Rene — Reviving the evil empire

Topic(s): Global Polities | Comments Off on Rene — Reviving the evil empire

neoliberalism and “sovereign democracy” are the two so opposed? this article seems to think so, anyway, thought it might be interesting
Reviving the evil empire
The Los Angeles Times
Niall Ferguson
May 28, 2007
THERE IS NO such thing as the future. There are only futures, plural.
Historians are supposed to confine themselves to the study of the
past, but by drawing analogies between yesterday and today, they can
sometimes suggest plausible tomorrows.
Seven years ago, the economist Brigitte Granville and I published an
article in the Journal of Economic History titled “Weimar on the
Volga,” in which we argued that the experience of 1990s Russia bore
many resemblances to the experience of 1920s Germany.
No historical analogy is exact, needless to say. Russia’s currency did
not collapse as completely as Germany’s did in 1923, though the annual
inflation rate did come close to 300% in 1992. Our hunch,
nevertheless, was that the traumatic economic events of the 1990s
would prove as harmful to Russian democracy as hyperinflation had been
for German democracy 70 years earlier.
“By discrediting free markets, the rule of law, parliamentary
institutions and international economic openness,” we concluded, “the
Weimar inflation proved the perfect seedbed for national socialism. In
Russia, too, the immediate social costs of high inflation may have
grave political consequences in the medium term. As in Weimar Germany,
the losers may yet become the natural constituency for a political
backlash against both foreign creditors and domestic profiteers.”
Seven years later, the man who succeeded Boris N. Yeltsin as our
article was going to press is doing much to vindicate our analysis.
The rule of law is the keystone of both liberal democracy and
international order. Yet, last week, the Russian government showed its
contempt for the rule of law by flatly refusing to extradite the man
who is the prime suspect in the case of Alexander Litvinenko, poisoned
in London in November. The British authorities say they have
sufficient evidence to warrant prosecution of Andrei Lugovoy. But the
Russians maintain that it would be unconstitutional to hand him over.
It is tempting to regard the spat over Lugovoy’s extradition as part
of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. The list of strategic
bones of contention is a long one: the U.S. invasion of Iraq; Russia’s
assistance to Iran; U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe; Russian
pipelines in Kazakhstan=80¦. And the rhetoric is getting colder
too. Only three months ago, I heard Russian President Vladimir
V. Putin give a speech in Munich in which he bluntly warned that
Washington’s “hyper use of force” was “plunging the world into an
abyss of permanent conflicts.”
Yet this is not Cold War II. Unlike in the 1950s and 1960s, Russia is
not self-confident but insecure. It is reliant on exports of natural
resources, not its own ability to match American technological
accomplishments. It is a waning power. The value of the parallel with
Weimar Germany is precisely that it captures the dangers of a backlash
against such weakness.
As Granville and I anticipated, one of Putin’s earliest moves was to
launch a campaign against the oligarchs who had been the principal
beneficiaries of Yeltsin’s (admittedly crooked) privatization,
securing the imprisonment of Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the destruction
of his oil company. Having frightened the other oligarchs into exile
or submission, Putin set about renationalizing energy resources
through the state-controlled Gazprom and Rosneft.
Foreign investors have also felt the backlash. Having reduced Royal
Dutch Shell’s stake in the Sakhalin II oil and gas field, Moscow now
seems intent on doing the same to BP. As before, the tactic is to
accuse the foreign company of violating the terms of its license.
Russia under Putin has remained outwardly a democracy. Yet there is no
mistaking the erosion of democracy’s foundations. In the name of
“sovereign democracy,” the direct election of regional governors and
presidents was replaced with a centralized presidential nomination
system. Opposition groups can no longer operate freely. This month,
chess maestro and Putin critic Garry Kasparov and other
anti-government activists were prevented from boarding a plane to
Samara, where Russian and European Union leaders were meeting.
On Putin’s watch there also has been a discernible reduction in the
freedom of the press. The three major TV networks are under direct or
indirect government control, and reporters who antagonize the
authorities no longerfeel safe. Last year, investigative journalist
Anna Politkovskaya was murdered,one of 14 Russian journalists who have
been slain since Putin came to power.
Having more or less stifled internal dissent, Russia is now ready to
play a more aggressive role on the international stage. Remember, it
was Putin who restored the old Soviet national anthem. And it was he
who described the collapse of the Soviet Union as a “national tragedy
on an enormous scale.”
It would be a bigger tragedy if he or his successor tried to restore
that evil empire. Unfortunately, that is precisely what the Weimar
analogy predicts will happen.