The Kremlin makes Policy by Hallucination

Russian pundit Yevgeny Kiselyov, writing in the Moscow Times:

After British writer H.G. Wells met Vladimir Lenin in the Kremlin in 1920, he described the visit in his book “Russia in the Shadows.” Wells referred to Lenin as “the Kremlin dreamer” after listening to Lenin’s utopian plans for rapidly developing a country in ruins after the Bolshevik Revolution and civil war.

Wells returned to the Soviet Union in 1934 to meet with Lenin’s successor, Josef Stalin. Although Wells acknowledged that some of Lenin’s industrial plans had indeed been realized, he understood that they were achieved at a tremendous human cost through Stalin’s brutal tyranny that included the gulag and forced labor. In the end, Wells was convinced that Stalin was no better than Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini and that the West should never align itself with the Soviet Union.

In this sense, Wells bucked the trend among leading intellectuals in the early and mid-1930s to support communism as an acceptable alternative to fascism. Leading Stalinist sympathizers and apologists included Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw and German novelist Lion Feuchtwanger. They were impressed with Stalin and his so-called “industrial miracles.” Feuchtwanger even found justification for Stalin’s repression of political opponents, as evidenced in his book “Moscow, 1937.”

Even today, it is not difficult to find modern-day Feuchtwangers who give valuable support to “new Kremlin dreamers” among the country’s political elite. A number of U.S. and Western European journalists and political analysts who, after receiving first-class, red-carpet treatment by the Kremlin — for example, the exclusive annual Valdai Club meetings with the Russian president and other leaders — return home to write fawning, superficial articles about Russia. The Kremlin PR spin doctors know how much these VIP junkets mean to foreign guests, whose consulting fees automatically increase by a fat, double-digit percentage after they can boast to their clients that they had an exclusive, face-to-face meeting with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or President Dmitry Medvedev.

But as far as Wells’ coined phrase about “Kremlin dreamers” is concerned, I don’t believe that it applies to high-ranking officials in Medvedev’s administration and Putin’s Cabinet. They are not the type of people to sing patriotic lyrics from the Soviet past, such as “We were born to turn fairy tales into reality,” which was sung by all communist believers (and nonbelievers) at summer camps and during holidays. Rather, today’s leaders strike me more as cold and cynical pragmatists who never believed the overblown propaganda of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev’s time — and they don’t believe it today, even as they develop similar propaganda from their Kremlin and White House offices. Today’s so-called “Kremlin dreamers” are the same people who, in answer to the pro-Communist lyrics “We were born to turn fairy tales into reality,” sang a diametrically opposed ditty in their kitchens that was popular in the Brezhnev era:

The Soviet emblem — a beautiful sight,

With a hammer on the left and a sickle on the right.

But it doesn’t matter how much you forge or how much you mow,

You’ll get screwed wherever you go.

First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov’s latest promise made in Voronezh in late March to transform Russia into the most desirable country to live is an attempt by high-ranking officials to distract the people from their real problems and from thinking too much about whether the government’s anti-crisis measures are really effective.

But empty promises are nothing new for Russians. We were promised communist prosperity by 1980 for all Soviet citizens, but in its place we got the war in Afghanistan and a U.S.-led boycott of the Moscow Olympics. We were also told that along with the Olympics we would receive full shelves of meat and other deficit foodstuffs to replace the perpetually empty store shelves that made everyday Soviet life in the Brezhnev era a tremendous struggle. (By the way, those shelves remained barren for another 11 years after the 1980 deadline passed; they started filling up only after the Russian flag replaced the Soviet one and only after then-President Boris Yeltsin began implementing real — albeit painful — economic reforms.)

I also recall during perestroika when then-President Mikhail Gorbachev promised to build enough apartments to give one to each family by the year 2000, but the housing shortage remains one of the most critical problems facing Russia today.

A decade ago, we learned about former Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref’s grandiose plan to modernize Russia within 10 years. At that time, Gref headed the Center for Strategic Development think tank. Under the banner of Gref’s strategic plan, Putin won the presidential vote in March 2000. But it didn’t take long for everybody — Gref included — to forget all about those lofty promises and goals.

Shortly after he was elected president, Putin pledged that Russia would reach the standard of living of Portugal, “the poorest country in [Western] Europe,” in 10 years. If you measure “quality of life” in terms of per capita gross domestic product for both countries in 2008, it is clear that Russia ($15,800) has no chance of catching up to Portugal ($22,000) by 2010.

Even when the military-industrial strength of the Soviet Union made it a superpower on par with the United States as nuclear missiles rolled off factory assembly lines like sausages, the quality of life lagged woefully behind Europe and the United States. That was obvious to anybody who traveled outside of the Soviet Union — not necessarily to the United States or Western Europe, but to the so-called “advanced” Warsaw Pact countries like Poland, Hungary or East Germany. That is why the Soviet borders were locked and guarded and why only select individuals were permitted to travel to the West.

It is interesting that even superloyal, pro-Kremlin observers today admit that “Strategy 2020” should not be viewed as a set of concrete economic goals that Russia should be held strictly accountable for, but a set of far-reaching political and economic principles to provide assistance to the poorest citizens and to invest in the country’s development, innovation and modernization. What a deal! Under the guise of highly refined strategic plan, we have learned that our leaders have really only pledged to fulfill the basic obligations that any responsible government has toward its citizens in every civilized country of the world.

Medvedev’s upcoming address to the State Duma and the Cabinet concerning the 2010 federal budget may give us some clues whether the government is truly committed to modernizing the country’s political and economic institutions, or if we should be prepared for another decade of Kremlin dreaming

One response to “The Kremlin makes Policy by Hallucination

  1. Moscow in getting defensive is having a policy change toward minorities education. Tatars become Muslims. Tatars relations will not necessarily lead to “confrontations with non-Muslims but with other groups there could be a united block.

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