Grace Kennan Warnecke has had a lifelong personal and professional association with Russia. She’s served on the boards of the National Advisory Council, Harriman Institute, at Columbia University, as well as a member of the Advisory Council of the Kennan Institute. She served as country director for Winrock International in Kyiv, Ukraine, from 1999 to 2013. The former president of SOVUS Business Consultants, she was also the founder and project supervisor of the Volkhov International Small Business Incubator in Russia and executive vice president of the Alliance of American and Russian Women among many more initiatives and projects. She currently serves as Chairman of the Board of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
If that wasn’t enough Grace is also the daughter of George F. Kennan, perhaps the most influential American diplomat of the 20th century. Grace’s memoir, Daughter of the Cold War, will be published by Pittsburgh University Press in Spring 2018.
Tamar Miansarova, Chernyi kot (The Black Cat),” 1965.
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- By Sean — 6 years ago
Arch Getty’s comment, “Putin in History,” was included in today’s Johnson’s Russia List. I asked him if I could repost it here. He kindly agreed. Full disclosure, Professor Getty was my dissertation advisor and mentor at UCLA.
Putin and Russian History
By J. Arch Getty
An occupational hazard of being a Russian historian is that people often ask “What about Putin?” “What’s going to happen in Russia?” Historians are generally allergic to making predictions, and predicting Russia has a very poor track record; almost nobody predicted the sudden fall of the USSR. But because we are at least somewhat the products of the past, that past may tell us something about the future. So where does Putin come from?
In the short-term, Putin’s perception of society is easy to trace to KGB culture in the Brezhnev era: disruptive or unorthodox events were seen as misguided, incomprehensible, or even mentally unbalanced challenges to order. In short, because Soviet society is perfect, protests must originate with foreign enemies, outside agitators or mental illness, so protestors should be ridiculed and punished. This explains Putin’s ludicrous but characteristic reaction that the 2011-2012 winter Bolotnaia election protestors were dupes responding to Hillary Clinton’s “signal,” his offensive mocking of their white ribbons as condoms, and his reflex to punish demonstration leaders.
But there are historically deeper Russian sources for Putin’s myopic vision and actions. For example, in 1825, following the defeat of Napoleon, noble Russian army officers returned from Paris with subversive French Revolutionary ideas about human rights, elections, constitutions, and the rule of law. In December of that year, they staged a demonstration and abortive coup attempt aimed at overthrowing the Russian monarchy. The “Decembrist Revolt” was quickly put down by royal power deployed by the new tsar, Nicholas I.
From the official side, tsar Nicholas I (like Putin) could not understand what was happening. Nicholas was so perplexed that while harshly punishing the Decembrists, he (unlike Putin) had jailhouse conversations with several of them in order to understand their motivations. But like Putin, Nicholas’ world view prevented him from seeing that society was changing. He responded with the official slogan “Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality,” a conservative statement that, by the way, Putin could embrace. Instead of understanding the changes around them, both rulers quickly deployed punitive state power against the ringleaders. Since society was basically sound as it was, one could nip change in the bud simply by decapitating it, right?
It seemed that nothing came of the 1825 revolt. Disappointed observers ridiculed the dilettante noble demonstrators for being unable to transform their opposition into a real revolution: They had no mass support. They were poor planners and organizers. Some of them even overslept or got lost that day and missed the action altogether. In the long run, however, seeds had been planted. The poor, marginalized and imprisoned Decembrists of 1825 would inspire later generations of Russian reformers and revolutionaries of all stripes who gradually attracted broader social support and who eventually brought down the monarchy in 1917. Reformers and revolutionaries would later glorify the memory of the hapless Decembrists as forerunners who planted the seeds of change but could not live to see their flowering.
Today’s protesters are also ridiculed and belittled, especially by leftists both in Russia and the west, for not becoming more. But in the long view (which we historians are trained to take) change in Russia has always come very slowly, and one wonders if in a future Russia people will not look back at the Bolotnaia and even Pussy Riot demonstrators as the beginnings of something big, something that took a while to mature. Even if we scoff at their lost potential, let us also not forget that these recent demonstrations for democracy were unprecedented in their scale. They dwarf the Soviet dissident movement of the 1970s and 1980s which, as it turned out, planted much smaller seeds.
