31 July 2016

Russia Hasn’t Returned To 1937, But Rather To 1983 – OpEd

JULY 29, 2016
Russia has not yet returned to the Stalinist horrors of 1938 as many fear but rather to those of 1983 when, after 18 years of Brezhnevite stagnation, Yury Andropov, the former head of the KGB who had become general secretary of the CPSU, tried but failed to save the USSR, according to Oleg Kashin.

What is on offer now, the Russian journalist argues, is “not Stalinism but rather a replay of the Andropovshchina, not 1937 but 1983.” Some of the obvious parallels – the Olympics, Afghanistan, and the end of detente — have been noted, he suggests, but there are other less obvious but more important ones (svoboda.mobi/a/27883749.html).

After 18 years of Leonid Brezhnev’s rule in which everyone including those at the top of the nomenklatura recognized that the USSR was rotting and that something had to be done, Yuri Andropov came to power, not as a result of some KGB seizure of power but because the party elite knew that someone had to act to avoid a disaster.

But Andropov got sick and so “instead of order,” Kashin says, the country had to watch as its leader went on dialysis. As a result, “the entire Andropov campaign about the struggle with the Brezhnev nomenklatura and its habits should be seen as a prelude to the reanimation procedures Andropov was involved in over the course of his 15 months in power.”

Andropov’s health problems meant that there couldn’t be a real campaign, “only hysterics.” The specific actions, including the arrests in the baths, the retirement of Shchelokov, and the Uzbek affair among others, were not part of some carefully thought out plan but rather actions reflecting the impulses of the leader.

That is because “in agony, no one is all powerful, and already now, more than 30 years later, it is time to recognize that the Andropovshchina was an agony, and that perestroika in its most insane and fantastic manifestations was programmed in precisely when the Andropov Central Committee via the hands of state security tried to bring order to a country beyond help.”

“If one compares all this with present-day Russia, then there is only one principle difference.” Brezhnev hasn’t died, but what Russia has now is “funnier” because Putin, a Soviet man par excellence, combines in himself “Stalinist, Khrushchevite, and Brezhnevite qualities, that is, he is an autocrat, an eccentric and the master of stagnation.”

“Putin as Stalin bombed Chechnya, incarcerated Khodorkovsky, and put off elections. Putin as Khrushchev entertained his subjects via ‘direct lines,’” and by giving the West the finger. And Putin as Brezhnev “made friends with viola players and gymnasts, handed out orders, and did not oppose a cult of personality” or wars in Ukraine and Syria.

If one extends this analogy, Kashin says, then “after Putin-Andropov will come and immediately disappear Putin-Chernenko and after him Putin-Gorbachev, with all the well-known consequences of that. Perhaps this will be put off for some time by a Putin-Putin, but that will bring nothing good to the country.

Russians will be pleased by the punishment of those who flaunt their wealth too much. They will see this as a kind of justice, and Putin can play to that. But, he continues, “a nomenklatura state in which power and the nation exist apart from one another and do not have common interests is condemned to self-destruction.”

And that pattern, Kashin concludes, is “already not a game about historical parallels” but rather “a fundamental principle of the existence of such a state.” At some point, perestroika will come again and when it does “everything will fall apart.” One need not help it or try to prevent it, he says. It is going to happen in any case.

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at paul.goble@gmail.com .

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