Today, and hopefully over the next several months, we are planning to do a significant amount of blogging about Russia from a comparative perspective – focusing often on the commonalities of the Russian experience and the Latin American experience. I would argue that those who study Russia can learn a lot by looking at popular movements across this distant continent. Case in point, there is a terrific column by Enrique Krauze, the editor of the excellent Mexican magazine Letras Libres, in the IHT today about the Venezuelan student movements which makes mention of the Russian student idealist “Sashka Zhegulyov” (a character from a 1911 novel by Leonid Andreyev). What can we learn about Vladimir Putin and Russia from the experiences of Alberto Fujimori, Hugo Chavez, Lazaro Cárdenas, and other populist authoritarians of Latin America?
The fact that so many young visionaries in Latin America drew their inspiration from Russia, in the name of both liberty and totalitarianism, should not be overlooked. The entire theory and praxis of Marxism, Leninism, and the Soviet experience, has had a tremendous and indelible impact in this region, and by looking at the dynamic forces at work in Latin America’s recent rich history, we can see startling intimations of current events over in Russia.Vladimir Putin, for example, and this hybrid autocratic development in Russia is nothing new. It is retrograde, it is old, and really we are watching the rerun of an established trend which we have seen from Lazaro Cárdenas to Alberto Fujimori. Putin, it could be argued, has more in common with caudillos of 19th century Latin America than he does with responsible democratically elected leaders of the 21st century.The brave students of Caracas who model themselves upon the idealism of Sashka Zhegulyov may present a compelling answer to the rising tide of clans and authoritarianism we see occurring in Russia today.