An alternative to Putin’s way

by Andrey Borodaevskiy

A “frosty Saturday” Feb. 4 confirmed the deadlocked nature of the situation that has ripened in Russia for more than a decade of Vladimir Putin’s rule (as president and senior partner in the infamous “tandem”).

The elections March 4 unequivocally mean a dozen more years of Putin and of the unsatisfactory status quo. In the absence of a strong consolidating idea, a failure of those elections (whatsoever the cause) threatens to result in “multicolored confrontations” and chaos. That’s why any positive alternative — even if at first it looks not quite feasible — should be welcome, especially an alternative that is in accord with national tradition and promises to open new historic vistas.

I put forward such an alternative in my previous article: a peaceful restoration in Russia of the centuries-old institution of the hereditary monarchy in its modernized and constitutional, or parliamentarian, variety.

Although this idea may sound provocative and shocking to a contemporary commonplace mentality, the view that the great Russia should turn to its native long-suffering Dynasty during this new “Time of Troubles” does find support as a valid alternative. Monarchist imagery and vocabulary are in the air.

The leader of the unreformed Communists, Gennady Zyuganov, accuses Putin of establishing in Russia a personal “absolutism” (samoderzhaviye). Zyuganov would rather impose another new-old variety of totalitarianism, the real price and perilous character of which we all know too well. While Mikhail Gorbachev raises his voice against samoderzhaviye, “liberal-democratic” leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, in his buffoon-like manner, suggests that Russians “elect czars” instead of presidents. A well-known movie director retrospectively laments his “considerable contribution to putting Boris Yeltsin on our main throne.”

To secure transition to a new — more democratic and inspiring — state model, mass meetings and demonstrations are not sufficient. What the country really needs is a persistent, pragmatically focused public dialogue — devoid of noisy mutual accusations — aimed at a national consensus on eventual constitutional reform. To make such a dialogue happen and succeed is the most difficult task; it is the real historic challenge that our not fully mature civil society is facing.

I believe that the first step on the thorny but promising path toward national consensus and effective constitutional reform should be a truthful revision of Russian history. It is essential to establish that the thousand-year-old-plus tradition of legitimate absolutist power and the 300-year legitimate hereditary rule of the Romanov Dynasty decisively outweigh the controversial 70 years of basically nonlegitimate, inhuman, morally false and, at times, absolutely ruthless “Communist” dictatorship in the hearts and memory of our good but forgetful people. It is hardly true that the “post-Soviet stage” in Russia’s development is “concluded and exhausted,” as Putin writes in one of his recent articles.

In Russia, as a not-quite-democratic country, there is an especially strong alienation between “power” and “people,” and a corresponding deep split within the upper political, economic and cultural elite. For example, right now members of the creative community — writers, scientists, musicians, artists and actors, movie and theater directors, journalists and TV personalities — are divided into two big “camps” with Putin’s candidature as the bone of contention. Official TV programming is full of Putin appearances, and YouTube offers videos of fiery debates between candidates or their “trustful representatives.” One video shows how the sister of oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov — Irina — virtually destroyed movie director Nikita Mikhalkov, a “friend” of Putin.

Newspapers, one after another, publish articles by Russia’s current prime minister that clearly show he is building up his pre-election campaign on selective populism — promises of higher incomes to miners and university teachers, to physicians and conventional (nonmilitary) pensioners, as well as hyper-optimistic prognoses concerning the housing situation, etc.

In his latest article, Putin uses strong rhetoric to support visibly overblown military spending, which is dictated, for the most part, by his wish to please the army elite. There is no hint of a transition to parliamentary democracy, and Putin’s euphonic reasoning about “expanding the space of freedom” is in the same league as the maxim coined by his “tandem” partner: “Freedom is better than nonfreedom.”

It’s no wonder that the post-modern puppet-president sprang out of his Kremlin box again in February with a new ready-made set of legislative acts — as always, without previous publication of their drafts, to say nothing of public discussion. The obvious aim is to snatch the legislative initiative later in blocking further reforms under the pretext that the “power” has already secured all necessary changes.

The rules regulating the registration of new parties and their participation in elections will be slightly modified, but the game proper, or “thimblerigging,” will remain intact. The semi-legal new Duma is already in a frenzy to adopt these documents before the elections.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the social situation, as it is mirrored in the mass media and the Internet, seems to be changing every day. There are nightly demonstrations for and against Putin’s presidency. At an unprecedented meeting with representatives of the “nonsystem” opposition that the Kremlin arranged, President Dmitry Medvedev called the idea of postponing presidential elections for two years “an interesting idea” but one for which he is “unready” to undertake the necessary measures.

So, I stay with my embarrassing idea of a parliamentarian monarchy as a way out of the political deadlock and as a secure foundation for the genuine democratization of our great but not very lucky country. I am ready anytime to take my oath before Russia’s new Gosudar, His Majesty Georgii I, even though, for most of my life, I never fancied myself as a deliberate monarchist.

The important thing is that, independent of realization or nonrealization of my reform dreams, the very presence in the heads of our fellow citizens of a workable and much-promising alternative to presidential autocracy — parliamentarian democracy with a hereditary monarchy as its essential element — may be a positive and important factor in shaping the future.

One thing that provokes the most dislike at present is the make-believe notion that, without Putin as president, the country has no future worth considering. It surely has.

Andrey Borodaevskiy (annabo36@mail.ru), an expert on world economy and international economic relations, was a professor at Seinan Gakuin University in Fukuoka in 1994-2007.