Listening to Professor Ethan S. Burger

One of America’s more insightful and candid analysts of Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian affairs is Ethan S. Burger (pictured), a Scholar-in-Residence at American University’s School of International Service and an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Professor Burger has in excess of 50 published works, taught classes concerning Russian law and politics as well as international economic crime and corruption. He has given presentations at the Kennan Institute, Harvard University’s Davis Center, the International Monetary Fund, the Institute for State & Law, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, the World Bank, and other institutions concerning a range of topics such as corruption in the Russian judiciary, the consequences of the break-up of the Soviet Union for global security, the “Sovietization” of contemporary Russia, and U.S. policy towards Belarus. His writings reflect his practical work experience in the region with a deep understanding of its history and politics. La Russophobe is honored to publish the following original essay from Professor Burger, who provided LR with contributory analysis for her post about the recent condemnation of Russia’s human rights record by the U.S. Department of State, including our link to the DOS publication (and who has contributed previously to the blog in the form of a brilliant essay about Anna Politkovskaya). In various fora, Professor Burger has sought to promote thoughtful discussion over the DOS report, asking one simple question of the Russophiles: Can you identify any factual errors in the DOS Report, and if so can you document your contention(s)? La Russophobe would like to facilitate his efforts, which he plans to use as the basis for an article about the state of human rights conditions in Russia.

Despite my human rights activities, I am not a conventional human rights advocate since I do not focus principally on individual rights, in part since such an approach ignores historical context. For example, even though Latvia violates its OSCE and UN obligations by not giving Russians automatic citizenship or allow them to work for the government, its behavior is both understandable and defensible.

It is not unreasonable for the Latvian government to require the Russians to pass a Latvian language exam, after all most Latvians presently in the country are descendants of Soviet occupiers. In fact, the Latvian government is acting in a fairly restrained manner by not simply expelling all the Russians not willing to assimilate into Latvian society.

Both the Czechs and the Poles immediately after WWII kicked all the Germans out of their countries to prevent the possibility of an irrendentia problem from arising in the future. By comparison, Latvian policy has been a model of constraint.

Now let’s say you are a Latvian or Estonian and Soviet troops at the end of WWII killed your parents and seized your home, but you and your sibling managed to escape. Over 45+ years, the political situation changes. You and your sibling return to your former home to reclaim your home only to find the children of the soldiers living in your house. You want it back — after all it is a well-established principal of law that a thief cannot convey good title since the purchaser is not a holder-in-due course.

It doesn’t matter what documents the Soviet documents may have given the house’s occupants. While the sins of the father do not pass to the son, this is not what is happening. You and your sibling are not seeking to kill the occupants of your house, you just want them to leave in peace. Perhaps, they are entitled to a week or two to move, but they have no moral claim to the property. Of course, there is always the issue from what point in time should a particular situation be evaluated.

I also can say without fear that Chechnya is not legally part of the Russian Federation as it did not ratify the Federation Treaty or approve the 1993 (fraudulent) referendum on the Russian Constitution. I will condemn terrorism in all forms and don’t want innocent Chechens or Russians to die. Yet it is necessary to recognize, as Zbigniew Brzezinski and others do that Chechnya is to Moscow what Algeria was to Paris .

Unfortunately, Russia lacks a DeGaulle. Putin either does not understand the damage the conflict in Chechnya is causing Russia or he is too weak to oppose those who want to prolong the current situation. If Russian television were not state-controlled, perhaps the Russian public opinion would understand the consequences of existing Russian policy towards Chechnya better.

Certainly Russian mothers don’t want their kids in the Russian army. The Russian authorities committed a huge blunder in permitting the killing of Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov. Corrupt Russian officials stole the money that was intended to permit him to consolidate his power and rebuild Chechnya — that is they deprived him of the resources to establish a viable government that could control terrorists like Basiyev. In so doing, it reduced the chances of a peaceful solution of the conflict to almost zero.

Ironically, I am a Russophile in a sense. I would love a Russia with a constitution that was observed, where there was the rule of law, and respect for the dignity of human beings. I think I want what most Russian people want — decent housing, safe streets. accessible quality medical care, rewarding work and a better life for their children in a peaceful world.LR: That’s the same sense in which LR is a Russophile!

It is amusing to me to be labeled as a “right winger” who innately hostile to anything Russian. I prefer Russian composers to German, Russian writers (I’ll take the works of Dostoevsky, Grossman, Rybakov and Tolstoy over those of the best English authors (though I will admit that there is no Russian equivalent to Shakespeare). I also like Russian painters to French. I do not like Russian winters, however, but nor do my Russian friends and colleagues.
Russia is a tragic country. The three biggest tragedies are that (i) Alexander II was assassinated so that the country could not evolve into a constitutional monarchy, (ii) Yakov Sverdlov died, thus creating an opportunity for Stalin to gain unlimited power — causing the Soviet Union to be unprepared to fight the Nazis (not to mention the Finns) as a result of the paranoid purging of the Soviet officer corps, but also resulting in the death of 20 million people or so in the Gulag (Trotsky and Bukharin were no angels, but they were not psychopaths), and (iii) Andrei Sakharov died before the collapse of the Soviet Union so that no Russian patriot could emerge as an equivalent of Czechoslovakia’s Havel.Today, Russia is condemned to being an empire and its citizens pay the price on a daily basis high energy revenues will not change the situation.

2 responses to “Listening to Professor Ethan S. Burger

  1. Interesting article. I agry to every sentence.
    IMHO, the most dangerous, is that Russia goes down to nostalgia about empire.

  2. Interesting article. I agry to every sentence.
    IMHO, the most dangerous, is that Russia goes down to nostalgia about empire.

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