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Dr. Sergey Zagraevsky


About democracy and dictatorship in Russia


Above all let us agree what we call democracy, and what – dictatorship.

Speaking formally, democracy is the power of the people, and dictatorship – the power of one person (or of a group of persons, or even of some social strata). But it is clear that pure democracy or dictatorship do not exist: even in the most democratic countries people are, at least to a small extent, manipulated by certain social groups and individuals, and even in the toughest dictatorship people’s opinion is taken into consideration, at least to a small extent. The terminology is also confused by the fact that the majority of dictators calls themselves presidents, organizes “elections” and declares “adherence to democratic values”, and by the fact that absolute monarchy is usually differed from dictatorial rule, although it is also the power of one person or a group of persons.

So let's give the simplest determination, which is based not on some philosophic, political or economic theory, but on concrete feelings of concrete people.

In the conditions of democracy the majority of respectable citizens feel that they are able to influence to some extent the elections results, strategy and tactics of the government, and if the authorities (government, president, legislature, judicial and power structures, etc.) would do something wrong, then they can be changed, exclusively in the constitutional way, without taking weapons.

But under dictatorship (also as under absolute monarchy) general sense of the vast majority of people is quite different: this power is forever (if not for thousand years, as Hitler's “Reich”, then for the foreseeable future), and if it does something wrong, we shall scold it, lament, complain, tell an anecdote about it, and if it becomes unbearable, go to some protest action... But there occur no constructive thoughts about its shift in the constitutional way.

There is a misconception shared by many people. It consists in the opinion that under dictatorship the power is stronger than under democracy. It is often said: "Russia needs a strong hand", and it is usually understood as one or another form of dictatorship. And something about the order, stability and predictability is often added.

We are in no case going to argue with the fact that Russia (as the U.S., and Germany, and France, and Egypt, and Zimbabwe, and any other country) needs a "strong hand". As well as stability and predictability. The power must be strong, otherwise it is not a power. But why is a "strong hand" necessarily a dictatorship?

Democracy and spineless, democracy and weakness, democracy and instability, democracy and unpredictability, democracy and the lack of order, democracy and anarchy are not the same things. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Gustav Mannerheim, Conrad Adenauer, Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Ariel Sharon, Angela Merkel... Does history know few examples of "strong hands", ruling states within stable and predictable democratic systems?

Just near the "strong hand" there must always be other "strong hands" – the opposition movements and figures, constraining and correcting "the strongest". What if, for example, "the strongest hand" does something wrong? It is not omniscient, not omnipotent and not infallible (so people could think and talk about pharaohs, Roman Popes, emperors, Stalin or Hitler, but now nobody can be seriously persuaded in that).

And if, for example, the "strong hand" is already weak? What can it be compared with? Only with other "strong hands".

Therefore, the most important, fundamental difference between democracy and dictatorship is not the strength or weakness of the power, but the implementation of the real (not declarative) public control over the government. If not, then the probability that even the most brilliant ruler, even the most effective government will do this or that mistake, increases substantially. And human lives are the price of any error of the state power.

Let us say even easier: democracy is the mind of millions, dictatorship – the mind of ones. Yes, it is more difficult for huge and powerful, but inert and sluggish "mind of millions" to take decisions, but if it turns out, the effectiveness of results is multiplied. And to trust final and uncontrolled decisions on the fate of millions to one person (or even to several dozens) – it is more simple but much more dangerous.

For all of the above a fundamental conclusion can be made: ceteris paribus democracy is always more effective than dictatorship, and there is no justification for the latter. Underdevelopment of society, requiring an absolute and unquestionable authority of a dictator (whether president, emperor or tribal leader) – is not an excuse, but a problem that must be solved on the way to a more effective social system – democracy.

And if a society has not "matured" to democracy – it should be aware of this and seek to "grow" as quick as possible, rather than to turn the word "democracy" into almost an expletive, as it is unfortunately the case in modern Russia.

We are far from blaming in such situation the country's leadership, and especially its representatives in person. When could the Russian society manage to "grow" to the development of democratic institutions characteristic for civilized countries, if in fact the history of modern Russia has less than twenty years? And before that only some months since March until October 1917 were the democratic period in the history of the Russian state, and that was more anarchy than democracy. The same can be said about the end of 1980s–early 1990s.

