Author Topic: The End of Peter the Great's Road?  (Read 9434 times)

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Offline Tsarfan

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The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« on: July 24, 2013, 10:09:05 AM »
The Russian government and the Orthodox Church have recently joined in a series of anti-gay legislation that smacks almost of fundamental Islam in its severity and that has left western observers scratching their heads about what is going on.  To give an idea of the stridency of these measures, the adoption of Russian children even by heterosexual couples in countries that have legalized gay marriage has been banned.  Another new law allows the police to arrest and hold foreigners for up to two weeks who are "suspected" of being gay or "pro-gay".  This is raising concerns about the safety of athletes competing in the upcoming Olympic games in Sochi and spawning talk of boycotting the games.

A recent editorial by a European man living in Dubai commented on the conviction there of a Norwegian woman who had been sentenced to 16 months in jail for reporting a rape by a male colleague.  The writer reminded westerners that our assumptions about the universality of correct principles of law, human rights, due process, and government reach are simply wrong.  People in eastern cultures might flock to MacDonald's, might wear blue jeans, might drive Mercedes' and BMWs and Buicks, might listen to western music and line up for western action movies.  But the notion that, in the process, they are becoming more like us in the west is an illusion.

All this brings back into focus for me a question that I have pondered on and off for the past several years, particularly as I have watched the "managed democracy" of Putin take root and his courtship with Russia's autocratic legacy find its legs.

Is Russia reverting to its Asiatic roots?  Is she coming to the end of the road paved by Peter the Great three centuries ago as he forcibly turned the eyes of Russia's social and political elite westward?

I'd like to start with two quotes (one I recently posted on another thread):

From General A. E. Tsimmerman, a frequent commentator on Russian society during the reign of Nicholas I:

"Generally we in Russia are normally much closer to Constantinople and Tehran than to Paris or London.  The very understanding of the Russian people about good and evil, about right, about law, and justice, comes closest to that of the eastern peoples.  In government, the people respect and particularly want to see strentgh.  Our common people love to see in their ruler a powerful and stern sovereign."

And from Count Reiset, a member of the French embassy to St. Petersburg in the mid-19th century, to a Russian friend in Paris:

"I am resolved to direct all of my efforts towards a struggle against your influence [in European affairs] and to drive you back into Asia whence you came.  You are not a European power; you ought not to be, and you will not be if France remembers that part which she should play in Europe.  Our government knows very well your weak points and they are precisely the ones by which you are tied to Europe; let those ties be weakened and, of your own accord, you will flow back towards the East and you will become once again an Asiatic Power."

The reference to "weak points" was to the fact that Russia's Great Power status at that time rested only on the size and perceived strength of her army (something which was soon to be revealed as a chimera by the Crimean War).  In terms of law, civil rights, social organization, and manufacturing economy Russia was a backwater from a European point of view.

And that same charge could be and was leveled against the Soviet Union in the Cold War era a century later -- a perceived military colossus manned by millions with no rights to those things that, to westerners at least, define life in an advanced civil society.

Then, for a brief moment in the late 1980's as Glasnost and Perestroika seemed to bloom into hopes of fully-fledged democracy, many westerners thought that Peter the Great's long, torturous road had finally led Russia into the full light of western modernity.

We know by now that those hopes were forelorn.  Within a few years, Russia had descended in a chaos of corruption and crony oligarchy under an alcoholic president, Boris Yeltsin.  And from the collapse of that rickety house emerged an obscure KGB agent to whom power was handed in return for his promise not to pursue Yeltsin and his cronies for their sordid stewardship of Russia's affairs.

And today we have the "managed democracy" of Vladimir Putin and an era of rigged elections, political murders, press muzzling . . . and youth camps fostering worship of the demigod Putin, accompanied by large doses of xenophobic anti-western propaganda.

Has Peter the Great's road ultimately been nothing more than the longest detour to the biggest dead end in Russia's history?




Offline edubs31

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2013, 01:46:31 PM »
Interesting take Tsarfan and there isn't much in your statement I can argue with...

We have touched on these issues in other threads...our general consensus seeming to be that Russia's window for political transition has closed. It's been 22-years now since the official end of the Soviet regime. Democracy for Russia, sadly, seems to be like the poor young lady a guy dates for a prolonged period simply because he's reached an age where he doesn't want to be alone. They've cohabitated for quite some time now but he's constantly (and not so secretly) looking around for a "better" option to come along. He finds her intriguing but awkward, she's well-liked by his friends and family, has a steady job and is stable, but remains uninspiring to him and his unconventional tastes. Communism for Russia became a loveless marriage, but Democracy is little more than a physical relationship undermined by deceit and betrayal. (note how I'm careful to characterize this metaphorical relationship as being between a man and woman given the country's xenophobia)

Quote
People in eastern cultures might flock to MacDonald's, might wear blue jeans, might drive Mercedes' and BMWs and Buicks, might listen to western music and line up for western action movies.  But the notion that, in the process, they are becoming more like us in the west is an illusion.

