Hodorkovsky’s cutlets and Putin’s mince?!

Last weekend a conference of Russian oppositionists took place in Prague, organized by Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The conference was called «Russia instead of Putin». In general, the fact that the pre-revolutionary tradition of holding opposition conferences and congresses abroad has returned to Russian politics is quite significant.

When opposition leaders are shot dead right under the walls of the Kremlin, or publicly threatened with reprisals by the heads of the country’s largest law enforcement agencies, not to mention dozens of arrests or the escape from arrest of lesser-known politicians, the only option left is to gather underground or abroad. However, the key question about such gatherings and activities is «why? What is the purpose of all these hardships, risks, and ultimately the expenditure of considerable time and money?

It seems that the question is rhetorical — to radically change the country so that free political activity becomes possible within it. But there was a time in recent history when something similar happened (we will not discuss the events from the beginning of the last century) — beginning with the perestroika in Russia, the screws were loosened and various political, social and religious activities flourished, freedom of speech, assembly, associations and religion appeared. But a negligible amount of time has passed historically, and all this has evaporated.

How and why did this happen? As we have already written on our website, the modern liberal opposition not only does not give an answer to this question, not only does not ask it, but also does not hide the fact that it wants to lead the country back to exactly the same path. This was confirmed once again by Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose speech at the «Russia instead of Putin» conference made it clear that it would be more accurate to call it «Russia 2.0 under Putin» or «How to change the scenery of the Putin regime without changing its essence».

Thus, after mentioning that he supports «the constitutional rights of citizens: freedom of speech, religion, movement, the right to gather and demonstrate, fair elections for all» (as if Putin denies them in words!), he moved on to the substantive part of his program: «I am for a strong government and against the concept of the ‘state as a night watchman’ for Russia. Self-government has to be learned, just like learning to drive a car. It takes a long and careful process. And before that, it’s better to have a driver… I am for the rule of law with an independent court and the supremacy of law, but I do not support the concept of immediate implementation of absolute democracy throughout the country… I am for big business. Small and medium business means jobs, self-sufficiency, comfort, innovation. But big business is about economic efficiency, labor productivity, large-scale implementation of new technologies… I am for further urbanization. Megacities are not only the basis of the modern economy, but also a huge convenience in life… I am for a strong army. We are not living in an ideal world. But a strong army is not a threat of Armageddon, it is a force capable of protecting the interests of the country.

In general, if we ignore the shell, Khodorkovsky’s program theses can be summarized very simply: 1) authoritarianism; 2) state monopoly capitalism; 3) centralization; 4) militarism.

As many observers have rightly noted, Khodorkovsky’s rhetoric in 2018 is nothing more than the rhetoric of Putin’s first term. Indeed, the realities of that time suited many of those now in opposition (Khodorkovsky himself was in prison, but more likely because of a property dispute with the ruling group) and seemed much more reasonable and civilized than the current ones. There were no mass arrests for publications and postings on the Internet, no lists of banned literature, no Yarovaya laws, no territorial annexations and sanctions and isolation, no military adventures around the world, no systematic political terror at home and abroad (although there were individual cases…), no transformation of the Russian Orthodox Church into a state church and its «Russian World» doctrines into a state ideology.

In other words, there was a «strong government», but «without going too far» — just as Khodorkovsky wants. But why did everything turn out the way it did? First of all, let us not forget that while Russia as a whole was living under the conditions of «soft authoritarianism» or «firm democracy», there was one place on its map where the technologies of natural terror and lawlessness, which are only now beginning to return to Russians, were being tested. That place was Chechnya, and as the conflict spread, the entire Caucasus.

By the way, General Dzhokhar Dudayev, who challenged the Kremlin (still headed by Boris Yeltsin, under whom Khodorkovsky lived and accumulated his fortune), warned at the time that if the Russian militarist-chauvinist machine succeeded in suppressing the freedom of Chechnya and drowning it in blood, as it did, it would backfire on Russia itself and the whole world a hundredfold. Simply because he understood that once a beast has tasted blood, it will not stop and will attack everyone, including those it is supposed to protect.

Did Khodorkovsky learn a lesson from this story? It doesn’t seem so, because in his very first interview after his release, he declared that he was ready to personally go into the trenches to prevent the Caucasus from gaining independence at any cost.

And today, when Khodorkovsky again speaks of a «strong army» that will defend «the country’s interests» in an «imperfect world,» there is a suspicion that it will be used, according to the principles he explicitly expressed, precisely against the Caucasus if there is a need to reset relations with the West and leave Ukraine alone as a result.

But it is not only about militarism and the attitude towards the Caucasus problem. Let us not forget that Russian troops were sent to Chechnya after the shooting of the Russian parliament — precisely with the aim of establishing a «strong government» instead of an «absolute democracy» for which, as Kremlin propagandists insisted, the country was not yet ready.

In other words, the political line of Yeltsin’s early Putin is evident, whose representatives essentially only accuse Putin of «going too far,» while he simply took it to its logical conclusion. In fact, they want everything to go back to the way it was before — be it before 2014 (Crimea), before 2012 (Putin’s return for a third term), before 2008, or before 2004…

However, as the popular wisdom goes, what has gone through the meat grinder cannot be brought back. The Russian imperial dictatorship can no longer be made respectable and civilized. This is bad news for those who want to preserve it at all costs. And good news for those interested in its final dismantling.

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