Grigory Pasko: Interview with Alexander Khodnev

putin_kukla.jpgProfessor Khodnev: «What will be tomorrow – is unclear…» By Grigory Pasko, journalist I first met Professor Alexander Sergeyevich Khodnev in Washington several years ago. And several days ago, I met with him on the day of the elections of the president of Russia in Yaroslavl, where he teaches history. I hereby offer for your consideration my conversation with Alexander Khodnev, Doctor of Historical Sciences, Professor, Chair of the Department of Universal History at the Yaroslavl Pedagogical University Named After K. Ushinsky. Alexander Sergeyevich, today you and I observed the elections – you at your own local precinct, I at your university. The people came actively. After voting, I asked people for whom they had voted. The majority replied that they’d voted for Medvedev. Of course, the actual result of the voting was predictable. So why, then, in your view, is the power hedging itself in every which way? It suppresses the opposition, it removed Kasyanov from the elections, it threatened civil service employees if they didn’t show up for the elections… What is the power afraid of and is it really afraid?

The power is indeed afraid. Moreover, for a long time already. If we speak in the context of today – literally today – then it would be worthwhile to bring our attention to the fact that events in Yerevan are practically not being covered by Russian television. This is because the power is afraid of even accidentally dropping into the public consciousness the thought of the possibility of conflicts, convulsions like the «orange» revolution. By the way, the “palace” political scientists, people like Pavlovsky, Markov, et al., speak directly about how the power is afraid of an «orange» revolution in Russia. No doubt this is where the idea comes from of transferring power to a successor – from hand to hand. An “operation heir-to-the-throne” of sorts.Needless to say, we’ve had this in history before. After the death of both his sons, Peter the Great was preparing to transfer the throne to his second wife, Catherine. Especially for this, in 1722 he published an Ukase on succession to the throne. “Whomsoever the ruling sovereign wishes to designate the succession to, to him shall he do so, and for the designated one, seeing some manner of lasciviousness, let him retract”, was said in the ukase. Paul I occupied the Russian throne in April of 1797. The first ukase issued by the new tsar became the “Act on succession to the throne”. The objective of the ukase was the establishment of a strict order of succession to the throne. Henceforth, the sole lawful heir was proclaimed to be the elder son of the reigning monarch, who was succeeded by his offspring of the male gender.Despite the fact that Paul I fell as a victim to a palace coup, the “Act on succession to the throne”, unlike many other reforms of his, was never repealed and remained in effect right on up until 1917.khodnev030708Professor Alexander Khodnev (photo by Grigory Pasko)“Medvedev as Putin’s bastard son” – an interesting topic… But seriously, with what period of our history could we compare the current period?The end of the epoch of the reign of Alexander I. Despite the fact that he brought Speransky into his inner circle and charged him with developing a project of reforms – and Speransky did develop a good project, in which there was both separation of powers and societal control – real legislative power remained in the hands of the tsar and the upper bureaucracy. Implementation of the project began in 1810, when the Council of State was established. But the autocrat in Alexander won out. And the upper nobility, hearing about Speransky’s plans to endow the serfs with civil rights, openly expressed displeasure. Everybody united against the reformer, starting with N. Karamzin and ending with A. Arakcheyev. It all ended with Speransky being arrested in March of 1812 and banished to Nizhny Novgorod. [the same place Andrei Sakharov was banished a century and a half later, only by then it had been renamed Gorky—Trans.]The Decembrists saw the contradictions in Russian reality: between the demands of national development and the feudal-serfdom ways, and understood that they are holding back national progress. Intolerable for advanced Russian people was serfdom. They wanted to repeal it, to transform Russia from an autocratic into a constitutional state. Advanced nobility, including officers, were waiting for Alexander, having defeated Napoleon, to give the peasants of Russia freedom, and to the country – a constitution. But they were forced to be disappointed in the tsar: he turned out not to be any kind of reformer. But then the serf-owner and the autocrat in him won out. It should be noted that after the suppression of the Decembrists’ insurrection, there came a reaction. The defeat of the Decembrists gave rise among a certain part of society to pessimism and despair.Indeed, this really does look a lot like today’s situation in Russia: both the good-for-nothing reformers, and the attempts at autocracy… By the way, you can notice pessimism and despair now too in a certain part of society – despair from the fact that the chekists who have come to power have led the country backwards, into the socialist past, although “with a capitalist face”… People are now discussing Andrei Illarionov’s «February» theses in private. In them, in part, is spoken about the illegitimacy of today’s Russian power…The concept of a rule-of-law state and the concept of legitimacy in our country have turned out to be fuzzy. Just like the concept of democracy: over 18 years, Russian democracy has not taken on distinct outlines. And legitimacy in our situation needs to be accepted with lots of reservations. In England in its time, a very large number of people were not allowed access to elections, but the parliament was legitimate.Nowadays, people are already thinking not about whether or not Medvedev is legitimate, but about when Medvedev is going to start freeing himself from Putin’s tutelage.I doubt this will ever happen…As the French say, cherchez la femme. Everything depends on the first lady. That’s a joke, but there is a measure of joke in it. [sic – a popular Russian aphorism states “In every joke there is a measure of joke” (i.e. jokes actually contain a very large measure of truth)—Trans.]I agree that what we do know about Medvedev’s wife and her role in the creation of the current situation of her husband allows us to come to the conclusion that substantive changes may take place in Russia with her intervention in the affairs of the husband, and Medvedev may be able to break away from Putin. Thus in her time did Gorbachev’s wife influence events in the country. But I don’t think that the role of the first lady should be overstated: Putin’s team will not allow either her or her husband to conduct an independent policy in the state.According to the constitution, the president has big powers. What will be tomorrow – is unclear. Because the main problem is the economy. It is not by