Realpolitik as the matrix of contemporary fascism
Reply to Sergei Markedonov’s polemical article "Don’t write Russia off yet".
By Usam Baysayev, special to Prague Watchdog
I would like to respond very briefly to Sergei Markedonov, who with a menacing, metallic cry of "Don’t write Russia off yet!" has tried to put his namesake Sergei Gligashvili in his place.
To be sure, there’s not a lot to argue with in the many points of view expressed in this extended telling-off, so many are the banalities it repeats. Especially about the West and its "indulgence" of "Russia’s imperial ambitions", unless, of course, this goes against the interests of the West. All of that is true, for it’s also because of this that the Russian military has had a free hand in the North Caucasus and has been able to commit the most outrageous crimes there.
I personally remain to be convinced that today Europe and the United States will not to some extent abandon Georgia, too. And there is nothing that can be done about this - it’s politics and such are the ways of politicians: for them, interests come first and principles after. Very often they confuse their own interests with those of the nation. Examples of this are common knowledge, so why repeat them?
The author says that "among experts in polite expert society it is considered simply indecent to talk about international law after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and the Yalta-Potsdam system." But the experts have been talking about it! With regard to the situation around Chechnya and its aspirations for independence they have not only talked, at times they have even shouted. The countries of the West have always recognized Russia’s territorial integrity and have never called it into question. And even flagrant violations of human rights in the region – violations which, according to the same international law, cannot be considered a state’s internal affair – have been unable to budge them from this iron-hard position. Where Chechnya is concerned, the principle of the self-determination of peoples has not worked. And could not possibly work, because at stake were the energy and other resources of a huge country, as well as its nuclear capability, which, if the situation were to develop in an undesirable way, might proliferate around the globe and very probably end up in the wrong hands.
I’m therefore inclined to think that Sergei Markedonov shouldn’t shower invectives on the West – indeed, it’s true that the West isn’t interested in Russia’s disintegration. He may boldly cast aside all doubts of that. If there is any serious danger for a great country, it lies within the great country itself.
Let’s take a look back one hundred years and remember what Russia was then. And what happened to it? Was it destroyed by others? No, it collapsed of its own accord. The country’s collapse and the bloody civil war that followed were the result of a total lack of correspondence between the ideas of the ruling elite and the aspirations of ordinary people, the interests of the ethnic groups of which it was composed. The Soviet government "gnawed back" part of the breakaway territories and even, as in the case of Tuva, acquired new ones. It created a belt of satellite countries around itself, but precisely because of this the country once again fell apart. Russia has experienced disintegration twice. In the space of less than a century, and its borders have shrunk, not by hundreds but by millions of square kilometres. And this process continues. The two Chechen wars: the first, which was lost to the separatists, and the second, which is not yet over, are not its only symptoms.
Seven or eight years ago, Sergei Markedonov would probably have been quite unaware of the Ingush people’s demands for independence from Russia. But they did exist then, even though in an arbitrary form. Back then it was hard to imagine then that Dagestan would become a belligerent republic, warring against the central authorities and their local appointees. And Moscow's response to it was terrorism, death squads, torture, abductions and extrajudicial killings. Moscow is trying to put out the flames with gasoline. A military police regime has now been established in the republics of the North Caucasus. The power there is in the hands of the special services and the law enforcement agencies. Local presidential elections have been abolished throughout the whole country, and now elections to the local legislatures are held according to the party system, with only federal parties allowed to take part in them.
The dissolution of a state is primarily a change in its internal essence, a shift in people’s mood. And if it is a multi-ethnic state, it is a shift in the mood of its peoples. The redrawing of its borders, the secession of some part of it – these are always a secondary matter. It can therefore be argued that the processes of which the author are afraid have already begun, they are underway, and by its clumsy, ill-considered and sometimes simply provocative actions the government in Moscow merely stimulates them. What is happening is both the liquidation of the state’s federal structure in response to the desire of the republics to obtain greater autonomy, and the results of Moscow’s rabid anti-Caucasus and anti-Islamic propaganda, which has led to the great mass of the Russian people now not being averse to disengaging themselves from "those blacks".
But to return to international law, a subject about which – if we are to be honest – neither I nor Sergei Markedonov know very much. When once upon a time Chechnya’s leaders proclaimed independence, they pointed to the rift that had emerged in the structure of post-war Europe – to the precedents that already existed. Now not even Russia considers itself entitled to follow that obsolete system. Is that necessarily a bad thing for us Chechens, since it primarily affects us? I don’t think so. Space for political manoeuvre is emerging. We are saying goodbye to the iron logic of the inviolability of borders, which was never really observed very much in insignificant parts of the world, but which in the case of a major nuclear power no one ever dared to call into question. Through the mouths of its leaders, Russia has declared that as of today the principle of the self-determination of peoples takes priority, and has explained the reasons why If we are to try to formulate Russia the approach declared by Russia, then self-determination is acknowledged as justified:
1. If a people is subjected to genocide, genocide being defined as the killing of (approximately) 1600 people, and civilian towns have been subjected to bombardment by heavy weapons systems;
2. If a people striving for independence has come under attack – called aggression – by the state of which it is nominally a part;
3. If a people has expressed its will in elections without taking into account the views of a majority or a significant number of foreign nationals, who have been expelled by force from their permanent places of residence.
Were it not for the official recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, all of these statements could merely be considered as a manifestation of double standards. The politicians who made them could be criticized, blamed and shamed in the realization that these were only words, a shaking of the air. But the words were followed by deeds, and now what has happened should be called legislative or governmental practice. Russia has not abandoned international law, and from its two equally important though diametrically opposite principles has made a choice in favour of one. In addition, by claiming that the Georgian leadership is responsible for genocide in its own autonomous provinces, Russia is demanding an international inquiry according to the norms of international law. In other words, Russia is trying to lean on that law for support. If this had happened fifteen years ago, the Chechens would probably never have gone to war. Why would we, when without any death, destruction, bloodshed or tears we could have attained what has always been our national idea – the building of a state of our own?
But finally, I would ask you not to make statements like the following: "International law is always related to history – it is produced in specific contexts, and not on the basis of abstract altruism." The whole point of the matter is that many of the provisions of international law are absolute, and are aimed at preserving human civilization and morality. The prohibition of genocide, for example, or of torture and many other things. Even when the pariah state or the tyrant refuse to recognize such norms, the norms do not cease to be binding on them. The question of eternal truths is a moral one. And whoever refuses to recognize the Biblical (Koranic) commandments which have been enshrined for everyone in the norms of international law, and says that their time has passed, risks ending up in the ranks of those who simply and plainly have long been called fascists.
Usam Baysayev is an associate of the Ingushetian office of the “Memorial” human rights centre.
Picture source: Muhom.org
(Translation by DM)