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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Who Really Runs Russia?

This op-d by Yevgeny Kiselyov from the Moscow Times reveals who is really in charge in "post-communist" Russia

The Bolsheviks Are Still Alive and Kicking

Wednesday is the 90th anniversary of the date when the Bolsheviks came to power with Vladimir Lenin as their leader. And if we believe the apocryphal version of the country's history, then we know President Vladimir Putin's grandfather served as a cook for Lenin's family.

Had the Communist Party remained in power, we would have seen to this day grandiose ceremonies with military parades and mass demonstrations like we saw during the 50th, 60th and 70th anniversaries of the Great October Revolution.

But the Communists fell from power long ago, and the Nov. 7 anniversary is no longer an official government holiday.

The paradox is that the Bolsheviks, in a sense, haven't gone anywhere. They remain in power even today.

Putin's Kremlin has adopted many of the Bolsheviks' worst traits by its disdain for the opinion of the minority, parliamentary government, fair elections, an independent judiciary and a free press. The other Bolshevik trait is the Kremlin's willingness to use force to suppress political opposition.

After the Soviet collapse, several former Soviet-bloc countries passed laws that banned leaders who held high posts in the Party leadership from holding a future political position. Russia, however, never instituted this ban on former Soviet leaders and nomenklatura. The result is that we now have many Soviet-era Communist functionaries occupying high-ranking posts. The freshest example is the new prime minister, Viktor Zubkov. Under Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, Zubkov headed the district committee of the Communist Party on the outskirts of Leningrad, and he later worked as head of the agricultural section of the Leningrad regional committee of the Communist Party.

And, in contrast to Gorbachev, who ultimately separated from the Party -- albeit very late in the game -- Zubkov never expressed these sentiments.

In fact, you can count on the fingers of both hands the number of officials in power today who actively supported the democratic policies of the late 1980s and early 1990s. One of these is the current president. Putin served as an assistant to the late Anatoly Sobchak, who was the first mayor in the history of St. Petersburg to be democratically elected. But no one can exclude the possibility that Putin in 1990, when he was still an acting KGB officer, was placed in that post by the KGB to keep an eye on the new, democratic city leader.

But the fact of the matter is that Putin -- who resigned from the KGB in August 1991 after a group of conservative Communist leaders tried to organize a putsch against Gorbachev to forestall the collapse of both the Party and the Soviet Union -- now speaks with regret about what he calls the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

But some people consider that the complete opposite case is true -- that the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the last century was actually the October Revolution, which meant decades of totalitarian Communist rule that resulted in countless suffering and tragedy not only in the Soviet Union but in many countries where the Soviet influence spread. But these people are in the minority in Russia.

As soon as the Bolsheviks seized power on Nov. 7, their main concern was how to maintain and strengthen it. On Dec. 20, 1917, they created the Cheka, a brutal secret police force that served as the primary tool for fighting counterrevolutionaries and for increasing their power. Then came the Red Terror, the appearance of the gulag and Stalin's purges and repression. The name of the secret police force changed several times throughout that period until it ultimately became the KGB in 1954.

Ninety years since the creation of the Cheka, a countless number of former members of the KGB occupy positions of authority, with the president at the head. They proudly refer to themselves as Chekists, a reference to members of the Cheka under the leadership of Felix Dzerzhinsky, a notoriously bloodthirsty Communist fanatic. Some still hang Dzerzhinsky's portrait in their offices.

It is unlikely that these modern-day Chekists are willing to employ the same harsh measures of the Cheka and KGB, but they are nevertheless trying to create a "Chekist corporation" as a mechanism for holding on to power for as long as possible....

Yevgeny Kiselyov is a political analyst and host of a radio show on Ekho Moskvy.


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