Both Nicholas I and Putin represent an old Russian tradition whereby the monarchy doggedly refused to understand or compromise with change. Nicholas’ unbending obsolete vision and inflexibility would do much to radicalize later Russian reformers. Like him, his great-grandson Nicholas II would also be inherently unable to understand the forces for social change around him, and he and the monarchy were eventually swept away by the 1917 revolutions. Nicholas I, Nicholas II, Brezhnev and Putin just didn’t get it. They were constitutionally unable to understand society and how it changes.
They all had silent majorities behind them at one point. Today, some 65% of the population supports Putin, compared with 1% for demonstration leader Navalny. But the long clocks of change were and are ticking, even if few notice at the time. Today it seems that Putin has an unchallenged upper hand and has never been stronger. On the other hand, the Bolotnaia protesters, Pussy Riot women, and possibly leaders like Navalny seem to be fading into obscurity, oblivion and prison. But in the future, the historical results of today’s impotent protests and Putin’s reaction to them could look very different.
It is possible that Russian strongman monarchy is built into Russian political culture. But it is just as possible that its days are numbered. Polling support for Putin is inversely proportional to educational levels, which are broadly rising. These protesters may mark something big, something ultimately decisive. Putin’s clock is ticking, but he has inherited the deafness of all Russian monarchs. And even if he could hear the ticks he wouldn’t know what to do about them.
J. Arch Getty is Professor of History at UCLA. He is the author of several books on Russian history, including Practicing Stalinism: Boyars, Bolsheviks and the Persistence of Tradition, (Yale University Press, 2013) will be published in July.
- By Sean — 10 years ago
The Russian media is abuzz with reports on the 90th Anniversary of the Komsomol. Local celebrations, museum exhibits, and conferences are planned all over the country to commemorate the youth organization. In Pskov, the local office of the Committee for Youth Policy and Sport has organized festival called “My Komsomol Youth.” Arkhangelsk has a series of events planned through November 4 “to give an objective judgment of the activities of the League, remember old friends, and impart our experience to young people,” says Arkhangelsk governor Ilya Mikhalchuk. “On these days we will celebrate the organization, which without exaggeration, gave us admission into life.” The Volgograd provincial museum will host an exhibit titled “Milestones Glorious Path of the Komsomol.” Other cities holding events include Nizhni Novgorod, Cheliabinsk, Amur, Novosibirsk, Kursk, and Irkutsk, to name a few. The biggest event was held on Sunday in the State Kremlin Palace in Moscow where Komsomol Congresses used to be held. The event, titled “Soviet Russia,” was a who’s who of the new Russian elite. There are also a few NTV reports: here and here. Celebrations weren’t just confined to Russia. Even Belarus’ Aleksandr Lukashenko took a moment honor the Komsomol’s history.
It is estimated that almost two-thirds of Russian adults have been members of the Kosmomol, and most have fond memories of it. Zhores Alferov, the winner of the 2000 Nobel Prize in Physics, told RIA Novosti that “The Komsomol was an absolute organization of the masses. It educated people in a lot of things, including management and ethics.” Vladimir Sungorkin, the editor of Komsomolskaya pravda, said that “Lots of people today say that they hated the Komsomol, that they knew they had to keep as far away from it as they could. But that’s just rubbish. The Komsomol was founded on Christian, humanitarian ideals, the ideas of equality and brotherhood.” Some agree with this idea that the Kosmomol was founded on Christian ideals. In an interview with RIA Novosti, Nikolai Mesiatsev, a Komsomol veteran who was in the league in the 1930s, said that Patriarch Aleksei I told him in 1957, “You know, my boy, that the ethical norms of your League coincide with those of Orthodox Christianity.” You don’t have to dig into so-called “Komsomol ethics” that deep to see that he’s right no matter how much the League’s founders would have been aghast at the thought. By the late 1920s, ideas of sexual monogamy, family values, social conformity, and conservative mores were at the center of the League’s unwritten “code of conduct.”
Even more interesting is that by the 1980s, the organization had become a center of primitive capitalist accumulation. The Komsomol was Gorbachev’s vanguard in economic reforms which eventually allowed people like Mikhail Khodorkovsky to make millions. Such is the irony. Perhaps this is why Daria Mitina could write the following about the “Soviet Russia” event on Sunday,
On this day, all they gather in one hall: governors and ministers, former governors and former ministers, oligarchs and pensioners, functionaries and managers, bankers and scientists, cosmonauts and engineers, left and right, red, white and blue polka dotted, and all they extol the organization that made them real people.
