Voices from Russia

Monday, 16 December 2013

Is Liberalism the Right Path for Russia? Prilepin: Why Russia’s Liberals are Getting it Wrong… Gubin: Why I’m a Liberal

00 Igor Demkovsky. The Russian Bear. 16.12.13

The Russian Bear

Igor Demkovsky



Editor’s Note:

The author uses “Liberal” in its European iteration, that is, deregulation, hyper-free markets, and “small government”. In short, it’s a ringing condemnation of Anglosphere “conservatism”, which is nothing but neoliberalism of the most rancid and fundamentalist sort (they’re cultural Wahhabis of the first order). However, most “conservatives” are so ignorant (if not stupid) that they don’t know that. People don’t call the Republicans the “Stupid Party” for nought…

This was a two-parter in the original; ergo, I gave you both sides of the discussion. I don’t agree with the second poster at all,  but that’s the view that they espouse. Mainly, Russians reject Liberalism, seeing it as nothing but money-grubbing Mammon worship in its worst form. I do tend to agree with that POV. Secondly, I found the second poster’s ad hominem attack on the first poster out-of-place and quite LOW. That’s why I hate Liberalism… both “conservatism” and “liberalism”.  To hide their lack of substance, they focus on extraneous fluff. A real person should espouse Conservatism (like Bismarck and Stolypin) or Socialism (like Debs and Lenin)… they’re ideologies fit for adults. “Liberalism”, whether one calls it “libertarianism“, “progressivism“, “liberalism”, or “conservatism” (all are flowers of the same noxious Liberal root) is pabulum fit only for mewling toddlers. The choice is yours. I’ve chosen the Left, for socialism, what about you?



From the start of the 1990s, Russia broadly built an enlightened liberal society. The country integrated as a partner into global political, financial, and banking systems, and was no longer a centre of power lined up against the rest of human civilisation. Today, Russians are indisputably availed of fundamental liberal freedoms; anyone with the requisite resources can move freely around the country and abroad, there are hundreds of sufficiently independent media, and with five minutes of internet research, Russians can dig up a ton of dirt on any state official. Residents and guests of the Russian Federation are able to open any business within the bounds of the law and freely dispose of revenues earned here, including send them out of the country, if it’s strictly for personal use. People can get access to any literature and music, and there’s an independent film scene and even freer theatre. Droves of private clinics sprang into existence along with private schools and universities, and hundreds of other firms and institutions now offer all manner of private services…  competition is there before your eyes.

Upon close inspection, no one could seriously try to argue that Russia as a liberal country differs substantially in any way from others that chose the liberal course of development, such as Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Romania, Poland, Turkey, the Ukraine, and Czechia. Moreover, enlightened Russian liberals prefer to orient themselves toward such countries as Switzerland, although it isn’t so clear what we share in national, historical, or geographical terms to allow us to inherit from the successes of this genuinely comfortable country. If we’re talking about models of liberal reforms, isn’t it more feasible to cite such countries as Greece, Italy, or Spain, with their looming economic collapse and mass of intractable social problems?

True, we have a high level of corruption. However, there are many more typically-liberal countries that also have serious corruption problems. True, we have political prisoners, including some of my own associates with anti-liberal views. Yet, surely, no one believes that participants of anti-government actions in other liberal countries would immediately find a place in parliament and not, for example, in gaol. True, we have specific problems with the media, and there are cases where journalists had to resign because of their reporting. However, in the liberal world there are also taboo subjects, and even journalists who sit in real brick-and-mortar gaols for failing to observe these taboos.

A liberal entourage surrounds our President and almost all of those close to him could hypothetically be a participant in anti-government demonstrations, in the sense that they also espouse liberal values. Russia has yet to divide its parliament into Republicans and Democrats, who bounce power back and forth between themselves after forging a mutual nonaggression pact. The day won’t be long in coming, but I, for one, don’t want it to come to this. I don’t want to live in your liberalism. All of us, liberals and anti-liberals, need honest courts and ramps for the disabled, a functioning electoral system and a normal police force, social protection and decent medical care. Nevertheless, who said that these are evidence of liberalism?

Liberals genuinely convince themselves of some peculiar things… that a country that lives off oil and gas (exploited incidentally as a result of the deeply illiberal policies of the Russian state), does, in fact, owe this existence to the untiring work of liberals and we should be duly grateful; that all the good things in the world (freedom, chewing gum, wine, elections, good novels, ice cream, flowers, miniskirts) are liberal, and all the bad things (war, prison, emigration, jingoistic films) are anti-liberal. It’d never occur to them that war, absence of disabled ramps, jingoistic films, and prejudice on the grounds of nationality almost always take root in liberal countries, whilst, meanwhile, China busily builds up a significant auto industry, and Cuba stages gay parades and shoots raunchy movies. Freedom isn’t a synonym for liberalism. All too often, we see that freedom is the antonym of liberalism. Economic independence is even less a synonym for liberalism. Moreover, ultimately, state independence isn’t a synonym of liberalism either.

