“Neither Liberal nor Neo-Stalinist”

I thought Mark Ames said something quite interesting today. He concluded his addition to the Medvedfest, “Dmitry Medvedev & The Banker’s Murder” with,

If this sordid story reveals anything, it’s that the only way to grasp the current power-transfer is through Russian eyes. Trying to understand Medvedev and his significance through the liberal/Stalinist prism explains nothing; Dmitry Medvedev is neither liberal nor neo-Stalinist, but rather, Russian, the sort of Russian who was groomed in the chaotic and savage transition from perestroika through Putin’s stabilization.

I think Ames’ emphatic statement that “Dmitry Medvedev is neither liberal nor neo-Stalinist” but rather, a “Russian, the sort of Russian who was groomed in the chaotic and savage transition from perestroika through Putin’s stabilization” deserves some thought.

Russia is not a “this” or “that.” It’s never been the first, and the second, the venerable “neo-Stalin,” is just analytically lazy. First, this Russia is capitalist (albeit, protectionist.). Second, Russia has a history. We know many of you are suffering from “Cold War syndrome” and long for a more manageable (or is it imaginable?) enemy than the “Islamists.” But get over it.

What and who is this princely traumatized, “morally complex” Russian “groomed in the chaotic and savage” times of the smuta of the late 1980s and 1990s? That’s a great question worth pondering.

For some reason I thought of Nicholas I. Not that I think Putin is some neo-Niki. It’s more that Russia imperial past (a past that spans 1200 years) is often left out of the “What is Russia?” grab bag. Also, for some reason I think he and Putin possibly share a lot of qualities.

So I grabbed W. Bruce Lincoln’s Nicholas I: Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russians off my bookshelf to give him a revisit. I found Lincoln’s opening paragraph something to think about in regard to Ames’ words.

Perhaps no ruler left more of an impression upon nineteenth-century Russia than did the Emperor Nicholas I, for the origins of nearly every major change or event during the last century of Romanov rule can be traced to his reign. Certainly was an imposing figure. Many Russians admired, even venerated him; others saw him as the personification of oppression. But none who lived during his thirty-year reign cold remain indifferent to the force of his personality and the system which he developed.

He continues on second page,

Nicholas’s reign was a good time for many Russians, and some looked back upon it with a sense of longing even nostalgia. It was, after all, the last time in Imperial Russia’s history when things were certain and predictable. Russia stood at the pinnacle of her power during those years, and Russian society was plagued by few of the self-doubts that would begin to tear the old order apart in the half century after Nicholas’s death. As the Baroness Fredericks, who had lived at Nicholas’s Court as a child, wrote in the 1880s, when looking back upon his reign after some three decades of social turmoil . . . “during the lifetime of Nikolai Pavlovich, Russia had a great and noble stature . . .[and] he heaped still greater glory upon her. Everyone and everything bowed down before him and before Russia!”

Lincoln’s book should prove to be an interesting read as Russia shuts down for the holidays.