‘Weakness Always Emboldens’
BSSB.BE http://4liberty.eu 24.04.2015
An Interview with Adam Michnik
“Nations, just like women, experience brief moments of intoxication. But those moments pass soon enough.”. Adam Michnik talks to Leszek Jażdżewski, editor-in-chief of Polish liberal quarterly magazine Liberté!, about how a brief moment of European weakness will affect Russia in the end and what can go wrong in the meantime.
Is Russia becoming, just like in the 19th century, the “gendarme of Europe”?
Well, it definitely wants to become the gendarme of the so-called near abroad. Russia has switched gears when it comes to its foreign policy. Putin is no longer predictable, he is driven mostly by the fear of triggering a Russian Maidan.
After the annexation of Crimea, the Russian president became extremely popular but at the same time he was already trapped by the tendencies he awoke. It’s just like a Russian rebellion of black-hundredists in the 20th century. And Russian rebellions – as once wrote Pushkin – can be horrifying, senseless, brutal and ruthless.
Many reasonable – or so would one think – Russians started to support Putin after the annexation of Crimea. Isn’t the fact that the Kremlin’s aggressive foreign policy is designed to suit its internal needs one of its most dangerous aspects?
Yes, indeed, it is dangerous. However, I think this will not last long. Nations, just like women, experience brief moments of intoxication. But those moments pass soon enough. It seems that we are facing something that during the perestroika was called “altering the flow of the river”. The only way to survive the current commotions is for Russia the restoration of Stalin’s terror – what now isn’t very likely.
Initially, Putin’s Russia was standing at the crossroads. There was no classical authoritarianism then, it evolved later on. Just as Bolshevist Russia wasn’t a country of Stalin’s terror from the very start, also this evolution took some time and it wasn’t so certain what route will it take. After all, many people took the fact that Medvedev, with his modernisation project and liberal gestures, became president very seriously.
So only weak and non-imperial Russia can be, in your opinion, democratic?
Russia doesn’t have to be weak or non-imperial. It has always had a tendency to build its power on external expansion. It seemed that the age of Gorbachev and Yeltsin will put an end to it. But Putin tries to reinstate this tendency, to rebuild the post-Soviet empire, which he calls the Eurasian Union.
Why did the Russian experiments with democracy fail?
From a historical point of view we may perceive it as a movement of a pendulum. Even Great Britain didn’t have a perfect parliamentary system from the very start, the same applies to France. The entire 19th century was a time of alternate periods of progress and regression. Russia is therefore not an exception. It is simply going through the period of regression.
So what can we expect after this stage? What will the Russia after Putin look like?
I’m not a prophet so I don’t know what will happen. But there is one thing I’m sure of – nobody expected that after Chernenko some politician from Stavropol Krai will change Russia to such an extent. That the communist party will be dissolved and that the Soviet Union will fall. Russia has a strong democratic potential. Democracy seems inconceivable in Afghanistan, where there are no democrats. There are, however, democrats in Russia.
So in your opinion the Russian political culture is not in contrast with liberal democracy?
Russia’s predicament regards the problematic existence of democratic circumstances. 19th century wasn’t only the age of autocracy but also the age of change. Then the hardships of Bolshevism came, what ended tragically, although it could have been averted.
The same applies to Putin’s policy. Obviously, the problems of Russia will not get solved easily, but didn’t any other country (let’s look at Hungary, Slovakia, Romania or Poland) have to face such difficulties? Polish Catholic Church – even including Polish Pope and “Tygodnik Powszechny” – experiences regression. The response to the German economic crisis was Hitler.
Czesław Miłosz in an interesting way wrote about how certain national personality traits were developing long before the modern nations were formed.
Such elements are indeed rooted in Russian culture. However, they do not determine it once and for all. If they did, extensive historical studies showing that Hitler was in fact the result of the values already encoded in German culture would have arisen. But Hitler was defeated and his country has changed eventually.
Is it possible that a change of the policy to a more pro-democratic will come from the anti-Kremlin opposition? Or will it originate in the ruling camp?
Both solutions are possible. But changes initiated by the pragmatic wing of the ruling camp seem more probable.
Why in your opinion Russia still tries to keep up the appearances? Is it just the masquerade for the sake of the West? Or maybe Russia would like to have a strong position and be respected but it is simply capable of causing only fear?
I wouldn’t say that about Russia itself, rather about Putin. Many different people live in Russia, there are many different voices, which at the moment have been silenced. Now, an atmosphere of pessimism and depression prevails. Those people feel that authoritarian-imperial-nationalistic discourse have dominated the public sphere.
You wrote in “We, the Traitors” that you object to modern pacifists. Do you see now among the Western advocates of Russia only useful idiots or maybe also people who are simply not able to open their eyes and see the things as they really are?
Both. The theories that we should not support Ukraine are now absurd. Russia keeps sending there regular army troops. Putin keeps repeating that separatists have bought carriers and tanks at the shop. It’s pure nonsense. There seems to be some Munich-like logic behind these actions – this is how people were yielding to Hitler and there was some logic behind it as well, or so it would seem. Remembering all that and the consequences that followed, we can no longer surrender in such cases.
Isn’t European culture pacifistic in manner? Incapable of self-defence? We seem to be so accustomed to living under the umbrella of the USA and NATO that we are not able to deal with a real danger.
It looks like that’s really the case. However, it is also not the result of some genes. If European Union intends to act as a sovereign agent, European army must be created. We could observe that in case of the Balkan conflict – Europe would not be capable of dealing with the situation if it wasn’t for the Americans.
It is said that when asked how many soldiers are needed to protect Europe, Churchill replied that only one, preferably the dead one. At this point the United States are withdrawing their troops from Europe. Can we really count on American involvement in our continent? I can’t see the involvement as in the times of the Cold War. America is not ready for a global confrontation with Russia.
One thing we know for sure. American politics was filled with confidence that there is peace in Europe, that there are no dangers here. That’s why the US turned its eyes towards Asia. It seems, however, that now the US’ way of thinking is undergoing reorientation.
From this point of view the fact that confrontation with Russia is not as open as in case of Soviet Union still remains a problem. Now the front line is getting more blurry.
Before Maidan I would agree with such a statement. Now I don’t. We should not make predictions for the future on the basis of last year’s situation because it has already changed.
Do you think that Europe is not ready to treat Putin seriously because of its interests? After all, he announced his plans the day before the Munich Conference. So he actually did warn us.
We regarded his remarks as pure rhetoric and that was our mistake. It was, however, the mistake of all of us, not of just one individual politician. Except for Russophobes, we all believed that it is possible to reason with Putin. Now it is obvious that it is not and so we must defend ourselves.
What tools do Poles now posses that could change Russia – as Giedroych has advised us before?
We are influencing Russia via cultural, academic, intellectual proximity. Undoubtedly, Russia needs change but that doesn’t mean employing a submissive policy towards the aggressive, imperialistic, feeding on the spirit of annexation policy of Putin. Some aspects of Russian mentality are already changing. Russians are slowly becoming aware of the fact that for some actions there is a high price to be paid.
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That’s the word Adam Michnik, the man who played one of the starring roles in bringing the Cold War to an end, exclaims in Polish as he thinks back over the two decades since the Berlin Wall fell that Nov. 9 evening. He repeats it in rapid fire, each time flawlessly, with no hint of his trademark stutter.
Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (The Associated Press)