24 November 2013

Zakhar Prilepin


There’s absolutely no gain in being a liberal in modern Russia. People derogatorily call liberals in Russia “liberasts” (liberal + pederast). To the layman whiling their hours in front of the TV (and television in Russia is much more a propaganda tool than a source of information), liberals are undoubtedly freaks, most likely homosexuals and agents of the West. Another disadvantage of being a liberal in modern Russia is that you have no right to represent the interests of your own people. Survival is the people’s main interest under an autocracy; the people believe it isn’t a good idea to antagonise the authorities, who (as the people are sincerely convinced) feed them.

When I tell people in Russia that liberalism gives mankind credit for being able to change for the better without external coercion, that the pursuit of freedom is intrinsic to humans, I get suspicious looks. When I say that free men are perfectly able of feeding themselves, people look at me with open hatred, saying, “We know what kind of freedom you mean, it’s that freedom [brought by Soviet President Mikhail] Gorbachyov, which led to [the USSR] getting destroyed and plundered. We don’t want any more of that!” To many Russians, freedom implies rampant crime, disintegration, and decay. Order, however, means submission to the authorities and the restriction of personal liberties for the sake of the state’s grandeur… even though this means the omnipotence of the tsar, who we now happen to know as the president.

As historian and Slavist Richard Pipes appositely put it, Russians invariably choose order over freedom, without realising that this is the wrong choice. In other words, today, Russians hate liberals whilst knowing almost nothing about liberalism. Most of my students at Moscow State University, where I teach a course on radio journalism, don’t know who Pipes is. They’ve also never heard of Noam Chomsky, whose paper Government in the Future, written half-a-century ago, gives a detailed description of several government models, including the liberal one. My current students are generally less educated than my friends were in my university days. Perhaps, this was how education-thirsty Soviet society nurtured and matured the liberal idea, which demanded an end to censorship and the authorisation of private entrepreneurship; this idea eventually destroyed the USSR. However, today, a convinced conservative in Russia is usually ignorant and takes myths for facts. This is one more reason why am a liberal… it’s too boring to side with those who don’t want to know anything.

There is also a third reason… I don’t believe that, in this day and age, one can base moral behaviour exclusively on intuition and emotions. If you rush in to help a person injured in a road crash, but have no medical knowledge, you may actually kill them. Civilisation is becoming more complicated, and survival increasingly depends on knowledge. Whom would you prefer to operate on you… a sincere surgeon or one with proper qualifications? Perhaps, this increasing complexity, matched by acceleration of technical progress, motivates many to embrace conservatism, even if myths completely obscure that road (for example, people hold on to the idea of “historic family traditions”, although they have no idea of the social history of family). People escape into “natural simplicity“, a “Golden Age“, the “childhood of humanity”, although any anthropologist would tell you how unsavoury that childhood was. This grasping at contrived “foundations” would be just as sweet as the next eccentricity, but there are ideological seducers who know how to turn the fears of the confused into formulas for salvation.

In Russia, as a rule, such formulas involve the destruction of enemies. An enemy is a geographic or religious alien, or someone who feels differently than yourself, or someone who lives a different life… in short, a liberal. Liberals are responsible for all our woes, so tally ho! One such sincere seducer is Zakhar Prilepin, a gifted writer (his sincerity accounts for much of his giftedness). Having had his share of adversity (he used to be a member of the banned National Bolshevik Party, got arrested, and experienced police brutality), Prilepin started to sing praises to ordinary people who are led through life by fate, those who are always right on the mere strength of being in the majority, of being just like everyone else, of being Russian, and having Russian roots. Deep down, Prilepin’s short stories and novellas are sincere (to the point of physiological sincerity) in praising the modern Russian chav. Sometimes, even intellectuals give in to this exalted admiration of the animal grace of young people not spoilt by education, culture, or reflection. However, it’s important to differentiate between the aesthetic pleasure at the sight of a peasant earning a crust by the sweat of his brow and the temptation to put that same peasant at the centre of the universe, whilst labelling all the rest as enemies. Something of the kind happened in Cambodia under Pol Pot. That’s the ultimate reason I’m a liberal, even though it doesn’t pay.

24 November 2013

Dmitri Gubin

Russia Behind the Headlines



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