accident that the leading scholars of the country recently characterized the result of Putin’s rule as the “primitivization of the economy”.You’re referring to the economic report prepared by a collective of authors of the Russian academy of sciences headed by the director of the Institute of economics of the RAN [Russian Academy of Sciences], corresponding member Ruslan Greenberg? Yes. The scholars cast doubt on the economic policy that was being carried out during the course of the past eight years, inasmuch as it, despite the attainment of a series of positive macroeconomic shifts, did not resolve the main problem: the constant deterioration of the state of the social sphere.In the opinion of the head of the Economic expert group, Yevsey Gurvich, we in fact do not have competitive output. As a result, we have remained a raw-materials, monopolized, statified economy with weak institutions. To this can be added also the distrust of the authorities: besides president Putin, people don’t trust anyone: neither the government, nor the parliament, nor the parties. This all expresses itself in rumors of a coming default and devaluation.I have read that he also talked about how now, first and foremost, it is imperative to conduct an adequate macroeconomic policy, because it is the foundation of the successful economy of the country. And also: in order for there not to be a crisis situation in three years’ time, it is necessary to seriously engage in the resolution of the problem of corruption, for which a mandatory condition is the existence of free mass media.The absence of an alternative point of view of the economic development of the country should also be cause for alarm. A recession in the world economy is starting. This will lead to a drop in the prices for crude oil, but will the leadership of the country have enough opportunities and enough brains to withstand this? With such a system of elections without an opposition in parliament – they couldn’t even put together a one-and-a-half-party system – in this system without an alternative opinion with respect to the economy, authoritarian solutions are once again likely, and, as a consequence, errors in the determining of the correct way.Probably it was specially for a crisis situation that the stabilization fund was created in the first place……Which is primarily in dollars, and the dollar is dropping headlong. That is, Russia is losing colossal money from this fund every day. Although, of course, at first the stabfund will play a stabilizing role. But later? Structural reforms in the economy have not taken place over the time of Putin’s rule. At first there were attempts, but then the oil price went up, and everybody forgot about reforms. Real wages of people have indeed risen. The people have gotten accustomed to living on petrodollars. In Yaroslavl, as an example, the average monthly wage approaches five hundred dollars. That’s a lot.Inflation will eat it up… What do you think about the nature of the current power in general? If we assume that both Putin and Medvedev are nothing but puppets in the hands of some kind of collective KGB-FSB brain that’s running the country, then from where can we await progressive reforms, growth in the well-being of the population and growth of the economy? Maybe the collective brain doesn’t need this at all: it just wants to stuff its pockets and fill its accounts in foreign banks…This is a worst-case scenario, but I doubt everything is like this in actuality. Otherwise, we would not be witnesses to the permanent wars of the siloviki amongst themselves. It is enough to recall the letter/wail of the head of narcocontrol, FSB general Cherkesov, the reciprocal arrests of one another, the inter-clan struggle… It’s highly unlikely that there’s a “single intelligence” there. Besides, in my view, the siloviki participating in the distribution of property are not concretely engaged in economics. They farm this out to specialists, although they do participate in the resolution of questions that are important in principle to them in this sphere.In your view, is there any substance to the rumors about a forthcoming thaw in public life with the arrival of Medvedev?There are some very bad signs. We all know them: suppression of the political opposition, dependence of the courts, control of the mass media… But there are other facts as well. For example, the introduction of the new school history textbook. This is the laying down of an ideology for many years to come. One of the authors of the textbook told me that there won’t be odious phrases there after this textbook has been critiqued. For example, about how Stalin was an effective manager. The author told me that they were able to rectify quite a bit. By the way, initially this was a book for the teacher, and not for pupils. In the thirties under Stalin, they also started with the publication of a textbook for the retraining of teachers.For now, we do not have cruelty equal to the scales of the Stalinist repressions. I’m saying this about the power and its actions as applies not only to the history textbook.But how then do we reconcile the pre-election speeches of Medvedev, where he pontificated on the need to follow laws, on democracy, with the shackling of the suspect Alexanyan to a bed with a chain, with the expulsion of the opposition journalist Morari…?I think that there are lawyers and there are lawyers. Some spend years working in a repressive apparat – border guards and other employees of the FSB, procurators… Medvedev was engaged in economic questions – that’s another area of law. In the Soviet time, the training of lawyers was conducted with a slant towards criminal law, into the repressive part. Medvedev – there is hope – is a representative of the other jurisprudence. And Morari, someone is taking revenge out on her, some concrete person. And nobody wants to stick their nose in it. A hassle, a battle of spiders… It would be wonderful if this would be the last such battle of this kind.It would… Thanks for the talk.Reference:Chair of the department of universal history of the Yaroslavl state pedagogical university named after K.D. Ushinsky; born 8 March 1952 in the city of Yaroslavl; completed the Yaroslavl state pedagogical institute in 1974, graduate studies at the department of modern and contemporary history at MGPI [Moscow state pedagogical institute] named after Lenin in 1980, interned at the Institute for advanced Russian studies [the Kennan Institute] of the Woodrow Wilson Center (Washington, USA) in 1992, at the School of [advanced] international studies [SAIS] of J. Hopkins University (Washington, USA) in 1998; doctor of historical sciences, professor; principal directions of scholarly activity: the history and activity of international organizations; author of scholarly works, published in Russia and abroad; member of the Peace History Society association; member of the International Society for History Didactics; member of the expert council of the “Open society” Institute (Soros Foundation); speaks the English and German languages.