It's probably an illusion I agree, but worthwhile none the less. Cultures that can find common ground have a better opportunity at being peaceful with one another. Democracies, "managed" and illusory or otherwise, don't tend to war with one another. Russia's long and complex history, unique geographical/regional identity, and corrupt leadership along with other idiosyncrasies make it something of a peculiarity. It's a fault line where Europe and Asia connect, and like all fault lines occasional earthquakes come about grinding "progress" to a halt and shaking the country to its foundations.

Quote
And today we have the "managed democracy" of Vladimir Putin and an era of rigged elections, political murders, press muzzling . . . and youth camps fostering worship of the demigod Putin, accompanied by large doses of xenophobic anti-western propaganda.

Has Peter the Great's road ultimately been nothing more than the longest detour to the biggest dead end in Russia's history?

It's disturbing to say the least. Russia clearly wants it's own identity but cannot seem to figure out what that identity should be. Even the Soviets had goals, something to strive for. Russia seems uncomfortable being pluralistic yet it resists identifying with its traditional roots. A hodge-podge collection of influences old and new, European and Asian, Communist and capitalist, Democratic and Tsarist, Proletarian and Intellectual, etc.


Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline TimM

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #2 on: July 25, 2013, 02:15:54 AM »
Sounds like Russia is tinkering with the same thing Germany did 80 years ago.  We all know what THAT led too.

Offline edubs31

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #3 on: July 25, 2013, 08:57:58 AM »
Sounds like Russia is tinkering with the same thing Germany did 80 years ago.  We all know what THAT led too.

I'm left to wonder how the modern world would react if another dictator such as Hitler rose to power. Watching the likes of Iran and North Korea rise in their power and nuclear capability despite pressure and sanctions from the global community makes me think such an unimaginable occurrence as what took place inside Germany, Japan and Italy in the 1930s and 40s, and how that effected the rest of the world, isn't so unimaginable after all.

Should even a significant minority of Russians favor Putin/Medvedev's continued power grab and bizarre social and political outlook, a path towards 21st century re-branded totalitarianism could be reached much sooner than a true Democratic republic which has remained only fledgling to this point.

Interesting how I mention "totalitarianism" with regards to Russia because that's what at least one prominent member of the Russian Orthodoxy is accusing the west of...

http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=18567

Tsarfan, I imagine you especially will get a kick of this statement; In legalizing same-sex marriage, France “consciously and demonstratively ignored demands of people and used tear gas to disperse them,” Metropolitan Hilarion said as he criticized efforts to make “immorality normal.”
Once in a while you get shown the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right...

Offline TimM

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2013, 10:43:57 AM »
The Hitler pattern is being woven in Russia by this targeting of gays and lesbians.  Nazis need someone to hate to hold their movement together.  Right now gays and lesbians seem to be the target.  Who's next?  The Jews?

Or since religion seems to be in part fueling this, Russia might become an Iran style theocracy.  Just with a radical ROC, instead of radical Islam, at the helm.

Ironic that the ROC seems to have learned nothing after decades of persecution by the Communists.  They seem happy to dish out that same kind of treatment to the gay community now.

Unless something is done, Russia is so screwed.  I could see a Balkan style civil war happening.
« Last Edit: July 25, 2013, 10:54:01 AM by TimM »

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2013, 06:44:17 PM »
This may be a little controversial but it may explain why this is happening: Putin could be going after the gays because he just got a divorse and needs some political cover. One hopes this doesn't effect the filming of both the US and Russian movies about Rasputin in the works. As for the ROC under communism they were heavily infiltrated by the Soviet secret police. One wonders how much influence Putin and his old KGB pals who run Russia still have in the ROC. As for the rest of the Russians it looks like they are stuck with Putin until he dies. Since there is no way he is going to step down.

Offline TimM

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #6 on: August 06, 2013, 07:21:59 AM »
Quote
they are stuck with Putin until he dies

Or unless he's ousted somehow.

