The Pinochet Option – Liberal Authoritarianism, Russian Style

Right now, I’m reading Alfred Koch’s rambling 2009 book A Crate of Vodka, in which he and journalist Igor Svinarenko muse over their lives in the period 1991 to 2001. Koch was Russian Deputy Prime Minister, with responsibility for privatization, in the mid-1990s, and his book provides an insight into the inner workings of the Russian liberal mind of that period. On pages 44-45 and 284 of the book, he notes the following:

I have nothing against a strong hand, when it is strong. I developed a lot of my mentality in Chile. We got some training from ministers who were in the Pinochet government. … Pinochet didn’t try to pass himself off as a democrat, which he was not. He knew they needed to build a liberal economy, and he built it; he knew they needed to stifle the opposition, and he stifled it. Just as he was supposed to. … It pained me to think that we, unlike the Chileans, did not manage to seize power from our leftists in 1973. We had Russian Communists an extra 18 years in our country … The mighty old man Pinochet spared his country the humiliations that are inevitable under a Communist regime. He overthrew the regime when he got sick and tired of it, when he couldn’t stand it any more. … Grandpa-General Pinochet acted like a man, and shot from the hip. But we didn’t have any one in those years who could have brought the country in line with common sense. Who had the strength, the intelligence, and the conscience. It just didn’t work out that way. … Chile, 1973. Total collapse. The economy just stopped. The country was bankrupt. Politically, a dead end. Then, like in a bad movie, fast forward on the calendar, twenty years later… What better example do we need to see that we must act and not just gab about reforms?

There’s been a lot of talk recently about how modern Russia has moved in an authoritarian direction in the past couple of years. Of course, people have been saying that for years, but the argument is that with a recent clampdown on opposition activist Alexei Navalny and his allies, Russian president Vladimir Putin has shifted from ‘soft’ authoritarianism to ‘hard’ authoritarianism. Anna Nemtsova, for instance, recently published a piece in the Daily Beast with the title ‘Russia plunges into era of “dictatorship” as Putin looms over Eastern Europe.’ Other such articles abound.

I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of many of the repressive measures recently introduced by the Russian state: declaring media ‘foreign agents’, labelling Navalny’s organization ‘extremist’, and so on. But while Russian liberals bleat about the illiberal and undemocratic nature of their government, Koch’s statement above makes it worth spending a little time considering how Russia ended up that way and who built the system that Putin now governs.

Back in the dying days of the Soviet Union, starting around 1989, Soviet intellectuals for the first time had an opportunity to undertake a serious debate about what sort of political system they wanted to replace the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, or more correctly the dictatorship of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Russia’s newly liberal intelligentsia divided into various groups. One, centred around people like Andrei Sakharov, favoured cooperation with the communist party and the government in order to move gradually towards a multiparty democracy and a mixed-market economy. Others on the other extreme, such as the party Democratic Union and Valeriia Novodvorskaia, wanted to smash the system and move immediately to fully fledged Western-style liberal democracy and a free market economy. A third group shared the aims of the radicals, but believed that liberal democracy and a free market were incompatible. The destruction of the Soviet economic model would inevitably cause great hardship, which would lead to popular resistance. It could only successfully be introduced by non-democratic means. What was needed was the Pinochet option – economic liberalization combined with a strong hand.

All this is well covered in something else I recently read, a 2016 academic article by Tobias Rupprecht entitled ‘Formula Pinochet: Chilean Lessons for Russian Liberal Reformers during the Soviet Collapse, 1970-2000.’ In this Rupprecht cites not only Koch, but also economist Vitaly Nayshul, who drew up the voucher privatization scheme used in the 1990s. Nayshal noted, ‘Our country lost tens of millions of lives – and mostly in vain – at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing turmoil. Chile lost 3,000 and became a highly developed society.’ Likewise, Petr Aven, an advisor to early-Yeltsin era Prime Minister Egor Gaidar, stated that ‘Pinochet brought stability to the country – he knew exactly what he wanted’. And Mikhai Leontiev, an associate of the ‘liberal’ oligarch Vladimir Gusinsky, called Pinochet ‘one of the greatest politicians of the 20th century’ and a ‘bright example’ for Russia.

