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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Why Put ""Democrats"" in Quotes?

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Two articles that I read last week in two of my favorite newspapers — Moskovskiye Novosti and Financial Times — are giving me an excuse to explain why most of the time the word "democrat" appears in this column in quotes: the so-called "democrats."

Well-known military commentator Pavel Felgenhauer, a Moscow Times columnist, published an article in Moskovskiye Novosti (Aug. 21-27) called "Tanks in the City." He described the incompetent actions of the Soviet military command during the August 1991 coup and concluded: "Tanks were leaving the city in disgrace. … The ramifications of 1991 and 1993 are still burdening the country. The political leadership has never quite understood that a nonprofessional military is essentially ineffective."

That is, if in August 1991 there was a professional army in the Soviet Union, the anti-constitutional coup would have succeeded? That is how the commentator known for his "democratic" views backs his favorite idea that a transition to a professional army is necessary.

Since the beginning of 1988, when glasnost spread to include the problems of the armed forces, "democrats" formed a very simple position: A conscript army is an absolute evil; a professional (by which they mean paid) army is an absolute good. This dichotomy stirred no excitement among the few progressively thinking representatives of the Soviet military establishment. The main reason was that, with democratic institutions not yet rooted in Russia, a paid army was potentially more likely to stage a coup, and not only as an instrument of politicians, but also by itself. Gorbachev, who stubbornly kept the orthodox and unpopular Dmitry Yazov in charge of the Defense Ministry, appeared to them wiser than the "democrats," who demanded swift reforms under a strong minister.

Alas, "democrats" did not acknowledge that the military is not monolithic and includes various positions. "Yazov himself is afraid of me! I will make sure that you lose your epaulets!" a founder of the soldiers' mothers' movement once yelled at an honest general who dared to contest publicly her vision of military reform. That was in the beginning of 1990. As we see, the "democratic" discourse has not advanced much during the decade of reforms.

The other article was written by a foreign correspondent. (A foreign correspondent and a Moscow "democrat" seem like twin brothers to me.) "Communists Edged Out in Siberia Vote" (Financial Times, Aug. 22) is an analysis of the surprising success of a Communist candidate for governor in Irkutsk. Having gained an additional 20 percent of the vote in the second round, Communist Sergei Levchenko finished only 2 percent behind incumbent Boris Govorin.

When any normal foreigner reads about Communists' victories in Russia, he gets alarmed and sad. On the other hand: When Yabloko succeeds, he or she feels good. Real life, however, is more complicated: In the second round of the Irkutsk elections, Yabloko supported the Communist candidate. The article has no mention of this. But one must agree that the relative success of the Communist Party together with Yabloko is a completely different story, something that requires a completely different interpretation than the success of Communists alone. … (By the way, an excellent, nuanced analysis of the Communist victory in Nizhny Novgorod was done by Valery Vyzhutovich in the aforementioned issue of Moskovskiye Novosti.)

That is why I am so skeptical about "democrats:" They mistake labels for the essence of a thing and treat words like deeds.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Sreda, a magazine for media professionals (