Frankly speaking, I wanted to answer, or rather to start a dialogue with a respected and good old friend immediately after reading it. Still, the need to finish editing another film did not allow me to do so. I hope that the delay of a week has not changed the situation too much. On the contrary, it has given the opportunity to read and think about the article to many readers who have been distracted from the usual train of different New Year holidays.
Having known the respected Andrius Kubilius for a long time and having met him many times from Vilnius to Brussels and Strasbourg, as well as having had conversations and dialogues, I hope I have the right to offer my own perspective on the issues he raised and to reflect on his answers and proposals. Why I believe, is this necessary? Because Andrius has long been not just a public figure but a very influential one in international politics. Particularly when it comes to eastern policy issues. Therefore, if somebody starts to consider his conclusions as programmatic, I think that it is necessary to try to convince this dialogue that such a development may turn into a catastrophe. I am sure Andrius does not want that, no more than I do.
The whole “Rain TV” (Dozhd TV) situation, alas, was predictable. It is typical of the relationship between the Russian opposition and the forced emigrants from the last empire. Sadly, many people see emigration in the first place as a very temporary and even short-lived event in their lives. By the way, 100 years ago, their distant predecessors reasoned the same way. Alas, it is not always common in the history of Russian society and the State to learn from the mistakes of others, not even from one’s own.
Secondly, mainly as a consequence of the first, they somehow believe that their arrival and the beginning of their activities in this or that country should be perceived with gratitude by the country and its citizens who gave them this opportunity. They, personally and institutionally, are sure that they are bringing civilization, and everyone around them should be grateful that they do not support a criminal regime that unleashed a war of aggression. They forget that all of us, the citizens of that country, to a greater or lesser extent, are responsible for what has happened and is happening. Our mistakes and errors, our promiscuity or indifference, and our venality or cowardice also led to the crimes.
By the way, a part of the Russian diaspora, and not a small part at all, realized this and spoke if not in direct support of the right of Latvian, Lithuanian or any other institutions to make decisions from their perspective of the need to take care of their national security, then in pointing out the mistakes made by both the management and employees of Dozhd TV. For my part, I am sure that any emigrant who was forced to seek salvation involuntarily must be grateful to those who threw him a “life ring” and not criticize that it has the wrong colouring or that he does not like the inscriptions on it.
Russia is incompatible with democracy?! – An excellent question or statement. I suggest we try to work out whether this is the case. One of the essential aspects of democracy is the democratic principle of the formation of power and the permanent democratic channels of communication between the authorities and the people who elected them. Was there such a thing in Russia? Yes, there was. For example, the Grand Duchies of Novgorod and Pskov, which incidentally were members of the Hanseatic League, already testify to a great deal. Let me remind you that in one of them, as well as in several other free principalities, sometimes a prince was elected to his reign, for example, Alexander Nevsky himself, and sometimes he was overthrown and driven away. Democracy was ended not by the Mongol-Tatar yoke but by the brutal conquest and subjugation of the free principalities to Moscow. That is how the origins of Russian democracy were destroyed. Destroyed for many centuries. The next time it was possible to return to the roots of democracy was only at the beginning of the twentieth century! Unfortunately, for a very short, short period of time. The guards got tired very quickly. The next period, also short-lived, came only in the second half of the 1980s and after the historic events of August 1991.
Admittedly, much of the history of the totalitarian state has been tweaked and distorted to serve the propaganda of one ruler or another. It was over these centuries that a strong tradition emerged of blaming the Horde for all bad things in the Russian expanse. For all the war’s failures, which for the most part were directly or indirectly unleashed by Russia. Once again, I must stress that there had never been any conquest of Russia. There was a vassal relationship between the Russian princes and the Horde, which was characteristic of those times. Not without reason, even in Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor”, Khan Konchak sings, “You are not my prisoner, you are my dear guest!”
Trying to compare the mentality of the Mongols, and even more so the mentality of the Chinese, with the mindset of the citizens of Russia, the honourable Andrius makes a colossal mistake. It is different, very different. Yes, the democratic tradition there does not have the experience of the history of the French Revolution, but neither does it have the serfdom, the cruel conquest and subjugation of their people, including centuries of serfdom and later collective farm law. Having visited many times, not as a tourist, the countries of the East and even North Korea, I was convinced of that more than once. I could explain the difference in detail and at length, but it is a topic for another article. Here I suggest you take my word for it. Even a comparison between North Korea and today’s Russia is not exactly in Russia’s favour. The prospects of becoming a huge “North Korea”, as they like to claim in this beautifully or that broadcast by those who apparently have never been there, much less had the opportunity to communicate with citizens of that country, to look behind its walls, are erroneous. We should not delude ourselves with this hope. The reality is very, very far from their statements.