Other prominent late Soviet figures also spoke out in favour of a ‘strong hand’. An example was Andranik Migranyan, who later became a member of Boris Yeltsin’s Presidential Council. In a 1989 article in the journal Novyi Mir, Migranyan commented that,

History knows no case of a totalitarian political system making a peaceful transition to a democratic one. … while the highly complex process of forming, shaping and establishing a civil society is in progress, it is extremely important that a firm authoritarian regime be maintained in the political sphere.

Likewise, in 1990 the Association of Social-Economic Science, headed by Anatoly Chubais, a key figure in the privatization process of the 1990s, published an article noting that economic reform would cause significant pain, in response to which the authorities would have to resort to ‘a toughening of measures’, such as ‘dissolving official trade unions if they opposed government measures’. During the reform process, democrats would have to make use of ‘undemocratic measures’, such as ‘banning strikes, control of information’ and so on, said the article. In particular, the state would have to retain control of the mass media.

One can see, therefore, how the liberal reformers who dominated Russian government in the 1990s favored economic reform over democracy. The way they behaved in power reflected this.

In March 1991, Yeltsin persuaded the Russian Congress of People’s Deputies to give him the power to rule by decree. This provided the basis on which the reforms of the 1990s were implemented – by fiat, rather than by parliamentary legislation. According to an article in the journal Communist and Post-Communist Studies, published in 1995, ‘it is presidential decrees that have accounted for 95 per cent of the legal and economic changes under Yeltsin.’ Author Barry Sautman recounts other examples of the authoritarian methods used by the Yeltsin government. These included ultimately unsuccessful ‘ukazes banning the CPSU, the “conservative” National Salvation Front and Zhirinovsky’s Liberal Democratic Party.’ Next Yeltsin announced a regime of ‘special rule’, which he soon had to abandon, while ‘Liberal intellectuals … mounted a campaign to persuade Yeltsin to disband parliament and repress his opponents … to follow the example of Pinochet.’

The result was Yeltsin’s unconstitutional dissolution of Russia’s parliament, the Supreme Soviet, its subsequent destruction with the help of the tanks of the Russian army, and then the introduction of a new constitution that concentrated power in the hands of the president.

Russian liberals celebrated Yeltsin’s ‘coup’. Dmitry Travin, an economist working for Chubais, wrote that, ‘History teaches us that most radical economic reforms, if not all, are not implemented by democratic rulers, but by autocrats.’ Franco’s Spain and South Korea, among others, were cited as examples.

Post-1993, Yeltsin’s Russia descended into an oligarchic system of government, in which a handful of individuals who had profited off privatization held enormous power and misused it for their own purposes. In A Crate of Vodka, Koch recounts how Gusinsky used his control of the media to in effect run a protection racket. ‘We explained very clearly [to the Americans],’ he writes, ‘what freedom of speech was in Gusinsky’s hands, how much he charged not to attack people in his media. … They say his fee was $50 million a year. … I didn’t pay him a single kopeck. Maybe that’s why he attacked me so vociferously in 1997.’

Another ‘liberal’ oligarch, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had a different approach, if one believes a recent story in Meduza. This tells how in the early 2000s, Khodorkovsky’s company Yukos tried to stop the Russian government and parliament from passing legislation that would increase the amount of tax that Yukos had to pay. According to Herman Gref, at the time a government minister,

Major oil companies were not happy with the [tax] proposal. He says “a representative of the company Yukos” approached him on the night before the new law was to be discussed by the Duma and told him that they’d made an agreement with all of the deputies. As a result, the ministers were given a choice: they could either not take the proposal to parliament, or they could “be taken out [feet first]”.

Of course, a lot has happened since then, but the stories above tell us something quite important. Russia didn’t enjoy ‘liberalism’ and ‘democracy’ in the 1990s, and then suddenly descend into ever-growing authoritarianism under Putin. This doesn’t excuse illiberal and undemocratic practices by the current government. Putin has had 20 years to do something about all this, and apart from purging the oligarchs in the early 2000s, hasn’t done much, if anything, to make things better. Still, it wasn’t him who created the system in the first place. Post-Soviet Russia was authoritarian from the start, by the design of Russian liberals. Meanwhile, various individuals became fantastically rich from the collapse of the Soviet Union and presented themselves as ‘liberal’, while actually behaving in a thoroughly ‘illiberal’ and undemocratic fashion. This goes some way towards explaining why liberalism has such a bad reputation in Russia. If Russians are sceptical about liberals’ democratic pretensions, they are some good reasons why.

