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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

SEASON OF DISCONTENT: Russian Elite Sees Itself in Gen. Pinochet




General Augusto Pinochet probably does not even suspect that distant Russia has virtually become his second homeland. In a way he has shared the fate of Karl Marx, only while still alive, for nowhere other than Chile has so much been written about him than in Russia.


The devil incarnate in official Communist propaganda of the 1970s, Pinochet gradually became a hero from the late 1980s onwards, a symbol and banner for a considerable part of the so-called democratic intelligentsia that sees in him a fearless and irreproachable liberal knight on a white steed.


Pinochet's recent arrest in London started a fresh deluge of publications and commentary in the Russian media, most of which resembled analytical articles from economics magazines, citing growth rates, inflation, foreign investment and discount rates in the Chilean economy before Pinochet, under Pinochet and after Pinochet. It is hard to work out just what exactly is being discussed - Pinochet's arrest or Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov's anti-crisis program.


Distracted by discussion not so much about Pinochet but rather about ourselves once again, we lost sight of the fact that neither the Chilean or Russian economy has the slightest bearing on what is happening in London.


At stake here is something far more fundamental, namely the value of human life and the absence of any justification or time-limit of accountability for the politicians who trample on this value. Our reaction to Pinochet's arrest shows that such value, regardless of all of our democratic exercises, still remains alien to our unique Russian civilization.


Our leftists, satisfied and gloating over Pinochet's arrest, are of course right to angrily recall his many crimes - murder, torture, terror. But these are the same people that attend demonstrations clutching portraits of Lenin and Stalin, who killed immeasurably more people than the humble Latin American general, which implies that their only real criticism of Pinochet is that he didn't kill the right people and in the right numbers.


Meanwhile, the liberals have sprung to Pinochet's defense, lauding his economic exploits and secretly or openly dreaming of having their own Russian Pinochet. It appears they don't even understand how clearly this demonstrates their fundamental kinship with their left-wing opponents: Their common contempt for human life and readiness to wield an iron hand to drive people down the road to happiness, whether communist or liberal, unites them far more than their differing economic views divide them.


Not so long ago we elected "with our hearts" a person responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of his citizens in a senseless war. At the time, only human rights activist Sergei Kovalyov reminded us repeatedly, like one character in Pushkin's play Boris Godunov, "You cannot vote for King Herod, the Mother of God forbids it."


But one would hope that in his sickness this person is now feeling the weight of conscience for all his sins, and will set an example to the rest of us. For until we learn to feel these pangs ourselves just once in a while, we will remain barbarians, even if we adorn ourselves with diplomas of distinction from the London School of Economics.


Otherwise these things will look on us like pagers and cellphones would hanging from the belt of a tribal chief from the New Guinea jungle.