(Part 1) Continued:
In your opinion, if Putin had not invaded Ukraine, would the West continue to treat Russia as a normal power despite all abuses at home?
After the invasion of Georgia and in light of the things that were happening, there was a greater suspicion. But it took something like the invasion of Ukraine for a lot of people finally to wake up. There is also an army of propagandists working for Russia either officially or unofficially including Americans, helping to spread disinformation. So, people were confused about Russia’s motives. In that respect the invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea taught even naïve people a lesson and it’s harder to justify Russia and Russian behavior now.
In your book you accuse Yeltsin and Putin in reproducing the system that considers an individual as raw material for the purposes of the state. Is this a tragic legacy of historic Russia?
Yes, it is. It goes back really hundreds of years. Peter the Great when he built St. Petersburg had no concern for the loss of lives. Russia is a country that is organized like a movement and in a movement individuals are interchangeable. The individual doesn’t matter, only the goal of the movement does. In czarist times it was a movement to spread a Russian version of Christianity, then in Soviet times it was to bring the benefits of the proletarian revolution to the whole world. There is no ideology any longer but insofar the country was taken over by criminals, the same attitude exists toward an individual, the individual remains raw material. There’s only the absence of an overarching goal.
You know Russia and the Soviet Union very well and you have been living there for decades. What changes has Russian society undergone since Soviet times?
There have been enormous changes. Russians discovered money and fell in love with it. At the same time, even that moral structure that existed under communism, that conception of decency that even with all its faults existed in the communist society that you don’t steal from other people that you should help others, largely disappeared. At the same time people became more capable individuals, more self-reliant, they value their freedom to a greater extent and are able to use it. They learned about the outside world, became more sophisticated, they became more middle-class in their habits. But the country is in great need of a new moral framework and people who are making progress in some respects, including the urban middle class are greatly in need of it. Everyone is faced with the pressure which is exerted by this criminal government and this criminal regime which forces people into illegal activity, denies opportunity, limits self-sufficiency, and freedom and also intimidates people.
The regime has to be replaced by something that would be more appropriate to a modern country. The people themselves have to find a kind of inner strength, moral strength to behave according to their conscience and not according to the dictates of the regime on one hand or the temptation of money, on the other. That will be very difficult for Russian society but it’s essential.
Do you think that the country is a kind an empire with a half-life and in the case of an inevitable crisis can crumble under the weight of its moral and economic degradation?
The stability of a country is measured not by the appearance of surface calm (this exists in Russia) but rather by the ability of a society to withstand external and internal shocks. Russia is not prepared for that. There is a parasitical ruling class which does not identify with the rest of the population. At the same time, there is a lot of resentment against those who have been able to acquire riches at the expense of the rest of the society through illegal means. The economy is based on raw materials, and the aggressive behavior of the regime is inspiring international sanctions. All of those factors contribute to instability. At the same time, power abuses and lawlessness are rampant. With every year that the regime holds on to power the level of the resentment in the society increases.
I liked your idea of necessity of convening a new Constituent Assembly. This idea means an establishment of a new legitimacy and a new state. What should be the basis of that new state?
What Russia needs is a separation of powers and it has to abandon its aspiration to be an empire. Those parts of the country that want to live separately and are ethnically and psychologically different from Russia should be allowed to go their own way. The conditions should be created so that the country will not have to rely on repression and has a mechanism within its own political system for preventing tyranny. The latter was destroyed in 1993 when the Parliament was abolished by Yeltsin. He created a system that was designed to enhance presidential power.
Russia needs a Truth Commission, which is capable of examining all of the crimes that were committed in the post-Soviet period. They then need to examine the Soviet period too. The country has to face the consequences of the denigration of the individual, the fact that an interpretation of the individual as raw material for the schemes of the state is a formula for the destruction of the nation. They can best understand this by examining the true history. In this respect the apartment bombings are absolutely critical because they are the quintessential expression of the attitude that the individual counts for nothing and it is perfectly acceptable to kill 300 people if what is at stake is holding on to power.
And the last question. Do you know if your book is available in Russian and when we can expect it to be translated?
I know there are plans to translate it to Russian. I am pretty sure it will be in the Internet in any case, but we want the book to be available in printed form. I know there are plans to translate it to Russian. I am pretty sure it will be in the Internet in any case, but we want a book to be available. I expect to hear about it very soon. It’s going to be published in Ukrainian, that’s for sure.