45 thoughts on “The Pinochet Option – Liberal Authoritarianism, Russian Style”

  1. This came to my attention just a couple of days ago. Of course I haven’t had time to read it all but thought it was worth sharing here. My first reaction was ‘caution’, particularly in light of the chapter titled “Russia as an anti-liberal European civilisation” by the uploader Marlene Laruelle.

    I only browsed her article but I see that she quotes Putin’s 2013 Valdai speech and at a glance the article seems quite balanced and informative. I think she states her thesis and her conclusion very objectively. There are a number of resonant passages. In other articles, however, the term ‘regime’ is used which is always a red flag.

    • “Russia as an anti-liberal European civilization,” in Pål Kolstø and Helge Blakkisrud, eds., The New Russian Nationalism: Between Imperial and Ethnic (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 275-297.

    https://www.academia.edu/24532760/_Russia_as_an_anti_liberal_European_civilization_in_P%C3%A5l_Kolst%C3%B8_and_Helge_Blakkisrud_eds_The_New_Russian_Nationalism_Between_Imperial_and_Ethnic_Edinburgh_Edinburgh_University_Press_2016_275_297

    I just thought this was topical and would be of interest to your readers, and look forward to being enlightened by any comments.

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  2. Let’s not pretend that being a Russian liberal doesn’t involve becoming a vassal of the US. There is no option outside of that, certainly with the current ‘liberal opposition’. There is no reason why in the future that liberal reform or adoption cannot be a bigger part of Russian society but the present reality is that the wolves are at the door and making friends with wolves is not adviseable. As US hegemony collapses, along with the neoliberal disaster capitalism that has propped up its rapine for the last 40 years, Russia can become much more stable (internally and around its borders)
    Whilst western funded quislings like Navalny are part of the political landscape the way is certainly not clear for any deep reform. People and NGOs funded by the west do not seek to create a more ‘liberal’ Russia, they seek to undermine it and to take their share of the cake as it is divided up. Western liberalism isn’t anything more or less than a control mechanism used by its elites, most of whom don’t even share or believe the ‘norms’ they espouse, it is fake, a means to an end, why Russia would want to embrace much of this stuff is beyond me.
    To be honest I couldn’t even tell you what this liberal consensus even means beyond the obvious anti racist, pro tolerence, free speech tropes … all I see is these things being undermined more every day whilst divisive diversity politics set the populace against each other and some kind of weird almost Maoist form of liberalism takes over (the construction of a new uniform language, mind your pronouns everybody! self critique of our bad behaviour, the shame of cancel culture, the undemocratic pandering to extreme minorities etc. How long before the west has a little orange book of woke that we’re all supposed to learn by heart? The questions about liberalism in my head don’t concern Russia they apply to the West and where on earth they think this is all going.

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  3. “The might old man Pinochet spared his country the humiliations that are inevitable under a Communist regime. He overthrew the regime when he got sick and tired of it, when he couldn’t stand it any more. … Grandpa-General Pinochet acted like a man, and shot from the hip. But we didn’t have any one in those years who could have brought the country in line with common sense. Who had the strength, the intelligence, and the conscience. It just didn’t work out that way. ”

    That guy is nothing but a fascists in liberal clothings… I meant neo liberal ones. I have no idea how one without superhuman effort can squeeze the Pinochet gulag as an in any way “liberal” mold unless one is as braindead a propagandist as the author ogf the book – and Russia can be glad despite the privations of the Yeltsin years to have been spared the atrocities of a Pinochet fascism.

    I while studying international agriculture had a colleague who after his family was killed by Pinochet managed to get to Germany, being on the death-list as a supporter of Allende.

    This guy reminds me of the Chilean fighter pilot I met in Canada (of course with a German name like many good Chilean fascists) who proudly accounts for the many death he had caused during the putsch , just regretting he couldn’t have killed more of those damned “socialists”…

    Excuse me while I run to the toilet – I have to throw up

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  4. At the risk of overgeneralizing, isn’t it the case that any ideology — whether it’s calling itself ‘democratic’, ‘liberal’, or even ‘anarchist’ — always requires, in practice, violent suppression of dissent, of resistance? Carried out, especially in crisis situations, by a “strong hand”, of course. There are even There is no other way.