Briefly on racism. In any colony in Africa, as well as in the areas of settlement of settlers from Africa to Europe or America, there was a middle and even an upper class, an elite of its own. Yes, the attitude of the colonisers was massively top-down. Still, to those who proved by talent and hard work not only their competitiveness but also their superiority in certain situations, the attitude was appropriate. I will only remind you of Jesse Owens, who forced a politician who tried to look down on others to leave the podium. He was, by the way, a US team member in a country which was far from perfect in terms of racism for decades. Of course, there are no dark nations; there are conditions that either allow nations to flourish or plunge them into darkness.
The presence of a national elite, not by the chairs in which it sits but by its realities, guarantees the development of society and the state. Their systematic destruction or subjugation to a totalitarian regime dooms the society and the country to degradation. Two World Wars, in the instigation and management of which the Russian state was directly involved, revolutions, a long civil war, various national pogroms, mass shootings and destruction on class, national, religious, social and any other grounds roll like an “a steamroller or a red wheel” over the country, and not only in the territory of Ukraine, the terrible years of famine, not to mention the Holodomor instigated by the Russian authorities, mass repressions, deportations of more than a dozen peoples and nationalities to areas of dangerous habitation and life, in short, complete disregard for the value of human life – these are the components of the Russian catastrophe.
Only a thaw has given rise to a possible, long-awaited thawing in human life. Another thing is that too many people were not destined to live up to it, including those who actually made up the cultural, scientific and business elite of the State and the nations that populated the USSR. Exactly the thaw which came after years of the red terror in the territory of Russia and in Lithuania since 1940, helped those who kept their warmth to come out in an unprecedented demonstration of solidarity in Moscow with the protest against the cruelty and terror during the January 1991 events near the Telecenter and Seimas in Vilnius. To come out and certainly play an essential role in supporting the aspirations of Lithuanian citizens to restore their country’s independence.
The claim that Russians are not ready to take up arms is more superficial than real. Russians of different nationalities are fighting on the side of Ukraine. Moreover, of course, they act as volunteers but not as a centralized force. There are excesses here and there in the territory of the Russian Federation; for example, military registration and enlistment offices are burning. Even if only a few go out on pickets, write posts, protest and resistance to the best of their ability. Yes, the apparatus of repression that has been created in Russia over the last 20 years is unprecedented in terms of mass, equipment and media support, and resistance is very difficult to achieve inside the country. That’s what forces many to leave, to flee the country. The prime example of the demonstrative murder of Boris Nemtsov outside the Kremlin was very powerful. I think for a long time, the real emblem and symbol of the state’s policy towards its own people, as well as towards the people of neighbouring and distant countries, from the top of the approach to the bottom remains the trinity – to buy, to intimidate and to kill. The emblem of Russia would not be a two-headed but a three-headed monster!
What is another essential difference? That the Lithuanian opposition (as well as several other national oppositions), which since 1939 and all the more since 1945 was in different countries outside the occupation zone, was never torn off from home, from the events taking place in the homeland, and constantly supported and reacted to those events. I.e., no ties were broken. Moreover, those who were able to leave in 1945 and go into exile in 1991 were not at all old people; moreover, they were people with excellent education and experience in the functioning of democratic institutions. Alas, the human century is too short compared to the period from 1917 to 1991 in Russian history. Feel, and understand the difference.
In Lithuanian homes, in families, cultural, religious and family values were preserved, while in the USSR, especially between 1917 and 1939, they were destroyed on a mass scale! And, I emphasize, not only by the authorities but also by the citizens themselves, for whom the process of hiding their roots has become a protective means of survival – do not forget about it.
In Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, real politicians not formed in the USSR quickly became heads of states that regained independence. There was nowhere to find such people in the Russian Federation. I am not even mentioning the example of Vaclav Havel. The assassination of Sakharov as a tuning fork for the Russian opposition was, as many believed at the time, an irreparable loss. There were too many in Boris Yeltsin’s entourage, not just “associates” from the nomenklatura but actual members of the KGB’s active reserve who were on a mission to seize power. It was them who really made the whole series of laws, which the country badly needed, declared on the armoured car and signed on August 19-22, 1991, unworkable. The idea of the trial of the CPSU and its faithful institutions of terror was buried by their efforts. All the country’s institutions and society have been poisoned and entangled by this web for 75 years. Even a modest attempt by Vladimir Bukovsky to run in the 2008 presidential elections in the Russian Federation on an alternative basis was nipped in the bud by the loyal hawks of the state.
I would like to add two words about Afghanistan. Andrius, you are right. Though most Lithuanians were thrown into the neighbouring country (one of the first to recognize the existence of the USSR) in the first ranks of occupants, and then, after the first so-called “cargoes 200”, they rarely went there. Yes, in contrast to the citizens of the United States who in the 70s understood the futility and criminality of the Vietnam war, the Soviet decorations and privileges were rejected by few people, not more than ten, and even the majority of them were mothers of the killed children. It is not about vodka, but the fact that only by submitting consciously or forcedly to the power and ideology of the USSR did a citizen who was “lucky” to be born in this country have a chance to achieve something in it, to realize himself somehow. Otherwise, even a Nobel laureate could find himself in prison and exile for parasitism or in exile under the strict supervision of the KGB in a closed city.
The West is to blame – hard to disagree. The democratic countries are to blame. They are guilty of believing that changing the flag over the Kremlin and the anthem was the final victory in the so-called Cold War. The natural disintegration of the USSR, by the way, was in accordance with the letter of the Soviet constitution, which stipulated the right of the UNION republics to secede from the USSR, not to mention the trials in the countries of the former Soviet camp, from the Polish Solidarity movement and the demolition of the Berlin wall that divided Germany, to the speedy trial and execution of the seemingly all-powerful Ceausescu couple in Romania, the demolition of the Dimitrov mausoleum in Bulgaria, the restoration of the independence of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the acquisition, declaration of independence by others have already been written about above. It is sad to state, but too indisputably, the mental changes require much more long-term processes. Echoes of the Soviet times still resonate from time to time, far beyond the territory of Russia or suffering Belarus.
The genocide unleashed by Milosevič in Yugoslavia was interrupted by the coordinated efforts of Western democracies. A similar genocide in the territory of Chechnya was declared an “internal affair of the Russian Federation”. This is not just a mistake; it is to blame for what has been happening since February 2022 in the vast expanses of Ukraine. There is no big difference between what is happening in Afghanistan and what is happening massively in Chechnya. It just seemed to someone in the world that what was happening was on the periphery, just like the terrible events in Rwanda. Yugoslavia and Ukraine are too close to the borders of European democracies. Of course, the U.S. is also to blame, especially in the disarmament process of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. The signing of the Budapest Memorandum, which was already then, alas not for all, obviously as reliable as the Riga treaties of 1920-1921, after the infamous pact in August 1939. Mind you, then and now, the USSR and its successor needed only 20 years, in principle, to start a new process of “returning ships to harbour”.
But the blame, of course, lies first and foremost with the Russians. It is a shame to admit it, but all of us, who, by virtue of short-sightedness and/or ignorance, who by virtue of illusions and miscalculations about the situation in the country, who by virtue of corruption and fear, who by virtue of complete distraction from the political life of the country and who thoughtlessly cast one or another ballot or even more obediently rigged the election results, are GUILTY. If as many determined citizens had come out on the streets of Moscow in support of Chechnya and Georgia in 2008 as in January 1991, perhaps history would have changed a lot. It is also possible that instead of the memorial, on the night of 21-22 August 1991, the buildings of the KGB quarter in the centre of Moscow would have been stormed. Many victims would have died, just as happened with the Stasi buildings in Berlin or Securitate in Bucharest, but many things would have gone differently. Alas, history has no subjunctive mood. In any case, WE are to blame for what happened. The ball was in our court.
