belief that anything is so makes it so, as William Blake’s winged phrase suggests. A sincere belief that gas and oil are more important than human rights can be supported by a theory that we have to respect the people’s choice. Although we know that there was no choice and that there never will be any, if we keep applying double standards and requiring legitimacy and respect for human rights only from the small, while thinking of the big and powerful as trying to catch up and improve – even if the record shows the opposite.

This article was published in Ukrainian on "Ukrainian week"