    As for propaganda, it’s not really surprising that ruling elites that are (typically) despised by a large majority of their populations declare themselves democratic champions of all the good things in the world, while denouncing others as ‘authoritarian’ and horrible. Nothing remarkable, to be expected.

    In fact, if they were indeed democratic, they probably wouldn’t do it, because the demos usually aren’t interested in this sort of things. Sure, they want circus, but not with clowns so far-away from home.

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    1. Mao, I would respectfully disagree that “any” ideology involves violence and suppression. Due to the simple fact that every political system or party is based on an ideology, but not every system suppresses other ideologies, necessarily. A truly democratic system would not suppress other ideologies unless they represented an actual threat to society.

      It is my contention that every human being has an ideology swirling about in their brain.

      People who say they have no ideology, do have an ideology, maybe they are unaware of it, because not consciously articulated; it would be the default ideology of their own ruling class. Whatever that might be.

      As Scientific Linguistics might say, there are “marked” and “unmarked” ideologies. The unmarked ones are the default. For example, if you live in the U.S. and don’t have a specific, conscious ideology in your brain, then your “default” or “unmarked” ideology, would be one of American Exceptionalism. And so forth…

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      1. “A truly democratic system would not suppress other ideologies unless they represented an actual threat to society.”

        Yes, but other ideologies do represented an actual threat. Monarchists, communists, libertarians, pacifists, ethnic nationalists, they all represented a threat, especially if they refuse to play by your rules. And even if they do play by the rules: think, for example, of the proverbial “shouting fire in a crowded theater” situation, Schenck v. United States. Or more general “the Constitution is not a suicide pact” concept.

        “People who say they have no ideology, do have an ideology”

        Yes, the ‘dominant ideology’. But this is what I’m talking about. You can have the most beautiful ideas in the world: love, liberty, solidarity, equality, brotherhood, whatever, that’s all fine. As an idea. But once you’re in charge of establishing and maintaining it as a system, you will have to deal with all kinds of subversions. And then it’s either a ‘strong hand’ or collapse.

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      2. Right, I agree, Mao. The dominant (ruling class) ideology would always feel threatened by other, subversive, ideologies. It could tolerate them, up to a certain point. Even the most broadly democratic type of system, i.e., the “dictatorship” of the proletariat, would feel the need to suppress, say, neo-Liberal ideologies when their proponents get to the point where they might gather enough clout (or have enough foreign support) to restore capitalism.

        That’s the eternal paradox, isn’t it? Was it Marx who said, “The state is based on violence” ?

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  5. PS – as to how compatible are capitalism and real democracy (“They called it democracy, and the new ruling class promoted this political system as one that would ensure freedom and liberty for all, especially from the former tyranny of a monarch or despot. The masses ultimately had no choice but to cooperate with this new system imposed upon them by the new ruling class.”)

    View at Medium.com
    https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2018/05/americas-brand-of-capitalism-is-incompatible-with-democracy.html

    “The level of inequality that defines specific
    variants of capitalism and supposedly secures productivity and profits is hardly compatible with the democratic principle of equal rights and opportunities for political participation. Socioeconomic inequality challenges the core democratic principle of equality in participation, representation and governance”

    Click to access merkel_-_is_capitalism_compatible_with_democracy.pdf

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  6. “I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of many of the repressive measures recently introduced by the Russian state: declaring media ‘foreign agents’, labelling Navalny’s organization ‘extremist’, and so on.”

    *****

    You don’t seem as outraged at what happened earlier regarding RT and more recently (but before the above stated) Strategic Culture Foundation. Related:

    https://home.treasury.gov/news/press-releases/jy0126

    Meduza continues to be overrated establishment propped, relative to some truly better options getting censored.

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  7. Thank you for highlighting this. In FAILED CRUSADE, through his various op-eds written over the years with some provided historical context, Stephen F. Cohen also traced out the shocking illiberalism of Russia’s so-called liberals, including Kokh himself sneering ‘The Russian people deserve their miserable fate’ this is while hundreds of thousands of people were dying premature deaths every year with 1998 being the nadir – not even of deaths just the overall situation.

