Acts of Compassion

Russia Profile is carrying the following opinion article by Alexander Arkhangelsky.

December 22, 2008
Mercy for the Fallen
Comment by Alexander Arkhangelsky
Special to RIA Novosti

Acts of compassion should be the rule, not the exception

In the past month small, unconnected and apparently spontaneous steps forward have been made on several humanitarian issues. Alexander Arkhangelsky argues that these could be a reason for optimism, if the state allows these small steps of compassion to become the rule, rather than the exception. The alternative – continuing to resist opening up the political system – means denying any outlet for popular sentiment to let off steam. The results of that could be disastrous.

Humanitarian news of the previous month. Svetlana Bakhmina gavebirth in a civilian hospital. Vasily Alexanyan may be released on bail,though the bail is set, to be perfectly frank, at an outrageously highsum. Murat Zyazikov’s frenzied clan is in hopeless resignation. NikitaBelykh has come a very long way from Perm to Vyatka, i.e. fromuncompromising opposition to gubernatorial power.

Of course, the right thing to do would have been to have pardonedher a long time ago; and not only to pardon her, but to use herparticular situation to grant amnesty to all pregnant inmates and thosewho recently gave birth. And then, once and for all, to give up theidea of using female hostages in the titanic struggles of men. Inaccordance with the laws of humanity (and without breaking the laws setby the judicial system), the ailing Alexanyan should have been set freetwo years ago.

And not on a humiliating 50-million-ruble bail, but on a simplesigned statement of commitment not to leave the city. Based on sensiblereckoning, it’s not even clear how the wacko Zyazikov with his wholehorde was ever allowed to take power in Ingushetia at all. As for thecompetent and reasonable members of the opposition, they should havebeen built into the system of gubernatorial authority back at the endof the second term. In order to at least partly soften the consequencesof the Beslan decision. And to call on ambitious young guys to servethe society; young guys who want to work, but don’t want to be part ofUnited Russia. And then to start further softening of the regime.

This is the right thing to do. But inside the political pressurecooker, to which the regime closed the lid after turning the stove on,you have to act differently; by opening the lid slightly from theinside, before it gets opened from the outside or before the potexplodes. Inside the pressure cooker, any actions (or counteractions)are reviewed not in perspective, but post factum; so this happened -good (or, alternatively – terrible). In an open political system, theeasing of Bakhmina’s fate, the softening of Alexanyan’s lot, theparting with Zyazikov or the bringing of Belykh in closer to the regimeshould all be evaluated based on some linear scale: enough / not enough/ necessary / too little; the main question is what it will lead to,and what steps will be next, and after that, and then after that. Foran open system presupposes both a general sequence of actions and acertain perspective. And in a closed system, there is no perspective.And thus there can be no sequence. A different law reigns here: a lawof self-sufficient bubbling. Some event didn’t happen for a while, andthen – boom! – it suddenly happened. Which does not in any way meanthat the effect follows from the cause, that the event will be in anyway developed or that the next step will be a continuation of theprevious one. There is no connected chain of events. There are justevents as such. Events that can turn into something, or might not turninto anything. And that is exactly why they should be evaluated inthemselves. Outside of any political, economic or social perspective.

In this sense Bakhmina’s civilian hospital is self-sufficient. Notbecause a pardon will or will not follow it, but because it’s betterfor a woman to give birth among civilians. For any woman. Whether she’sa hostage (for) Khodorkovsky, a homeless man’s girlfriend or anoligarch’s bankrupt widow. And that’s all there is to it.

And it’s better for Alexanyan to have a chance of going free on anoutrageous bail than not have such a chance at all. It’s better forZyazikov to quietly sit off on the side, regardless of whether hisremoval will become a precedent, whether it will lead to new dismissalsof the more monstrous regional bosses. It’s not bad for Belykh to testhimself in this new capacity. It doesn’t matter whether any othermember of the opposition will be allowed to move from politicalobscurity into the gubernatorial field.

It is a different matter that sooner or later the number of”bubbles”, if they don’t stop at some point, will become a kind ofboiling. On its own accord, too. Regardless of the plans and intentionsof the authorities. And the closed lid will rise slightly and give ventto the boiling public energy. Or it won’t rise, and the lid will beblown off, while the pot itself bursts too. And this is something wewouldn’t want to happen, honestly. Hence the unpleasant, by reason ofits irrationality, question, “What should we think about theseindependent bubbling impulses?” – has to be answered positively. Weshould think they are good. With all the possible reservations. Let thebrew bubble. Let the lid rise. If you take the lid off – maybe thesteam will blow off, too.

Of course, it’s much more romantic to run around a square with flagsand banners and to delight freedom-loving folks with your polishedbourgeois look; but what if the folks turn around and trample over thebrave rebels? Alas, it is not possible to completely eliminate thispossibility. Unless the lid rises slightly. And what if it is opened,after all?

What if the mercy for the fallen grows from the level ofunsystematic pittance to the level of state norm? If the soft forceapplied to the robbers in uniform and epaulettes turns into a politicalrule? And if the “change of residence” for the dissidents will beconsistent? Great, then! Nikolay Turgenev, author of the books Theoryof Tax and Notes of the Russian Man, perhaps the only member of asecret society who insisted on liberating the serfs before theintroduction of the noble constitution, liked to repeat Chateaubriand’smaxim this way: Revolutions are a double lesson of Providence. For thepeople: abuse is better than a Revolution. For rulers: abuse generatesa Revolution.

So keep gurgling, self-willed and independent bubbles. Preserve yourinertia. Maybe everything will work out. And if it doesn’t… it wouldn’tbe the first time for this country to blow its lid.