But the government must understand and recognize this, and engage in the building of democracy (as it, for example, was done in Spain after General Franco’s death). But to pretend that everything is normal, that everything is as it must be, and moreover, that Russia does not need democracy at all – it means to become like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

And it is most worryingly, that the likeness to an ostrich has an objective basis: to let everything to chance and to do nothing – it is easier than to work, and it is always possible to find a lot of excuses.

There is another negative factor, even more serious: the movement from dictatorship to democracy is contrary to the basic instinct, articulated by Friedrich Nietzsche, – the quest for absolute power. To share power, and moreover to abandon it – it is very, very hard psychologically.

And to expect from ordinary citizens of contemporary Russia, that they will struggle for the establishment of democracy – it is completely naive. At the expense of free business and oil and gas revenues, average Russians now live a little better than 20 years ago – so why should they go against the flow? Formally (and also in fact) nobody prohibits them to vote against the ruling party, to join the opposition party, to go to a protest meeting... But everyone so wants the quiet life, so wants to be like everyone else, and, as it is said, better is the enemy of good...

So there is a vicious circle: serious people do not want to join opposition, so it does not exist. Where will it appear from? And there is no need to prohibit any political party, no need to chase anyone for his political position, no need to close any newspaper, no need to break up rallies, no need even to falsify election results: if the situation is let to take its course, the opposition quietly dies itself, as it actually died in Russia in the past decade. And today no major Russian political party can be called opposition – except that formally.

Spontaneous public movements usually have no constructive programs and include small percents of population, insufficient to win elections. And police has more than enough forces to struggle against those who call to overthrow the power by strength.

Thus, today there is no real alternative for the existing power in Russia.

And now let us remember our definition of dictatorship. If the overwhelming majority of people see no real alternative for existing power, then they feel that this power is if not forever, then for the foreseeable future. Consequently, in fact, there is dictatorship in Russia.

Immediately a “corporate feature” of this dictatorship is seen – the origin of most of its top officials from St. Petersburg. And there is one more feature: judging from previous places of work of many of the current Russian leaders, it is not a civilian dictatorship (as under Stalin or Hitler), not a military one (as under Franco or Pinochet), not something the average (as under Ataturk, Qaddafi or Castro), but the dictatorship of the secret service.

And the first feature is not as principled as the second. The second feature means that we are dealing with a very specific kind of dictatorship.

Military dictatorships are familiar in the history of humanity, but the secret service has virtually unlimited power perhaps for the first time. Dictators could be associated with special services, could subordinate them, depend on them, be at enmity with them ... But the fact that the intelligence service has committed itself to power and keeps it for many years – nothing like this is remembered.

What is similar in the military dictatorship and the secret service’s, and what it different?

For secret services, so as for men of arms, the life of a human, so as lives of millions, is not priceless – just by virtue of profession, requiring the skill to kill. And in both of these kinds of dictatorship there is a rigid internal hierarchy and discipline – it is also professional.

But there is also a serious difference. First of all, the militaries are naïve in their own way. They boast of power, embroider themselves with gold uniforms with a lot of orders, demand to give them the honor, love parades and, what is most important, – their hierarchy is usually in plain sight: a man with bigger epaulettes usually has more power. Accordingly, it is easy to understand who the first person (and the men of war usually make no secret of it, on the contrary – underline in every way), and this means that in the case of failure there is always someone to be blamed.

And an old French proverb is applicable to military dictatorships: "One can rely on bayonets but can not sit on them".  The generals, having seized state power, always have to sit on bayonets, and it is extremely inconvenient.

And the workers of secret service (in any case, of high positions) do not possess these shortcomings. They are shrewd, educated, well informed, do not need external brilliance, do not emphasize the absolute authority of any person, are great masters of the "desk castle" and, what is most important, of manipulating by public opinion. Figuratively speaking, they sit not on bayonets, but in comfortable chairs at tables laden with files and compromising.

How many people now actually rule Russia – we do not know, but it is clear enough that they have no shortage of personnel for creating an appearance of rotation. And each of them is presentable, smart, athletic, with good oratorical skills, with excellent knowledge of foreign languages...

But we have already said that the dictatorship is a mind of ones. And let the country be completely ruled by ten or hundred people – all the same, compared with 140 million Russians they are only ones. And even if they are united by common interests and common understanding of strategy and tactics, and even if they solve problems in their small circle in the most democratic way, – they are not insured from mistakes.