    Furthermore it also shows what their priorities were – and that did not even extend to economic prosperity just the construction of a certain kind of economy. Economically Pinochet’s regime was a disaster. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.KD.ZG?locations=CL
    And much like in Russia itself growth only occurred when the excesses of the Chicago boys were tapered back after 1982.

    Finally of course, after causing so much suffering Russian liberals are widely despised by Russians because they caused a lot of suffering yet built nothing. They produced an utter economic collapse and that was all they did, cause things to implode and make a few louts rich. The reason people were more forgiving of the Communists is that at least the country got a lot of factories, schools, universities, some new apartments, and victory in WWII. What achievements on the other hand could possibly justify the 7 million premature deaths of the 1990s and early 2000s?

    It is the 1990s also that made lots of Russians nostalgic for the Soviet period as things were unquestionably better in the Soviet period, and sadly to some extent that remains the case.

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  8. Thank you for an enlightening post Paul – and I am delighted to read the hearteningly anti-Russophobic commentators who have responded to it. Like (I sense) many of them, I agreed with your article until its very end, which implied that little had improved in terms of political repression since Putin’s accession, and which dismissed the purging of the oligarchs in a subclause. This purging was crucial to the substantial improvements in not just the economic and emotional, but democratic, health of the country that followed (as I try to describe in an old blog post of my own here: https://catherinebrown.org/deconstructing-russophobia/). Moreover Putin has never done anything remotely resembling sending the army against his own parliament; that fact alone makes the disparaging comparisons of Putin to Yeltsin with regards to democracy astonishing.

    Certainly, Putin has been in power a long time, and I agree with you that recent measures such as those against Navalny’s support base (though not Navalny’s imprisonment itself, from what I know of the fraud case that underpins it) are not justified. Still, there are other determinative factors behind the centralisation of power than the 1990s constitutional changes; in that decade power was in important respects decentralised, and the regions were run by corrupt and often murderous oligarchs (let us call them gangsters) as personal fiefdoms. The centralisation of power which occurred _after_ the 1990s addressed this problem, and in that sense operated *pro* democratically. That isn’t to say that – the oligarch/corruption problem having been significantly dealt with – it might not be time to try again with more regional autonomy. Another factor behind the centralisation was of course the secessionist wars in the Caucasus, which (like the Navalny phenomenon, but this time involving Wahhabi rather than only Western backers) were also stoked by external intervention (which is not to justify any of the atrocities committed on the Russian side).

    Thank you for bringing to my attention the Pinochet/90s Russian liberals connection, of which I knew nothing. I hope that Shokhin (deputy PM under Primakov) wasn’t one of the bad guys; I taught him English for a while in Moscow in 2002 when he was Finance Minister – and he seemed like one of the good ones!

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    1. Catherine, what exactly turned you into a Neo Lawrencian? I am willing to learn, maybe I ignored him for the wrong reason or reasons?

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  9. The 1990s were very similar in Hungary. Corrupt privatization of state-owned companies, some of which were sold at bargain-basement prices to Hungarian oligarchs and most sold to foreign investors/multinationals who duly shut them down. We also had a health crises with male life expectancy dropping by 10 years. Most utilities were sold to foreigners too.

    Thankfully, our liberals also self destructed and received a very representative 1% of the vote the last time they ran, which was two elections ago. Some of them are trying to come back as greens, who are probably the most militantly anti-Russian wackos in Hungary today. It’s the same in Germany too, where Die Grüne are the most enthusiastic American bootlickers.

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    1. Good point. The Green Parties in every country (as far as I know) are the most rabidly pro-Imperialist entities. They are wolves in sheep clothing.

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    2. Yes, one of the latest polls put the Greens ahead of CDU. But it’s unlikely they will be able to govern alone, even if they win the elections, a coalition with the CDU would be more likely. And the elections are still 4 months away, a lot can happen. The middle class Greta-worshipping university students are all Gaga about the Greens, as they tweet on their MacBook Airs sipping a 10-euro Starbucks cafe latte. Whether they will be able to carry the day is questionable.

      The older generations have a lot to lose if the unrealistic fantasies of the Greens are implemented. They might turn up to vote in larger numbers to give CDU the edge. The SPD has run itself into the ground, like basically all so-called social democratic parties in Europe.

      If the Greens win, NordStream 2 will likely be cancelled even if already completed. But the American nukes will be kept of course. And we will have to pay extra for the American freedom gas and sailboat into our offices.

