Russia faces the choice of reviving the European values that generated its launch into modernity or regressing “to the Middle Ages,” according to Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos and the country’s leading political dissident.
“All that my country has today, everything that it considers truly ‘its own’, everything that has allowed it to become a great power and that is now its ‘calling card’: space exploration, the nuclear shield, literature and art, the high level of education and science – was created within the scope of the European cultural tradition,” he said, delivering the keynote speech at last night’s annual Freedom House Awards dinner.
“A break with the West, with its values and its knowledge, is a dangerous step, one that leads to Russia losing its true cultural identity,” he said. “The ‘Eurasianism’ that is being actively forced upon society as the new totalitarian ideology is nothing more than a verbose justification for militant ignorance and barbarism,” he argued.
Russia is fighting a war in Ukraine “not for the sake of national interests, not to defend their Fatherland, but in order to save power for a handful of plutocrats, who in this way are trying to extend life of the regime which is outdated already,” Khodorkovsky said:
European choice, social justice and national mobilization
There is a legend about how nearly 200 years ago, the Russian political émigrés of that time asked the Russian court historian Karamzin for the news about what was happening in the Motherland. Karamzin thought for a moment and then replied with a single word: “Stealing”. Little has changed in Russia since those times.
The worst thing that I discovered when I got out of prison was that those ten years had been stolen not only from me, they had been stolen from the entire country. …. Concealed behind a façade of outward prosperity is the fact that the country has stopped its development. Not only that, in most areas it has been flung back far into the distant past: politically, economically, psychologically.
But that is not all. It turns out that the regime has robbed not only Russia. It is trying to throw the whole world back into the era of the cold war (if not a hot one), when disputes are resolved at the point of a gun, while one’s superiority is proven not by rates of economic growth, but by military aggression. Russia and the world have come to a very dangerous point, beyond which looms a Third World War.
The return to Europe
A return to the European values that lie at the foundation of the Euro-Atlantic civilization, – a mental and political return – is the starting point for the new political course that could help Russia work its way out of the historical snare it is now in. ….
All that my country has today, everything that it considers truly “its own”, everything that has allowed it to become a great power and that is now its “calling card”: space exploration, the nuclear shield, literature and art, the high level of education and science (which even thirty years of “timelessness” were incapable of destroying) – was created within the scope of the European cultural tradition, in interaction with European culture and within the milieu of European culture. ….
A break with the West, with its values and its knowledge, is a dangerous step, one that leads to Russia losing its true cultural identity. The “Eurasianism” that is being actively forced upon society as the new totalitarian ideology is nothing more than a verbose justification for militant ignorance and barbarism. ….
European values (or Euro-Atlantic, as it is now the common practice to call them) are first and foremost values of a strong and just state with effective institutions and laws that work. Russia needs these no less than any other people in the world do. Russia needs a law-based state and an open economy not because this will please Western Europe and America, but so it can work together with the Euro-Atlantic world – and if necessary compete with it as well – on equal terms. …..
Anti-Western hysteria is a manifestation of psychological insecurity and fear of competition on the part of those fringe elements who are today’s elite in Russia.
Restoring the “balance of fairness” is a top-priority task for all of the forces that have the transformation of Russia into a modern and dynamically developing state as their objective. If a solution is not found for this strategic task, society is not going to put its support behind any economic, social, or political reform. …..
The vector of development of Russian liberalism, which is exclusively political today, needs to be rethought. Producing draft constitutions and plans for radical political and economic reforms is a futile exercise until society begins to feel that the liberal idea is a fair idea…..
Society has enormous potential for self-organization when there is an idea around which a matrix can form. For Russia, such an idea can only be a socially oriented nation state. The only question is will this socially oriented nation state be liberal or fascist?
Russia is already making real war. those who send heroes to die not in the name of national interests, not to defend the Fatherland, but in order to keep in power a small group of plutocrats who are trying in this way to prolong the life of a regime that has already outlived itself.
Russia has gotten stuck on a dangerous historical track, getting out of which is very complicated. In order to simply stop, and all the more so to switch to some other track, is going to require mobilization of all of the energies of the Russian people. The task of true Russian patriots is not in promising the Russian people smooth sailing but in telling the truth. Only if they understand the scale of the threat and of the historical significance of the moment can the people be moved to perform heroic deeds. And without heroic deeds, Russia today cannot be saved.
The heroic deed of the Russian people must consist of constructive labor, of inculcating discipline and moderation, and of developing the ability to work together and to help one another – in other words, of reviving all those moral skills that had helped Russian culture to develop and that have been lost to a large extent in recent years. In order to raise the people up to be able to perform this heroic deed, the pro-European minority needs to prove its moral soundness and its readiness to observe, not in word, but in deed, the principle of equality of all before the law. It is precisely this equality of all before a law that is the same for all, before an adversity that is the same for all, and for a common cause that is the same for all, that the true sense of liberalism consists.
The above excerpt is taken from the prepared text of a speech delivered by Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the 2014 annual Freedom House Awards held on the evening of October 1, 2014.
A Conversation With Mikhail Khodorkovsky
Founder, Open Russia
Date: Monday, October 6, 2014
Press Registration: 8:00 a.m.–8:30 a.m.
Meeting: 8:30 a.m.–9:30 a.m.
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