I deliberately avoided making comparisons with the processes that took place after 1945 in Germany and that were mentioned in Andrius’s article as a good example to follow. Now, this is where it belongs. It somehow fell out of the text that the Third Reich, defeated by unconditional surrender, was divided into four zones. Three – Allied, Western and democratic went one way. The other big Soviet one went quite the opposite. The difference is as striking as the behaviour of the armies in the territory of the defeated enemy. It seems awkward to even recall that the quickly-established institution of the Stasi employed staff who the Nuremberg Tribunal had convicted of the repressive organs of the Nazi regime, and the methods used there were no different from those used by Lubyanka or the SS. Perhaps it was this fusion of experience that created the strongest repressive service in the Soviet camp. There was nothing like this in West Berlin, let alone in the Federal Republic.
In the western occupation zones, Germans were taken en masse to concentration camps and shown what they had done. There were also compulsory newsreel showings. In the east, they were taught to bring flowers to the giant monuments of the “liberator”. The camps, even Auschwitz-Birkenau continued to operate as a filtration camps, and transports from it were taken to Siberia to the vast Gulag… By the way, before the appearance of the “Gulag Archipelago” by A. Solzhenitsyn, most people in the USSR and the West did not know about it or tried not to. It is worth taking one look at the map of the Gulag empire’s camps, at their number, density and spread over the largest country in the world – to look and realize that they operated and many still operate far beyond the pathetic little more than a decade of the repressive institutions of the Third Reich.
Economic support measures alone cannot heal such things. It must first be eradicated definitively, destroyed, i.e. brought to a situation of forced “unconditional surrender”; otherwise, at best, a new GDR (Eastern Germany) will emerge and be walled off. As soon as the opportunity arises, they will want to iron neighbouring countries again from behind the wall, as they did in Czechoslovakia in 1968. I don’t suspect in any way that the respected Andrius Kubilius thinks that such a future is promising for his beloved homeland – Lithuania.
“The Russian threat will disappear completely only if Russia becomes a democracy” – we fully agree with that. Certainly, in the question of the necessity of accession, acceptance of Ukraine to NATO, and in due course of Belarus too, there is no and can be no disagreement. The peoples of Ukraine and Belarus have proven with their heroism their right to be shoulder to shoulder with those who have chosen the democratic path.
Russia itself will never become weak. The resources of the country, which, alas, have been exploited not for its own benefit, much less for the use of other peoples, will in no way allow the country to become poor. Another thing is that the simple truth “there are no rich people in a poor country” in all its incarnations remains unknown in Russia. The gap in living standards between Moscow and any distant peripheral city is reaching cosmic proportions. Such a gap is hard to find, even in non-democracies in Africa. Power was and remains the main value and source of wealth in Russia. It is the main source of wealth. It means that for Russia (the name of the state is not so important) to become equal among equals, it is necessary to change the constant vector of this state’s development, which is based on POWER and its MIGHT. Considering that the historical roots do not leave any hope for this, it is necessary to carry out obligatory reforms under the strict control of democratic international institutions.
I venture to suggest at the end the first necessary constitutional law for New Russia in my view – “The unconditional right of any region of the country to secede from the state freely”. The doors of a democratic country must be open. The country will exist, but the state, like the Third Reich, must cease to exist forever. Only then can and should the instrument of economic support be introduced. Only then will our grandchildren and great-grandchildren be guaranteed that they will not have to deal with the same problems but under the threat of an even greater, final button. I am sure such a wish will be shared by the honourable Andrius Kubilius and those who really soberly and democratically want to look to the future of mankind.
And last but not least. On the contrary, perhaps the most important point directly concerns the Russian opposition and diaspora. Perhaps the most accurate diagnosis was made by Garry Kasparov after his dialogue with Viktor Yerofeev at the conclusion of the next, but hopefully not the last, Forum in Vilnius, which will bring together Andrius, Rasa, Emanuelis and other friends who want to help us in our common struggle for “our and your freedom” with citizens of Ukraine and Belarus, with citizens of all countries. With people who have realized who have learned the cruel historical lessons of aggression and occupation of the imperial state. Here is that line by Garry Kasparov – “We all know at what point we want to leave, but we have to decide what point we want to come to!”
We can only answer altogether. But first, we, and only we, the Russian opposition, in exile and at home, must answer this question in word and deed. If we can build a constructive dialogue, there will be a chance. No, our western, democratic friends cannot do it for us. So the ball is in our court… It is time to stop playing “king of the mountain”.
Grigory Amnuel is a film director, producer, publicist and politician.
*Andrius Kubilius – Member of the European Parliament, Permanent Rapporteur of the European Parliament on Russia