Friday, November 23, 2007

Putin's Russia & Musharraf's Pakistan

Sergei Kovalev, a Russian biologist and former political prisoner is now an opposition politician. In the November 22nd issue of the New York Review of Books he has an excellent piece on the Vladimir Putin phenomenon in Russia and the paradoxical acquiescence of the people to autocracy. He roots much of the rise of Putin in Russia's political history but the applicability of his diagnosis of the problem to Pakistan surprised me. There are passages in the essay that could have been written about most countries (like Pakistan) with stunted and repressive political systems.

Here are some selections:

"Eleven hundred years of history have taught us only two possible relationships to authority, submission and revolt. The idea of peacefully replacing our ruler through a legal process is still a wild, alien thought for us. The powers-that-be are above the law and they're unchangeable by law. Overthrowing them is something we understand. But at the moment, we don't want to. We've had quite enough revolution."

"The members of the political elite are even more profoundly attached than the masses to the idea of the immutable dominance of the powers-that-be, because it is their own position that is in question. But infusing the values of the imperial state into the public mind is only an intermediate goal for the Russian political establishment. The main goal is to entirely eradicate European mechanisms of power transfer in Russia and to consolidate the Byzantine model of succession."

"What should be done if one cannot accept the Byzantine system of power? Retreat into the catacombs? Wait until enough energy for another revolt has been accumulated? Try to hurry along revolt, thereby posing another "orange threat," which Putin and his allies have used, since the 2004 Ukrainian elections, to frighten the people and themselves? Attempt to focus on the demand for honest elections? Carry on painstaking educational work, in order to gradually change citizens' views?

Each person will have to decide in his or her own way. I imagine—with both sorrow and certainty—that the Byzantine system of power has triumphed for the foreseeable future in Russia."

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