If Putin wants to go after someone, why isn't he targeting the radical Islamists in the Caucasus region?  They're a real threat, unlike the gays (it's not the gays that plant bombs in Moscow subways).
« Last Edit: August 06, 2013, 07:28:06 AM by TimM »

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #7 on: August 07, 2013, 07:45:55 PM »
Based on the events in the Arab world recently with some of the entrenched dictators for life being ousted probably makes Putin a little nervous along with a number of other dictators. This could be part of the reason why he is cracking down. I've heard Putin has made a lot of enemies of over the years and there is no way he is going to step down voluntarily. However, if his government becomes more brutal and corrupt as time goes on and Putin and his gang start looking like the Soviet leadership in the last days of communism. There could be a popular revolt against him like in Eygpt and it might just topple him from power. One hopes whoever succeeds him turns Russia into a more progressive democratic state. Not one that puts high ranking members of the former Soviet secret police who carried out mass murders on their own people on postage stamps like Putin's does. See the book "Stalin and his Hangmen". In away it would be poetic justice if the first post Putin government was made up mainly of desendents of "Former people" and other victims of Soviet oppression. Who proceed to do away the last remains of communism ect.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #8 on: August 26, 2013, 04:36:54 PM »
One hopes whoever succeeds him turns Russia into a more progressive democratic state.

Starting back with glasnost and perestroika, I hoped -- even assumed -- that this would be the case.  However, as the years have passed and I have become more steeped in Russian history, I have come sadly to the conclusion that it may never be.

The modern western states all have their own histories of cycles of progression and regression, but in all of them over time the cycles of progression advanced far enough and subtly and permanently altered attitudes enough that a kernel of the political progress remained to form a higher starting point for the next cycle of progression.  In England, it went all the way back to Magna Carta, the lineage of which can still be traced in British constitutional law despite some very despotic intervening regimes and the bizarre experiment of Cromwellism.  In France, enough Enlightenment attitudes survived the conflagrations of The Terror and the dullness of the Restoration to form the basis for a modern democratic France.  Even in Germany, the heritage of early 19th-century liberalism and Bismarckian administrative progressiveness came through the fires of National Socialism to form the basis for the modern German state.

Not so in Russia.  There, despite many attempts at reform, none attained the momentum to weather the next cycle of autocratic resurgence.  And this was in spite of the fact that, looking back to the glory days of Kievan Rus and the great city states such as Lord Novgorod the Great, that part of the world showed more promise of a progressive, democratic future than almost anything further westward.

But the tide turned with Ivan III, with autocracy gaining a foothold in the Russian mindset and body politic that has not since been fundamentally shaken.  Peter the Great undertook serious reforms of Russia, some of which stuck although in somewhat distorted form.  But they were aimed at making Russia a more efficient military and economic force, not a more liberal civil society.  Catherine the Great stepped off the line with her ambitious Nakaz but quickly found herself in the quicksand of Russian reactionism among a nobility whose support she needed to maintain her initially tenuous hold on a throne to which her legal claim was somewhat dodgy.  Finally the Pugachev Rebellion and the French Revolution doused the last embers of her early fire to bring Russia into closer alignment with western European enlightenment attitudes.  Despite some interesting reform work during Michael Speransky's periods of influence under Alexander I and even Nicholas I, no serious attempts to liberalize Russian society at a fundamental level were made until the reign of Alexander II -- a reign which, ironically, was terminated by leftist terrorists whose biggest fear was that Alexander's reforms might, in fact, succeed enough to lighten the yoke of autocracy and make it more tolerable to a wider spectrum of Russian society.

Then came Russia's brief courtship with true democracy in the chaos of the months between the February and October revolutions 1917 -- a time during which, not insignificantly, Kerensky could hardly wait to move into the tsar's personal quarters in the Winter Palace.

And then, of course, came Leninism which, despite its philosophical grounding at the opposite end of the political spectrum, quickly availed itself of all the tools of autocratic control, including the secret police, censorship, suppression of political opposition, and government by fiat.  In the process, it became simply a left-wing dictatorship instead of a right-wing monarchy.  And with Stalinism Russia saw days such as it had not seen since Ivan IV and his terroristic Oprichniki and social and economic control such as not seen since the height of Peter I's reforming zeal.

And now we have Putin, under whose government political opposition has been suppressed, the government had reasserted control over the media (including the assassinations of opposition journalists), free elections have been bald-facedly rigged, xenophobia has been made a cornerstone of government policy, and minority groups have been scapegoated as proxies for Russia's deep and abiding problems.

It's hard to digest, but as the west comes to understand more of Nikita Kruschev's time at the helm, he might ultimately be realized to be perhaps the most selfless and sincere liberalizer in modern Russian history.  Unlike Gorbachev, he did not do it because the state was collapsing around him.  He did it because he felt Stalin had been wrong, both morally and practically.  And, in trying to make Russia more humane, he threw bold rolls of the political dice which, sadly and perhaps predictably, he lost.  It's a damned shame that in the west he is remembered primarily as the buffoon who pounded his shoe on the podium.  He was anything but.

