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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

POWER PLAY: Admitting the Past Will Give Us a Future




Acting President Vladimir Putin has vowed to resuscitate the moral fiber of the Russian people. "Any program should start from the revival of people's morals,'' Putin told reporters.


Well said, but badly thought. If Putin believes in what he proclaims, his next step should be to denounce his own past and to condemn the institution to which he belonged for 16 years, the KGB. It was the KGB, after all, that was first and foremost to blame for burying the "moral fiber" of this country.


Common sense dictates that it is impossible to revive morals unless the nation as a whole - down to each private citizen, from rural farmer to acting president - is willing to acknowledge his or her personal guilt in the horro rs the country has known. A nation that resists this and keeps pointing at some outside enemy as the source of its woes will be doomed to spin in circles and repeat its mistakes.


At first glance, Russia and Austria would seem to have little in common. The serene alpine nation was never much attracted to acknowledging its Nazi past, preferring to think of itself as just another victim of the Third Reich. Now Austria has just seen right-wing Nazi sympathizer J?rg Haider sweep into a main power-broker position in the Austrian parliament, casting a fascist pall over the country's government.


Russia's 150 million people have chosen their own path. They have placed blame for Russia's failures on their leaders and on the West. The results are this: The nation is about to vote a man with virtually no political face, no clear economic or political program - whose only credit, in fact, is a brutal and savage war in Chechnya - into office as president.


Let's forget animosity toward the West for a moment - that is just Russia's inferiority complex. But I often wonder what would happen if Russia didn't have Lenin, Stalin, Gorbachev or Yeltsin to blame exclusively for what was actually the actions of millions. I ask myself: How much more time has to pass before each of us - the intelligentsia in particular- will admit that we too are to blame for what went on during the decades of Soviet rule, as well as for a decade of miserably failed reforms?


We allowed them to kill us in the 1930s and 1940s - we helped by informing on neighbors and encouraging them with our support. We allowed them to have us fired from our jobs, to forbid us to travel abroad, to send us to psychiatric prisons, and to treat us like animals. We let them jail and exiled those who challenged their power in the 1970s and 1980s. We remained silent.


Then in the early 1990s, we got the chance to start a fresh page in our history. But we ruined it by allowing those we voted into power to cheat us and loot our wealth. Because of this, we were Russia's willing executioners, and we ended up with a country that does not respect itself and which garners no respect from the outside world.


A nation that resents scrutinizing its own history, that chooses not to denounce its terrible past, is doomed to new failures. Putin, in proclaiming the necessity of reviving moral values, should understand that neither a person nor a nation can expect to find peace of mind in the future until it acknowledges its guilt for making pacts with evil in the past.


Yevgenia Albats is an independent political analyst and journalist based in Moscow.