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    3. It’s the same in Germany too, where Die Grüne are the most enthusiastic American bootlickers.

      Yes, well-trained on matters, apparently. I can’t help, but post 9/11 the German left more generally seemingly was watched carefully in the US as potential Anti-Semites and thus Anti-Americans too. Concerning the Green Party.Andrei S. Markovits comes to mind. His interest started much earlier though, starting in the late eighties to mid nineties.

      His perspective is a bit superficial, the perspective of an outside observer.

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      1. post 9/11 the German left more generally seemingly was watched carefully in the US as potential Anti-Semites and thus Anti-Americans too.

        That reminds me of a blog David’s Medienkritik that has, for the past 17 years, accused the German MSM of being insufficiently pro-American, especially during the Iraq War years when Bush was president and Schroeder was chancellor. Is this what you had in mind too? (That is, if you’ve heard of David’s Medienkritik)

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      2. It’s fine, moon, don’t worry. And, hey, at least now I know what the Euston Manifesto was – never heard of it beforehand, thanks.

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  10. The libtard Latynina, the talking head of Ekho Moskvy who is an expert on all things, is a Pinochet fan.

    Anatoly Karlin calls her “Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina” in What Happened In Georgia Was An Oligarchic Coup:

    The people were hoodwinked, as Georgian Dream are a corrupt band of Russian stooges – as argued by neocon Jennifer Rubin and Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina (see juicy quote from her translated below):

    It is possible that Georgia will get one more chance. In that one short moment, when a confused people will look on with astonishment as the band of thieves returning to power brings back its lawlessness – but at a point of time when the army and police are not yet wholly purged of respectable people, who care for the fate of their country – in that moment, Georgia will get another window of opportunity. Like the one, for instance, that Pinochet got on September 11, 1973. But maybe, this chance will never come.

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    1. That’s odd, ’cause last I checked, Karlin himself was a big Pinochet fanboy. Even derived vicarious satisfaction from Pinochet’s practice of tossing his political opponents out of helicopters.

      Maybe he changed his views since then, I dunno…

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  11. And Latynina is not alone in her adulation of Pinochet.

    See Moscow Times on Yeltsin’s appointment of the DARK LORD as Russia’s prime minister on Aug. 9, 1999:

    Public Sees Madness in the Kremlin
    By Natalya Shulyakovskaya and Catherine Belton
    Aug. 10, 1999

    “We were just trying to remember how many governments have changed this year. Two or three? But nothing should surprise us. After all, we have a madman as our head of state”, said Ivan Timoshenko, a 45-year-old retired lieutenant colonel who now drives a gypsy cab in Irkutsk – five time zones away from the Kremlin.

    Timoshenko was among the hundreds of young officers who lost their jobs when the entire regional division of the air force was disbanded in 1994. As a retirement bonus, he was paid the equivalent of 20 monthly salaries – just enough to buy the used Toyota he now drives to make enough money to put his 17-year-old son through law school.

    Like many of his military buddies, Timoshenko keeps hoping for a strong figure to take over and restore order to the country.

    “We always hope for a [Augusto] Pinochet, but Putin is no Pinochet”, Timoshenko said glumly. “And why change one [prime minister] for another when there is only one year of the presidency left?”

    For Timoshenko and his army friends, Putin may not be the Pinochet they are waiting for. But for many Russians, the behind-the-scenes player did not register much of a reaction at all.

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    1. Belton, of course, went on to write and have published last year “Putin’s People: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West”.

      Unputdownable!

      [irony]

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    2. Circa 1990s, two family members of mine taught at a NY based tech institute for newly arrived immigrants to the US. Many of the students there were former Soviets who claimed a Jewish identity.

      Contrary to the imagery out there, they’re by no means as monolithic as is commonly suggested. It appears so because mass media has its preferences, as evidenced by the kind of Ukrainian views thy prefer.

      Some of the aforementioned former Soviets expressed support for Pinochet. If I’m not offhand mistaken, the late Alexander Lebed had expressed support for Pinochet.

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  12. As the joke goes, democracy is the form of government where the power belongs to the democrats. Logically, that means that liberal democracy is the form of government where the power belongs to the liberals (liberal democrats), and if someone doesn’t like that order of things, well, that’s too bad — one can have any opinion, but only as long as this opinion is liberal enough, of course; and disliking liberal democracy is illiberal to the point of being threatening to the very core of the society, even if one doesn’t act on it.