Offline JamesAPrattIII

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #9 on: August 31, 2013, 04:01:09 PM »
Good points Tsarfan. However I am not as impressed with Khrushchev as you are. The book "Stalin Court of the Red Tsar" He is a fanatical Stalinist killer. In 1937 he was given a quota of 50,000 to kill and he killed 55,741. In the Ukarine in 1946 alone he had 1 million people arrested. After he was ousted from power he said he was up to his elbows in blood.

As General secretary: he fired people left and right, the economy and agriculture remained a mess. His virgin lands program was a disaster. Then there is the 1962 Novocherkassk massacre. We will probably never find out what happened there. However, one must say his letting most of the inmates out of the Gulag was a good idea.  Of course this was not done on soley humanitarian grounds the communist leadership was worried about a number of revolts that broke out in them in the early 1950s fearing a major revolution might occur.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #10 on: September 01, 2013, 03:58:48 AM »
As General secretary: he fired people left and right, the economy and agriculture remained a mess. His virgin lands program was a disaster. Then there is the 1962 Novocherkassk massacre. We will probably never find out what happened there. However, one must say his letting most of the inmates out of the Gulag was a good idea.  Of course this was not done on soley humanitarian grounds the communist leadership was worried about a number of revolts that broke out in them in the early 1950s fearing a major revolution might occur.

All true.  And this is to me the saddest commentary on 20th-century Russia that one can make:  that Kruschev was about as good as it got.

Offline Tsarfan

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #11 on: February 28, 2014, 08:23:01 AM »
This thread has been languishing for a while now, but I'm wondering if the current events in Ukraine and the Crimea might not make it more topical?  More than any other recently, these events are throwing into high relief the question of whether the lands straddling the Europe/Asia divide are going to face west in outlook as Peter the Great wished, face east, or face inward to be something that is both eastern and western . . . and therefore neither.

Offline TimM

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #12 on: February 28, 2014, 11:54:54 AM »
Yeah, the Crimea was Russian for centuries.  It only became part of Ukraine in 1954.  I wonder, if any talk comes up about the Crimea, will that be brought up.  After all, it's only been sixty years, not six hundred.

Offline Превед

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #13 on: February 28, 2014, 12:30:35 PM »
Peter the Great conquered Ingria, parts of Finland, Estonia, Livonia, where he reversed the liberal Swedish reforms. Plus he conquered Azov, a direct counterpart to today's possible annexation of the Crimea.

Perhaps the Ukrainians should be glad to be rid of a region dominated not only by Russians, but also with a Muslim minority, which, if radicalized, could become as much of a headache as Russia's Muslim minority.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2014, 12:32:12 PM by Превед »
Березы севера мне милы,—
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Как речь безмолвная могилы,
Горячку сердца холодит.

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Offline Petr

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Re: The End of Peter the Great's Road?
« Reply #14 on: February 28, 2014, 02:46:36 PM »
I must confess that my sympathies lie with the Russian speakers of eastern Ukraine which, after all, was the motherland of Orthodox Russia going back to Prince Vladimir of Kiev. As was pointed out, the addition of eastern Ukraine to Ukraine by Khrushchev in 1954 was, most likely in his mind, a meaningless gesture to his fellow Ukrainians (perhaps trying to make up for all he had done to them as General Secretary of the Ukrainian Communist Party).  By the way, it should also be pointed out that his was the most anti-religious and anti-clerical reign since the early days of the Bolshevik Revolution. More churches were closed down while he was General Secretary of the CPSU than under Stalin.  Finally, I'm troubled by the apparent ultra right participation in the Maidan uprising and, in my view, the even more troubling support from the United States, which simply plays into Putin's hands. Just think what our reaction would be if Russia fomented an "Orange Revolution" in Mexico City. Remember the Zimmerman Telegram?     

Personally, I think Russia should "buy" the eastern Ukraine like we bought Alaska. It could pay with 100 years of free oil and gas (details to be worked out). If the Ukrainians would be leery of accepting such a deal (maybe rightfully so), the EU could guarantee it in return for the Ukraine accepting its governance and economic norms (note that most of the gas pipelines that supply Europe pass through the Ukraine so the Ukraine could tax the oil and gas).  Lviv would become the capital (it is defacto already) and Kiev would go to Russia (or could be split like Buda and Pest). The dividing line would be the Dniepr River.

In the interest of full disclosure, my family descends from 8 generations of Russians but we originated in the Melitopol area and my Grandfather ruled the Crimea for a short period in 1920.                 
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