And they make mistakes – and the system, typical for any dictatorship, and the specific, peculiar to modern Russian conditions. And if the latter can be made by any government, even the most democratic, the first ones may be avoided under democracy (respectively, under effective social control).

And the mistakes at the highest level of state power cause global problems.

Talking about system, global problems, we firstly note that degeneration of management personnel is typical for every dictatorship. A dictator (or a group of people carrying dictatorship out) gradually becomes surrounded by a crowd of “court rascals”, who may be summarized as follows: thieves, or puppets, or both.

And the struggle against corruption in such circumstances will always be ineffective, because these “courtiers” obtain "the psychology of temporary workers". And they are hurrying to steal more and more before the mood of their chief changes and they are dismissed without explanation and severance pay.

And they really may be dismissed at any time and without severance pay, because the dictatorship and the rule of law are incompatible in principle. After all, dictatorship as a form of government is illegal in itself, since it contradicts many articles of the Constitution. And it never happens that at the highest levels of state power there is no law, and somewhere below the law suddenly appears.

And the lack of legitimacy in the country leads to a lack of confidence of officials (as well as of other citizens) in their future. And the consequences are the same: to steal as much as possible and as soon as possible, while there is such possibility.

Personal honesty of a dictator is not a key to the successful struggle against corruption and other vices of society, because he cannot control everything. And even if there are some tens or thousands of these "honest dictators" in the country – Russia is still too big. This is not small Cuba, where Fidel Castro and his companions in the revolution could more or less control all spheres of life. And, so to say, more less than more, judging from the level of life in Cuba...

This means that globally nothing in Russia can change for the better in conditions of dictatorship. There is no wonder, perhaps, that the word "corruption" also means “damage”.

And this "damage" takes place at almost all levels of state power. Moreover – it infects the uniformed services and business... Is it any wonder that, despite the frantic efforts of the federal government and the huge sums invested in the struggle against corruption, the majority of Russian officials continue to take bribes, and the majority of goods produced in Russia are still not competitive at world markets?

But the impossibility of defeating the corruption is not the most serious and global of problems faced by any dictatorship. Even more serious is that between people and the leadership an unbridgeable chasm appears, and it does not let citizens feel the complicity to the management of the state. And it deprives people of a common, global interest in the results of their labor. Just to earn money, as much as possible! And to pay taxes, to protect ecological environment and architectural monuments, to observe cleanliness in the streets, etc. – all this is somewhere "beyond". As they say, the government is wise, let it think about all...

In any society a citizen must sacrifice some part of his wealth for the common cause. Democracy gives him the desire to do so, and dictatorship does not give.

And really, can there be in a human a sense of complicity to some higher and inexplicable case, which is done in the endless distance from him by “the living god” – the dictator?

And at that  it is impossible to make modern humans a dumb obedient herd, even purposefully making them more and more silly by the ancient Roman principle of "bread and circuses". So people begin to live their own life by the old Russian proverb: "God is high, tsar is far”. And everyone works only for himself.

And this inevitably implies that in a country under dictatorship there will always be low wages in the public sector, and low pensions, and poverty, and dirt, and high crime rates, and high mortality, and poor roads, and the lack of education, and the plundering of national wealth, and the loss of architectural monuments, and thoughtless rebuilding of historical cities, and the absence of competitive industry... And, of course, as we have already mentioned, corruption with the whole spectrum of its adverse effects.

So far Russia is the very least (and it is really the very least!) saved only by the high world prices for oil and other natural resources, through which the state budget has at least some money for the "patchwork". But if after the next crisis the resource prices collapse? In 2009, luckily for Russia, prices have fallen, but quickly got up. But that crisis was unlikely the last...

In the foreign policy of Russian Federation, the global problems are also very closely linked to the dictatorship. The fact is that for the civilized countries, which define world politics, democracy is something like a "sacred cow". And without it the country is not perceived as an equal partner. This means that at any principle international negotiations Russia can only "press" the West – by energy, by “the nuclear button”...

This, very dangerous and unreliable, policy adhered to the Soviet Union, which also was not considered in the civilized world as an equal partner. And despite the fact that the USSR had far more powerful resources, weapons and allies than today's Russia, – Soviet country turned out to be in international isolation, was declared as an "evil empire" and soon ceased to exist.