There’s something mystical when bankers and oligarchs, highest officials and people of power come to the stage and with fiery eyes, in a voice trembling from tears, talk about the battles for the Soviet power, about feats of labor, about the tents on the construction site of the Bratsk power station… Today all they are the veterans of the Komsomol. (Translation Dmitri Minaev.)
While most agree that reviving a Komsomol-like organization that would dominate youth politics is no longer feasible, there appears to be a consensus among Russians that youth organizations are a positive thing. True, much of the perceived need comes from the usual older generation’s belief that youth are on a downward slope to utter corruption. “I’m very concerned about the situation [of Russia’s] youth,” says Nikolai Mesiatsev. He went on to lament the typical influence of television and its dangers to children and teenagers. You could find the substance of Mesiatsev’s statements uttered repeatedly over the last 150 years.
Enter state sponsored organizations like Nashi, Molodaia gvardiia, and Mestnyi. While lacking the scope and power that the Komsomol had, these organizations, especially Nashi, look to trained Russian youth in the ideological-economic mores of the day: capitalism, business, and nationalism.
How does an old Komsomol view the youth of Nashi? Here are a few excerpts from an exchange between Viktor Mishkin, the former First Secretary of the Komsomol and Irinia Pleshcheva, a commissar from Nashi published in Moskovskii Komsomolets:
MK: The Komsomol and the Nashi movement are often compared. To what extent is such a comparison pertinent?
Viktor Mishkin: I don’t see anything in common. The Nashi movement has only just been formed. To call it an organization which would united a large part of youth is in my view too early. It is not because when I worked in the Komsomol it was an organization of 42 million people and Nashi is considerably smaller. The main distinction is that the Komsomol had a history, it was an organization that was present everywhere, and Nashi this is a small project. It carries out actions and then disbands. After half a year it carries out the next, and then disbands again. There is only one thing in common between the Komsomol and Nashi. They are organizations of the party in power.
Irina Pleshcheva: I disagree. You had in your charter that you were the fighting helper and reliable reserve of the KPSS. And we have nothing like this. Yes, there were very many komsomols. But then almost everyone joined. If not then your life ended up on the side of the road. Who wants to join [Nashi], joins, and who doesn’t . . . and we are not forged as cadres for United Russia. We are forged to be cadres for various spheres of society.
Viktor Mishkin: But your organization was created to support United Russia.
Irina Pleshcheva: We support the course of the President. When Putin was president, it means his course, Medvedev, it means his. And whoever will be there [we will] still support. . . providing that he will stick to a course of sovereign democracy, the building of civil society, and the making of Russia into a leader in the 21st century.
Viktor Mishkin: And how do you prepare cadres? There was the seminar at Seliger (the Nashi’s yearly summer camp–Sean). I read a report from it that said that the main theme was to build a future elite for Russia.
Irina Pleshcheva: Yes, our purpose is to bring up an elite for Russia. And there are various ways. I’m, for example, a member of the Public Chamber, but I don’t want to be any kind of deputy or politician. In the future I want to work as a journalist. For me there has been definite growth troward my future profession.
Viktor Mishkin: For you this is interesting. But the program, the organization must work for all youth. Yes for the President–that’s great. You will personally be in the elite.
Irina Pleshcheva: Your words are music to my ears!
Viktor Mishkin: And what kind of results are there for the rest of youth?
Irina Pleshcheva: There are programs to fight against the illegal sale of alcohol to children. For example, we have in Voronezh guys who picket stores where they sell vodka to minors. After this an agreement was made that these stores would not sell hard alcohol. four stores were almost closed, but now any parent can send their child for bread and not be afraid that he will buy something else. Also there is a program devoted to young families.
Viktor Mishkin: And what does that give?
Irina Pleshcheva: In the three years that this program has been running we’ve had eight couples marry. They already have three children.
Viktor Mishkin: Here is your impart–eight couples. All of these are isolated cases. Today to compare Nashi with the Komsomol is absolutely impossible because the scale of Komsomol work was collossal. Not to idealize the Komsomol, but I want to remind you about the Komsomol housing complexes which built residences for young families.
One can go to Seliger three times and meet with the President twice but this does not make you a leader. Its not possible to train cadres with two seminars. And the Komsomol trained and routinely led from the simple to the complex. It was the best school for managers!
A bit of generational rivalry for sure. I’ll provide more of this interview tomorrow.
- By Sean — 2 months ago