    So you see, когда мы придем к власти, в прекрасной России будущего there will be lots of lustrations and perhaps even proscriptions. Such is the price of liberty!

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  13. Pinochet might have spared Chile the humiliations typical of Communist regimes but he did not spare Chile the humiliation of a financial meltdown in the early 1980s brought about by his neoliberal economic “reforms” that included privatisation of major state-owned industries including copper mining and deregulation of major industries including the financial industry.

    “The myths about Pinochet’s Chile that persist in Brazil today” (Open Democracy)
    https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/democraciaabierta/myths-about-pinochets-chile-persist-brazil-today/

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    1. And just like those horrible communists, there were a lot of Chilean refugees. I have worked or gone to school with some of them in Canada.

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  14. I am somewhat astonished, Professor Robinson, that a longtime student of Russian history such as yourself remains markedly uncomfortable (as do most Western observers) with the idea of the role of the Russian State – of “gosudarstvennyi interes’” – at the heart of the political culture of the nation, as its driving force and, ipso facto, as the representative of the society as a collective, standing above particularist parties and interests. Whether white, red or the current white-red-and-blue, is this not the vital thread that runs through Russia’s history, at least since the time of Grand Prince Ivan III? To be sure, as Kliuchevskii once remarked in his course on Russian history, this meant that classes (sosloviia) in society were distinguished not by “rights” (with which Western societies today seem obsessed to the exclusion of all else), but by obligations, and that that society was made up of “commanders, soldiers and workers, but there were no citizens”. That such an arrangement is entirely foreign to Western observers, living as they do in what passes for “democracy” these days and for whom a conception of a collective interest of society is fast disappearing, is a given. But does this mean that all civilizations must grow and develop the same way?

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    1. Actually, I’m thinking of writing a follow-up to dispel any misunderstandings. In my piece, I at no point condemn Russian liberals for their authoritarian approach in the 1990s. I merely state it as a historical fact that explains how Russia ended up how it did, and why liberalism suffers from a credibility problem in Russia.

      Of course – and I may say this if I do a follow-up – the problem with the 1990s is that while Russia was ruled by what might call authoritarian methods – i.e. essentially by decree – the state was very weak and it could be argued that liberals did not put ‘state’ interests first. Thus the correction undertaken by Putin, who restored ‘gosudarstvennost’ to top priority.

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  15. I’d like to distinguish a democratic gov’t from a representative one. In 1940 after France was crushed by the Wehrmacht, Hitler and the Nazis were extremely popular in Germany. They — at that moment — represented the German people/voters. They were not, however, democratic at any moment during their dictatorship. Minorities — political, ethnic, religious, or linguistic — are constituent parts of all large societies. Democratic institutions and traditions exist to protect them. This was never true in Nazi Germany. By design, the Pinochet regime was neither democratic nor representative. Washington was the planner and architect of this regime. Those Russians who admire Pinochet are a danger to their own country. Such Pinochettees are not true national leaders of a country as diverse as the RF. Is the Putin team representative of the citizens of the RF? Clearly, yes. Approval polls over the last 20 years confirm it. Is the gov’t of the RF democratic? More or less, yes. If your answer is ‘no’, then list the minorities of size who are persecuted with impunity nation-wide. Finally, a strong Fourth Estate that exposes the abuse and corruption of state and gov’t officials is an essential part of a democratic polity. Here the RF is deficient.

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    1. These are very good points, RS. Even today, a lot of people forget that one component of a “democratic” government is the protection of minority groups (of various types). The central government of a “democratic” society positions itself as the overall arbitrator and judge between the rights of majorities vs the rights of minorities.

      Without that, you would just have a majoritarian society where all sub-groups are basically annihilated; not unlike the Spanish Inquisition.

      A lot of people (including in the Russophile community) just don’t get that. You’ll see people in the blogosphere deriding the protection of minorities as some type of “woke” deviation. Which is not to say that “wokeness” doesn’t have its ludicrous excesses in the West. But the notion of protecting minority rights, in and of itself, is not a deviation from accepted norms. It IS the accepted norm. Majorities should be protected as well, that goes without saying. But usually they don’t need much protection, because usually they are dominant anyhow.

