Two Important Characteristics of Russia

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Dr. Hossein Deheshyar

The internal and international behaviors of the Russian leaders, Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev over the eight-year rule of the former and almost one-year presidency of the latter, indicate that Russia has maintained two unique characteristics it has practiced over centuries of Tsarist and Communist rules.

During the 19th century, Russia was known as the “patient of Europe”. Feudal-oriented economy, lack of individual rights throughout the country and more importantly extensive despotism were among the features of this illness which required treatment. Of course, these were features Russia had displayed in the very first days of inception in the 11th century in Saint Petersburg. But these distinctions became more obvious ever because in many parts of Europe, particularly in powerful states in West Europe, the feudal-oriented economic structures and power-mongering of the ruling establishments had practically come to an end.

While the Tsarist Russia, as a European power, was practically treading a completely different path in terms of law, economics and politics, the signs of Moscow’s distinction from other powerful nations in the continent in the Communist era were also numerous. Russia gave practical realization to the Tsarist despotic political structure and as a result a totalitarian framework was shaped that was unprecedented in human history and in term of its powerful influence on all living aspects of the people of Russia. The economic structure assumed an industrial planning nature which was unrivaled in the course of human existence and in terms of the extent of the government intervention in shaping the people’s economic needs and demands and also in feeling responsible to meet these demands.

As regards people’s natural rights the government ruling over Russia provided the least during 10 centuries of its presence in the map of Europe. With regard to these realities it must be said that within the internal domain, Russia is still a power-monger. Although the people participate in elections and elect leaders, nevertheless the mentality and criteria upon which the people see the establishment as well as the logic based on which the government formulates the civil society is completely hegemonic and individual belligerent. The majority of the people as well as the ruling establishment in Russia take hegemony for granted and do not find it in conflict with the interests of the people and the regime. In their opinion, power-mongering is a natural course of events. It is due to this attitude among the masses and the elites in Russia that traditional liberal thoughts never took roots in the country. It also tells us why government welfare thoughts which are a characteristic of Europe in recent decades could never find a place in its liberal concept in Russia.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who alone, as a literary giant, played a determining role through his book the “Gulag Archipelago” in the decline of the Soviet Communist style and value system, drew an alternative which was in full contrast with Communism in value but it was still hegemonic in nature.

Historically, the people of Russia have a growing skill to welcome hegemonic values and despotic behaviors. That is why Stalin is still popular in Russia and Vladimir Putin is among the most prominent political figures in the country. Like Stalin, he sent the internal opponents demanding independence to the gallows and forced domestic political opposition to exile inside the country. In the foreign domain, Russia has shown that it still believes in coercion and military force to attract friendship of other countries and punishing the states opposed to it.

To make Ukraine understand that it should not turn West, Russia closed the energy tabs to Kiev in the cold winter season and halted oil and gas supply to the country on the pretext that Ukraine should pay higher prices for energy. Considering the land area of Ukraine as well as its population and military potentials, Russia deemed it appropriate to only use the energy weapon to punish the country.   

While big European countries like France, UK and Germany try to attract friends in view of their institutional power and norms symbolized by the European Union, the Russians continue to use force as the best option. The Russian attack on Georgia on the pretext of defending independence seeking regions showed that the Russians still consider military power valid in order to maintain influence in the region. Of course, in many European countries, former communists or supporters of communism in different garbs, speak of provocations by Georgia. However, according to the natural rights of nations, Russia has no right to attack another country on the pretext of preventing exertion of authority. This is a problem which must be solved by the international law.

Despotism in the internal scene and use of force in external scene are two characteristics the Russians have favored over long centuries and have never hesitated to display. Therefore, one should not have expectations other than this in the future as well.


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