Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Dangers of Intolerance

After the armed uprising in Moscow the Russian state is somewhat like the blackened, burned-out House of Soviets. The fire is out, soon all the land mines will be removed and all of the fighters in custody. But it will be quite some time before this building will begin to function for the good of the Russian people. The same can be said of the social order.


These terrible days have shown with startling clarity that no civil society exists in Russia, despite all the talk by politicians over the past eight years. Instead there is an unstable system in which a political crisis inevitably grows into a military confrontation.


What kind of democratic society is it in which the outcome of a conflict of ideas is determined, not by the number of votes "for" and "against", but by the relative numbers of attack and defense forces?


I do not think that the loud curses being hurled at the "red-browns" are very productive. If the whole matter is reduced to a conspiracy of communist and fascist forces, it will be too tempting to concentrate on repressive measures such as banning certain political parties or closing opposition newspapers.


These measures would not prevent a repeat of the tragedy. By calling the rebellion "communist-fascist" we beg the question of its real causes. The truth is that the center of the revolt was the Supreme Soviet, in which Boris Yeltsin gained his first major victories over the communist nomenklatura. We must not forget that two years ago the White House was the bastion of democracy during the putsch. Neither Ruslan Khasbulatov nor Alexander Rutskoi was a member of the "red-browns" then. On the contrary, they were the president's closest confederates. It is important to understand how they and many others drastically changed their views and formed unions with extremists in such a short period of time.


The organic defect in the former Supreme Soviet was that elections to it were not held according to any party principles. The only real criterion was a candidate's attitude toward the Communist Party. But after 1991 the Communist Party disappeared from the political arena, and without the party to oppose, the deputies were left to their own political instincts.


Meanwhile no political organizations were formed in the country that could seriously aspire to reflect the interests of any social groups, and that enjoyed wide trust and support. But only by belonging to one or another of these parties does a politician feel accountable to his constituency. A party has declared principles, and a politician cannot depart drastically from them. A party that is interested in its own future will restrain a politician from unions with those who oppose its basic tenets.


No matter how much the Russian people would like to elect honest and decent politicians today, there is no guarantee that they will not be mistaken yet again. This is why the president is trying to strengthen the role of the parties and other social organizations in the political life of the country. That is, to begin, even if in an authoritarian way, to structure society.


The remaining two months will probably not be enough. This time voters will probably again cast their ballots for specific politicians instead of ideas. All we can do is hope that leading politicians, including the president, will hasten to ally themselves with one or another group of voters.


As the elections get closer, the problem of those who are in disagreement with the present government will become more acute. Not those who went to storm Ostankino with a kalashnikov in their hands, and not those who sent them there.


We are talking about law-abiding citizens. It will be very difficult for democracy if they are unable to express their views. This is not only a matter of human rights. It is a question of the safety of the state. Deprived of the right to speak out, thousands of people may feel defeated. and in order to express themselves, they may resort to terrorism, they will go underground. and this will mean the beginning of a new civil war.


This opposition is not likely to be either constructive or civilized. The discussion will be conducted on the level of slogans and shouting. But a civilized opposition will not appear all by itself. It is a natural element of a certain level of political culture. For now the goal is a modest one: to avoid bloodshed. There should be only one ban - on calls for violence.


It may seem to some these days that getting rid of the Supreme Soviet will ease the situation in Russia. But not a single economic problem has been solved. Moreover, it is obvious that solving these problems will entail many further deprivations among the population. To avoid a social explosion, the government should, for its own sake, hurry to create the elements of a democratic society.


Alexander Golz is a political observer for Krasnaya Zvezda.