Adam Michnik: The Disease of State Putinism

We are going to be publishing a series of translations from the Russian press which ran following the visit to Moscow of the Polish historian Adam Michnik. This one comes from Svoboda News. michnik110608.jpg

Adam Michnik: “Putinism – not only a Russian specific” The culturo-historical sources of authoritarianism in Russia today are being discussed by many. Regeneration of authoritarianism is intrinsic to any young democratic state, objects historian Adam Michnik Mikhail Sokolov, 27.10.08 “We don’t have a crisis,” – exclaimed this week premier Vladimir Putin. The head of government, apparently, believes his own television broadcast, which reports that problems have arisen in the whole world, except Russia. The guest of the Third Khodorkovsky readings in Moscow – one of the founders of the movement Solidarity, historian Adam Michnik in an interview for RS observer Mikhail Sokolov shared his thoughts on the disease of state “Putinism”:

Now in the Russian public is prevailing the thought that Russia is doomed to authoritarianism because of the historico-cultural peculiarities of its development.I remember perfectly well how all the sovietologists and specialists used to say that in Russia reforms of the Gorbachevian format are impossible simply because Russia – this is Ivan the Terrible, this is Peter the Great, this is Nicholas and so forth. You know, if today in France, for example, there came to power a dictatorship, everybody would be saying the same thing, that power is centralized, and then Jacobism, and then Bonapartism. No, in my opinion, this is absurdity. I don’t want to say that tradition doesn’t play any role at all. Of course it plays. But there are in Russia many traditions. There is the tradition, let us say, of Herzen. And there simply is yet another point of view among Western and American cynics and opportunist, that we don’t need to do anything, because Russians like dictatorship.How will you explain that rollback, which took place from the year 1991 to the Putin regime?Nobody can explain it, because this is a very complex process. But it needs to be said that these problems take place in all post-communist countries. Putinism – this is not a specialty of the Russian cuisine. We see, for example, in Poland, how two brothers-twins have created their own putinism. We saw how this took place in Byelorussia. One can also look at the government of Saakashvili in Georgia, at the president of Romania. You know, this is a disease of young democrats, a disease of countries where there isn’t a long tradition of a law-based state. The love of freedom among Russians is very strong, this we all know perfectly well, after all there was no such historical necessity for the bolsheviks to have won in the year 1917. Like there was no necessity for Hitler to have won in Germany in the year 1933.Can the economic crisis give a road to democracy or no? In Poland this happened, in Russia this happened one time. And now?I can’t answer. Because all great economists of the world are arguing what is the nature, what are the causes of this crisis. But the crisis – and this is normal – opens the doors of revolution, to insurrections.Or to healing, to sanation.Give me an historical example, besides America and the crisis of the year 1929, which brought Roosevelt to power.The reforms of Gaidar of the years 1991-1992.This was not the result of a crisis, this was the result of perestroika.But perestroika is part of a crisis.In that sense – yes, but this is already now not Gorbachev, but another elite in power, other people.That is you’re not awaiting a change of elites in Russia, not waiting for some kind of in-principle changes?This is people of a new epoch, this is already not Soviet people. This is the generation of perestroika, a generation for which different results of perestroika: for some freedom, for others corruption, the criminalization of life and, at the end of the day, the fall of a great empire. I said many times in Poland, the Poles had power from Lvov to Vladivostok, in every city was the Polish language, in every city the deputy governor – a Pole. All this developed to all (…) without war, without battles, but everyone was sorry. You can’t not understand the mood of people in Russia. And when Putin said that the collapse of the USSR – [was the] the greatest calamity of the 20th century, people liked to hear this, but I don’t think that it will always be like this. I don’t know when the changes will begin, but for me it is absolutely obvious that there is already no return.But can there be not a return? After all, Russia has gone through the disease of communism, but it has not experienced fascism. And here this imperial reaction may become that or the other form of a regime worse than the putinite one.I’m a historian and know that in history everything is possible. That which is unexpected is also possible. But I want to live as an optimist. In Poland I also was afraid that such an amazing exotic coalition of postsolidarity, postcommunists and postfascists would come to power, and it came to power, but only for two years. Today I look at Serbia, which was all this time a black hole. I spent time recently in Belgrade, spoke with people and saw that they are already thinking differently.Do chances for changes exist?As long as the earth keeps spinning.