MOSCOW – I am not going to speak about a time machine and America but about Russia and its urgent need to return to the past in search of a tool to secure a better future.
It looks like the country — instead of further tolerating the excesses of authoritarian presidential power — should look back and borrow the centuries-old institution of genuine hereditary monarchy, shape its modern constitutional variety, and thus — paradoxically — lay foundations for a more advanced and effective democracy.
These days both the country’s elite and the Russian people are still trying to overcome the embarrassment created by the shameless spectacle accompanying the discovery of cynical collusion within the “ruling tandem.”
This badly staged play, given Sept. 24, practically opened the presidential election campaign. The planned “castling move,” aimed at transporting Vladimir Putin back into the presidential chair and Dmitry Medvedev into the Cabinet, provoked sharp criticism both at home and abroad.
Judging from appearances, in the past dozen years our country has once more experienced usurpation of power — this time via the newfangled institution of “successors’ nominees,” with the help of the corresponding revision of the election laws adopted in the 1990s (which were more or less democratic and just). A new, if not a directly autocratic or patently authoritarian, model has emerged and is expected to stay.
All in all, the status quo looks abnormal and devoid of legitimacy. It is very difficult for a sound-thinking Russian man or woman to accept the idea of wholeheartedly participating in the March 4 presidential elections. We can observe how the much-praised social “stability” has started turning to dust. In this critical situation, the historic goal for Russia is to peacefully restore legitimate state order and arrange it in accordance with national traditions and with positive international experience.
If a great civilized country cannot get a normally elected and fully legitimate president, and has only a quasi-legitimate newly “elected” parliament (“Duma”), it needs to give up the futile status quo and make a new beginning.
We should try to achieve something almost infeasible — to promptly arrange the widest possible public forum and, with its help, build up a national consensus and then summon a Constituent Assembly empowered to introduce necessary constitutional reform.
What may and should be the subject of such a wide social consensus?
A set of constitutional changes aimed at a smooth transition from the presidential republic/federation model (which is in a deep crisis) to parliamentarian democracy that includes the institution of a modern constitutional monarchy — with restored hereditary power of the czar (or emperor or sovereign — Gosudar), with an effective executive branch (arranged as His Majesty’s Council of Ministers or otherwise), with a democratically elected State Duma, with the modern analogue of the State Council (Gosudarstvennyi Soviet), and with a fully overhauled judicial system (which should give up selectivity in the application of laws and be capable of eradicating corruption).
Does it look utopian?
By Jove, it does not. Moreover, it seems to offer a splendid way out of the historic deadlock Russia is in — while avoiding anything resembling a new “February revolution” (or a multicolored confrontation for that matter).
The current hybrid model built on hard centralism and the hegemony of one party has been openly designed to please one man and his close milieu (the “new elite”). This questionable arrangement was laid out before the world by its authors as an incarnation of “sovereign democracy,” although this crystal-clear term does not tolerate any adjectives before it.
Behind the highly centralized top-down power structure (“vertical of power”) lingers commonplace authoritarian machinery.
The artificial gadget called “tandem” looks especially irritating. Within this two-pole system, not only the presidential position may be repeatedly passed between two persons but also the key post of prime minister tends to become permanently usurped (“if not a king, then a knave”).
Against the new background of a series of upheavals in the Arab world, the shameless September act and the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections — arranged according to openly discriminating rules and obviously rigged on a mass scale — have, at last, provoked loud indignation in the sleepy Russian society.
The trouble is that, despite the “winter of our discontent,” the outcome of the forthcoming presidential election is practically predestined and looks unavoidable. In fact, there is no real alternative to Putin among the registered candidates while polling procedures rob the electorate of the possibility to vote against the whole list. So, it would be only logical for society to focus on a search after a new way out of actual political deadlock.
In principle, Russia’s return to a monarchy could have taken place several times before — when Boris Yeltsin sought a decent successor in 1999 and when Putin was facing the same kind of choice in 2008 and brought us to the regrettable state of affairs we are facing right now.
In a comparable situation, General Franco and the people of Spain ventured to take such a decisive consolidating step in 1978 — and splendidly prevailed. The restored monarchy in Spain is a legitimate and vital institution of high validity and an integral element of Spanish democracy. The family of civilized nations that regard monarchy as an inalienable state institution is wide and prospering.
By a meaningful coincidence, the exiled members of the Russian Imperial House — the legitimate successors to the Romanov Dynasty, which has served Russia since the 13th century — live in Spain. The head of the Russian Imperial House is Her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Marie Vladimirovna. Her son — His Imperial Highness the Grand Duke Georgii Mihailovich — is the legitimate and undisputed heir to the throne.
A nonprofit organization — Chancellery of the Head of the Russian Imperial House — is functioning in Moscow. The young grand duke has received a splendid education, to a greater part in Russia, and is a well-known figure in European royal circles and in our country’s business community.
Objectively, major prerequisites for restoring the monarchy in Russia are in place. What we need is national consensus, political will and a vigorous organizational effort. In my view, Putin has no moral right to become Russia’s president again. Yet, I am able to imagine him as a strong administrator taking his oath as the first prime minister of a reformed Russia (though I would prefer someone else).
Among the participants in the pathbreaking pragmatical dialogue aimed at constitutional reform should be “tandem” members, deputies of the new semi-legitimate Duma and people from Human Rights Watch and other nongovernmental organizations (for decades unavailingly struggling for normal modus operandi), the newly formed Voters League and the association Voice (Golos) — both aimed at achieving just elections — the Russian Imperial House, and the Russian Assembly of the Nobility.
The people’s opinion with regard to such a fundamental change and to summoning a Constituent Assembly could be ascertained with the help of a referendum — a democratic instrument that Mikhail Gorbachev suggests can be used for revising the current constitution.
Over and over, complaints are heard in our country that it lacks a worthy national idea. Here’s one to consider: to work for the good of the Russian people and the glory of our country in accordance with the slightly modified traditional triad (formulated in the 19th century) of “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, Nationality” (Pravoslaviye, Samoderzhaviye, Narodnost).
Nowadays this could be reformulated as “parliamentarian democracy” in place of nationality, “constitutional monarchy” instead of autocracy, and “religious values” in place of orthodoxy, as people in Russia profess various belief systems among which Orthodox Christianity is the prevailing one.
I believe that, in spite of decades of brainwashing against monarchies, the clergy and democracy, their place in people’s hearts remains intact. The legitimate paternal figure of a re-established monarch would fit very well in modern Russia, which is going through a new time of troubles as it strives for identity and integrity. He would be a nominee of a kind, but a legitimate one, conforming to our national traditions — a stabilizing and consolidating factor par excellence.
Such a bold transition to a new state model and such a far-reaching act of political and social modernization could open before Russia a new vista of truly unprecedented attractiveness.
Andrey Borodaevskiy (firstname.lastname@example.org), an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University, Fukuoka in 1994-2007.