Perhaps the leaders of Russian Federation would have been glad to accommodate this bitter historical lesson and become equal partners for the West (all of them pay so much attention to international summits not for nothing), but it does not work: the lack of democracy hinders ...

But all internal and external global problems, which we have listed, although are very painful for the country, but in the foreseeable future are not fatal. They can bring Russia down to the level of “third world” countries, and this negative trend is already observed: in the world the acronym "BRIC" became popular, noting that Brazil, Russia, India and China are at the similar level of socio-economic and cultural development. (Is it possible to imagine such a "company" for the USSR, and even more so for Russian Empire?..)

But there is one problem that threatens the very existence of Russian Federation as a united state. This is a national issue.

Russia is not only a multi-ethnic country, but also incorporates a variety of nations with state formations in their own autonomous territory – as in Chechnya, Tatarstan, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Bashkortostan, Kalmykia, Yakutia... So, in the modern conditions, when all over the world the nations, even much smaller and having no autonomous territory, state the right to self-determination, much of the peoples of Russia are literally doomed to separatism.

And a way out of the country of any territory (and moreover the disintegration of the country into several independent states) – always means blood, refugees, destroyed lives, the gap of economic ties, many years of instability...

So, these separatist tendencies must be fought with.

Dictatorship can effectively use only power control methods – to put its trustees at the head of autonomies, to keep the troops there, etc. (But democracy also can do that – we have already said that it should not be confused with softness).

All other methods can be based only on the desire of a national autonomy to be the part of the federation. And it is very difficult to create such a desire. This may be either economic interest, or good relations with the federal government.

Neither one nor the other is possible under dictatorship. The first – because economically, as we showed above, dictatorship is always less efficient than democracy. Second – because the inhabitants of national territorial entities can not possibly feel a little bit warm feelings for the infinitely distant dictator, foreign to them by blood, and by religion, and by mentality.

The second was more or less (so to say, more less than more) possible in the Soviet times due to the rule of non-national and non-religious communist ideology, but now it is completely another epoch. And Russia has no ideology now, except general words that the country must be united and strong. And the federal government’s flirting with Russian Orthodox Church in order to create at least some apparently of the presence if not of ideology, than at least of a nationwide spiritual system – only irritates people who profess Islam, Buddhism and other "non-Orthodox" religions.

So, in the conditions of dictatorship the federal government has only one tool cementing the unity of the state – force. And this means an eternal undeclared war, because it is impossible to completely defeat an unruly nation, even using the methods of genocide (remember even the massacre of Armenians by Turks or resettlement of Crimean Tatars and several other nations by Stalin to Siberia). Modern "partisans" have adopted terrorist methods, and actively use them. And explosions are booming across the country. Houses, airplanes, trains, police stations, subway... What’s further?

And further it is necessary to solve the basic issues of coexistence of nations within the federative country, otherwise the destabilization of life in Russia can reach the line, beyond which – anarchy and chaos.

And the fundamental solution of these issues is possible only under the development of democracy in Russian Federation – and as a whole, and in each of its regions. Why? Because, as we have mentioned, under democracy everyone has the sense of belonging to the management of the state and of influencing the course of events in it.

Separatism is primarily psychologically connected with the fact that people in the province consider: "In my native village (town, province, national republic) I am respected, and in Moscow – no". So, if every “man from the hinterland” has at least an illusion that in Moscow he is respected as a rightful citizen, who is capable, together with millions of other rightful citizens, influence the course of events in the country – one of the main reasons for separatism will disappear. And this is already a lot.

A question may be sited: democracy is certainly good, but where can it appear from, if, as we have said, in Russia there is no such tradition, and people do not go in the opposition? They can not be forced to do that...

Let us answer. Of course, they must not be forced, but they can and should be taught democracy. And the task of the state is to develop specifically democratic institutions, to promote civil equality, to raise the political activity of citizens, to ensure real equality of all parties in the elections...

Will those who have now power in Russia do that?

If their most important goal is to keep power at any cost – then, of course, will not. But if they care about the future of the state – they must start using their power resource to establish genuine democracy in Russia. And if sooner or later on this way they will have to sacrifice their power – the country's interests must be paramount.

Moscow, 2010.

 © Sergey Zagraevsky



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