Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Russia’s Insistence on Being Legal Successor of USSR has Blocked Progress to Democracy, Yershov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 7 – As the anniversary of the dissolution of the Soviet Union approaches, many people are speculating on why the Baltic countries and Eastern Europe on the one hand have made significant strides toward becoming part of the West with its democratic norms when Russia has not.

            The most typical explanations include the view that the former viewed the events of 1989 and 1991 as national victories and were thus more ready to exclude from power formally or informally than was Russia many of whose residents viewed those years as defeats and found themselves living under the rule of people who sprang from the CPSU and KGB.

            But in a speech last week now been posted on the Rufabula portal, Russian blogger Yegor Yershov points to what he suggests is an underlying problem for Russia that might have been avoided and that still can be addressed in some way: Moscow’s insistence that the Russian Federation was and remains the legal successor to the USSR.

            Yershov made that argument at a December 3 conference in Podolsk on “The White Movement in the Discourses of the Authorities and the Opposition” (

            “Hardly anyone will deny that the Baltic and East European coungtries have been able to overcome the communist past, complete the democratic transit and become part of the Western world if at its margins, but that the Russian Federation has not been able” to achieve these things, the blogger says.

            “Moreover,” he continues, “during all the time of the existence of the Russian federation, the situation inside the country has slowly but truly changed toward re-Sovietization, which has become expecially marked after the Ukrainian events.” It is time to ask “why did this happen?” and try to find an answer.

            The reasons that this has happened, Yershov says, have their roots in “the fatal errors which were committed after August 1991, the chief among them was even not the lack of lustration and restitution but the proclamation of the Russian Federation as the legal successor of the USSR.”

            That is because this not only had legal implications but even more because it had consequences for the identities of Russians and hence about their views of the future.  It meant that Russians, unlike others, could still say “we are Soviets” and that in rejecting communism, the post-Soviet Russian leaders didn’t “consider it necessary to dismantle the Soviet identity.”

            It must be remembered, Yershov says, that “the bearer of a Soviet identity hardly was required to be attached to Marxism-Leninism.” In fact, such individuals could consider Bolshevism “evil.” But the Soviet Union for them remained theirs, its victory and its defeats theirs as well.

            “If the bearer of Soviet identity considers himself an anti-communist, he de facto the right to anti-communism only for Russians and for those peoples who in any case cannot seriously threaten the Soviet world and are not subject from his point of  view to certain inclusion in the Soviet world.”

            But such identification has domestic consequences as well: it means that its bearers cannot accept the idea tha the Soviet system needed to be destroyed. At most, such people believe it needed only to be “reformed.”  That of course makes further moves away from the Soviet past ever more difficult for Russians rather than for others.

            Yershov devotes the remainder of his article to a discussion of the failure of alternative identities – regional, tsarist, or, at least so far, the White Russian movement – and argues that only by an identity like the one pushed by the last of these and its commitment to a Constituent Assembly with no preconditions about its outcome.

            Only by having such an open approach can Russia hope to escape not only from the Soviet past but also from the consequences of having mistakenly claimed to be the legal successor of the USSR, he concludes.

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