In Another Blow to Russia's Democracy

File Photo of Kremlin and Saint Basil's
file photo
Reading your friends' columns is a potentially dangerous pastime. Especially if your friend is a foreign journalist. You always have to walk the tight rope balancing between a desire to expose his or her penchant for stereotypes about Russia and insincere compliments.

The problem is made worse by a strange tendency among both foreign and Russian journalists in Moscow: the staunchest critics of Russian state among them tend to be hypersensitive to any criticism of their own writings. I knew one such journalist whose all stories started with a refrain "In another blow to Russia's democracy." He broke his tradition only once ­ in a published response to an angry blog about his writings. This time, the story started with a somewhat more promising "In another feat of Kremlin-inspired Nashi-like "patriotic" fury..."

So, it is with a rather grave feeling that I subject to my humble scrutiny a story by my friend and former Russia Profile colleague, Shaun Walker. My only hope is that my modest historical observations will be a useful footnote to one of his Moscow reports in The Independent. And if they are not or in a feat of Solzhenitsyn-like (but, by Jove, not Kremlin-inspired!) patriotic zeal I hurt any one of Shaun's delicate feelings, let all of my so called doubts end up in the vortex of oblivion.

Now to business. In his report from Moscow published in The Independent and headlined "Putin Kicks off Campaign to Lionize a Ruthless Predecessor," [DJ: JRL #2011-126 15 July 2011] Shaun Walker informs us that "Putin has launched a program to lionise Pyotr Stolypin, a Tsarist-era Russian prime-minister who was known for his ruthless methods." Well, Stolypin was known also for something else. And Shaun grudgingly admits it a few lines further, saying that Stolypin "tried to implement a series of social reforms, but at the same time was a staunch political conservative and cracked down on the left-wing revolutionaries who wanted to bring down the Tsarist autocracy."

The facts are true, but since certain important details are not included in this passage, it is only half true. First, Stolypin not only tried, but implemented several reforms which modernized Russia. Thanks to him, 3 million Russian farmers got plots of land in Siberia, thus moving Russian colonization of this territory much further than during the whole Soviet period, which barely managed to keep 10 million people (out of the Soviet Union's 250 million) living in the vast territory bordering the Pacific ocean. Second, the poor left-wing revolutionaries of 1905-1907 wanted something more than to "bring down the Tsarist autocracy." They wanted to kill and to rob ­ and they did it with much success until Stolypin became the minister of the interior in April 1906. Nowadays, historians agree that the revolution of 1905-1907 was an abortive attempt to seize power by the same forces that brought about the October revolution of 1917 ­ the biggest misfortune of the 20th century, whatever the intentions of its various participants. It was thanks to Stolypin that the Russia and the Western world didn't have to face someone like Lenin 10 years earlier than it was scheduled by fate ­ in 1907 instead of the actual 1917. Lenin knew it full well, and this is precisely the reason why Lenin called Stolypin "a master of hanging, an organizer of pogroms, the head of the counterrevolution" (quotes from Lenin's article "Stolypin and Revolution," 1911).

Surprisingly, it is from Lenin that Shaun borrows the terms for his further description of Stolypin: "His reputation was so fearsome that the hangman's noose became known as Stolypin's necktie due to the hundreds of opponents that were executed during his rule."

Again, only a half-truth. One should add that there were thousands of innocent people killed by the revolutionaries (not just opponents!) in 1905-1907. There were also hundreds of state officials and policemen, killed simply because of their status. When Stolypin reported to the first Russian parliament (State Duma) that the 90 revolutionaries executed in 1906 were guilty of terrorist acts that left 288 state officials killed and 388 crippled, these brave parliamentarians whistled and yelled that there were "too few" officials killed. This scene is described in detail in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel The Red Wheel.

As for Stolypin himself, he survived 11 assassination attempts between 1905 and 1911. The twelveth one, made by an individual anarchist terrorist Bogrov, was spectacular and successful ­ the 49 years old prime-minister was shot dead in a theatre, under the eyes of the Tsar and a large audience. The assassination attempt in St. Petersburg, in 1906, was especially bloody: unmasked terrorists, in despair, exploded their bombs far from Stolypin, killing 24 people, including themselves. Two of Stolypin's children, a boy and a girl, became disabled for life because of this explosion.

One should add here the murder of general Sakharov, killed by a woman terrorist at Stolypin's home, which she visited with the intention of killing Stolypin himself.

As for Stolypin's "fearsome" reputation, it was indeed fearsome only for the people who later plunged Russia into a real bloodbath. They had reasons to want to make his reputation fearsome ­ it was against them that Stolypin directed his famous phrase: "You need great upheavals ­ we need great Russia!" Sorry, if this phrase applies also to some modern foreign journalists nowadays. That just shows how little has changed in Russia-West relations during the last 100 years. On September 14 we shall be remembering the centenary of Stolypin's assassination in Kiev city theatre (the true reason for Putin's "lioniosing" activity). Prime-minister Putin will most likely will be taking part in the ceremonies. It won't bother me. I am sorry if that bothers you, Shaun.


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