As much of the world makes amends for social and political injustices of the past, Russia is lionizing its despots, raising statues to the worst of them. Behind this phenomenon is an ultra-nationalist brand of conservatism that seeks to take Russian politics back to the Middle Ages.
While much of the world is busy dismantling monuments to oppressors, Russians are moving in the opposite direction, erecting statues to medieval warlords who were famous for their despotism. Understanding this revival can shed light on the direction of Russia’s politics.
In October 2016, with the endorsement of Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, the country’s first-ever monument to Ivan the Terrible was unveiled in the city of Orel. A month later, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for Lenin Avenue in Moscow to be renamed Ivan the Terrible Highway. And in July of this year, President Vladimir Putin christened Moscow’s own tribute to the tyrant, declaring, erroneously, that “most likely, Ivan the Terrible never killed anyone, not even his son.”
Most historians agree that Ivan lived up to his name; not only did he kill his son and other relatives, he also ordered the oprichnina, the state-led purges that terrorized Russia from 1565 to 1572. He also presided over Russia’s defeat in the Livonian War, and his misrule contributed to the Time of Troubles and the state’s devastating depopulation.
.. Joseph Stalin initiated the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible. But, since the mid-2000s, Russia’s Eurasia Party – a political movement led by the pro-fascist mystic Alexander Dugin – has moved to position Ivan as the best incarnation of an “authentic” Russian tradition: authoritarian monarchy.
Dugin’s brand of “Eurasianism” advocates the embrace of a “new Middle Ages,” where what little remains of Russian democracy is replaced by an absolute autocrat. In Dugin’s ideal future, a medieval social order would return, the empire would be restored, and the Orthodox church would assume control over culture and education.
.. Eurasianism, which was marginal in the 1990s, has gained considerable popularity in recent years by contributing to the formation of the so-called Izborsky Club, which unites the Russian far right.
.. Putin has referred to Eurasianism as an important part of Russian ideology
.. members of the Eurasia Party, who consider political terror the most effective tool of governance and call for a “new oprichnina” – a staunchly anti-Western Eurasian conservative revolution. According to Mikhail Yuriev, a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party and author of the utopian novel The Third Empire, the oprichniks should be the only political class, and they should rule by fear.
.. Cultural vocabulary is also reverting. For example, the word kholop, which means “serf,” is returning to the vernacular, a linguistic devolution that parallels a troubling rise in Russia’s modern slavery. Data from the Global Slavery Index show that more than one million Russians are currently enslaved in the construction industry, the military, agriculture, and the sex trade. Moreover, serf “owners” are also happily identifying themselves as modern-day barins.
.. Nostalgia for serfdom compliments the desire for a return to autocracy.
.. Putin’s tacit support for the Eurasian vision of a neo-medieval Russia invokes the historical memory of Stalinism. According to Dugin, “Stalin created the Soviet Empire,” and, like Ivan the Terrible, expresses “the spirit of the Soviet society and the Soviet people.” No wonder, then, that monuments to Stalin, too, are multiplying in Russian cities.
.. Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste, and clan, enforced by terror.
The lionization of historical despots reflects the contemporary embrace of such pre-modern, radically anti-democratic and unjust values. For Ivan’s contemporary champions, the past is prologue.
He is abolishing term-limit rules and other norms that Deng Xiaoping created in the 1980s to prevent a repeat of Mao’s disastrous rule.
.. After taking power in 2012, Mr. Xi used an anticorruption campaign to purge rivals and concentrate power in his hands, breaking the post-Mao convention that power should be shared among a group of leaders loyal to different factions. China’s elite politics has since reverted to a winner-takes-all contest, as Deng feared.
Mr. Xi has created a Mao-style cult of personality, most recently granting himself the title of lingxiu, a term for a supreme leader not used in four decades.
.. Reformist adviser Liu He was promoted to the Politburo last October and is now tipped to become a vice premier as well as governor of China’s central bank. Mr. Liu is also due to visit Washington this week to discuss tensions over the lack of reciprocity in economic relations.
.. dangerous imbalances have built up in the financial system due to stimulus policies that require excessive debt, endangering China’s economic development.
.. By making himself essentially President for Life, Mr. Xi has made Chinese politics more volatile and unpredictable.
The U.S. may yet become another Turkey or Hungary — a state that preserves the forms of democracy but has become an authoritarian regime in practice. But it won’t happen as easily or as quickly as many of us had feared.
.. never in the course of our nation’s history have we been ruled by people less trustworthy... And the growing evidence that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia doesn’t seem to have induced any prominent Republicans who weren’t already anti-Trump to take a stand. Instead, we’ve seen erstwhile critics like Lindsey Graham become obsequious toadies promoting Trump properties... we need to be realistic about the likely results of Robert Mueller’s investigation. The best bet is that no matter what Mueller finds, no matter how damning and no matter what Trump does — even if it involves blatant obstruction of justice — Republican majorities in Congress will back up their president and continue to sing his praises... as long as Republicans control Congress, constitutional checks and balances are effectively a dead letter... It’s going to be hard, because the game is definitely rigged. Remember, Trump lost the popular vote but ended up in the White House anyway, and the midterm elections will be anything but fair. Gerrymandering and the concentration of Democratic-leaning voters in urban districts have created a situation in which Democrats could win a large majority of votes yet still fail to take the House of Representatives... Our democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems to be irretrievably corrupt.
Doug Jones’s defeat of Roy Moore in the Alabama Senate special election is yet the latest signal that the accommodators of Donald Trump, those who have normalized and bolstered him, the gutless, schismatic conservatives who abandoned principle to follow a pariah, will have hell to pay in 2018.
Yes, Roy Moore was defeated, but it can never be fully erased from history or memory that he was endorsed by this president and supported by the Republican National Committee. All of Roy Moore’s sins are their sins, and they will wear that scarlet R straight into the midterms.
.. Moore still won the Republican vote and the white vote and, yes, the “white born-again Christian” vote. These people contorted their faith to support a man accused of unthinkable transgressions.
They made a mockery of Christian faith and moral fidelity.
.. they are motivated and insistent that the past will not defeat the future.
.. black voters, particularly black women, have been summoned to save America from its worst impulses and to establish that they are the most loyal and crucial constituency of a Democratic Party that still doesn’t grant them enough respect or deference
.. The Resistance has its own Southern Strategy.
.. It proved that Trump was a fringe candidate who tapped into an American ugliness and rode it to a fluke victory with the help of a foreign adversary.
.. Republicans must brace for the reckoning. If the Resistance can maintain its intensity — and there is no sign of it weakening — the midterms may well amount to a purge.