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    2. There is no such thing anywhere as a strong fourth estate.

      I would like to proved wrong

      I live in the UK it’s democratic country but dominated by state media – which we are taxed for via a license fee.
      The rest of the media is owned by 5/6 oligarchs. Which can’t really compete with the agenda set by state media.

      Alternative media is too small to compete.

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    3. In 1940 after France was crushed by the Wehrmacht, Hitler and the Nazis were extremely popular in Germany. They — at that moment — represented the German people/voters.

      I wonder why you made that connection. The Nazis were popular in Germany because they ‘crushed’ France vs starting to march East earlier?

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    4. “Minorities — political, ethnic, religious, or linguistic — are constituent parts of all large societies. Democratic institutions and traditions exist to protect them.”

      Meh. Those would be ‘undemocratic institutions’. ‘Democracy’ is rule by the people. Preferably by popular initiatives followed by referenda. Protecting ‘minorities’ has nothing to do with it.

      In fact, the concern that any ‘democracy’ would inevitably oppress ‘minority’ (the rich people, in that case) played a role in designing the US constitution.

      If you’re concerned about minorities (however defined), you need to stay away from ‘democracy’. Get a king, benevolent and wise, as recommended by Plato; that’ll do the trick.

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  16. Greetings Moon, I do not doubt that the earlier defeat of Poland was also very popular in Germany. The reason I mentioned France is that I read (decades ago) a story/testimonial of a wife of a foreigner who lived in Germany. She wrote that had there been an election in Germany, Hitler would have received 80% of the votes. In 1940 there were many foreigners in Germany: diplomats, businessmen, journalists, tourists and others.

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  17. I agree with your main thesis, but it seems you feel obliged to pay lip service to the dominant Western anti-Russian bias. You write “I’ll admit that I’m not a fan of many of the repressive measures recently introduced by the Russian state: declaring media ‘foreign agents’, labelling Navalny’s organization ‘extremist’, and so on.”
    Wasn’t it the West that first went after RT & Sputnik (not to mention the attack on Assange and many other Western independent media outlets)? Wasn’t that repressive? Isn’t it justified for Russia to react/retaliate?
    I understand that there are a lot of reasons for Russians to be critical of their government, but you surely know that most of the dissent in Russia (Navalny being a prime example) is funded and instigated by the West. What was Putin supposed to do, knowing that he is the target of regime-change efforts by the most well-funded and experienced regime-change power in the world in its entire history?
    I understand that Putin-bashing is the norm in the West, but please give substance to your argument. The examples you give are clearly a reaction to Western pressure, not Russian initiative. What is the “so on” in your claim?
    I agree that there is “hardening” in the Russian regime, but as far as I can see, it’s all in reaction to Western (usually unprovoked) actions/attacks. If anything, we have to admire Russia’s patience. How do you justify the expansion of NATO, the economic war, baseless accusations, anti-Russian propaganda, the regime-change efforts and wars against Russian allies?
    You are a historian, which country in human history did not “harden” its regime in the face of aggression?

    You rightfully point that Putin is not responsible for the creation of the system, but you feel compelled to diminish his achievements and even blame him: “This doesn’t excuse illiberal and undemocratic practices by the current government. Putin has had 20 years to do something about all this, and apart from purging the oligarchs in the early 2000s, hasn’t done much, if anything, to make things better.”
    I do not agree with a lot of Putin’s policies. I think he should have gone further then purging part of the oligarchs. I would have liked to see him purge all oligarchs, by reducing the economic inequality (this can be done without eliminating the material incentive, which was lacking during the Soviet era, and reduces the competitiveness and technological progress of a country/society)… The pension reform was another one of his policies that I disagree with… But whatever disagreements I may have with Putin, I cannot describe what he achieved by reversing Russia’s decline in 90’s to the state after his first two terms, as he “hasn’t done much, if anything, to make things better”… He achieved something that very few humans could do, which makes it… outstanding.
    Without the Western pressure and economic war, he might have been a lot more successful also after his 2nd term. Then the “hardening” that we see might not have taken place. Instead, we could have seen reforms towards increased democracy… But these are all speculations and would would have required fair/friendly relations with the Western democracies (I don’t think US is a democracy, but the alternative that I am describing would have required also the US support), which are also becoming less free and less democratic, i.e. they are “hardening” too…

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