By Paul Goble
The history of the end of empires during the 20th century contains a lesson many have not learned, Mikhail Dubinyansky says. Most empires have fallen apart only after the metropolitan countries liberalizes, while those who have remained repressive at home and abroad have survived far longer.
The Ukrainian historian and commentator points out that Britain and France gave up their empires only after they had liberalized at home and thus were unwilling or ultimately unable to use force to hold their possessions abroad while Portugal held on to them far longer precisely because it remained a dictatorship at home (pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2024/02/3/7440150/).
The lessons for non-Russians within the current borders of the Russian Federation are obvious, Dubinyansky says. That country likely will only fall apart after the current period of repression is followed by a new round of liberalization, just as was the case in the West and in the Soviet Union in the past.
Only if the Russian state itself becomes more liberal will the Russian people be unwilling to fight to retain their imperial possessions, and so it is the task of the non-Russians who want to escape to first promote the liberalization of the Russian political system and then to use that as the basis for achieving their own independence.
“The successful rising of the peoples of Chechnya, Daghestan, Buryatia, Sakha and Bashkortostan against Kremlin tyranny looks like the ideal recipe for victory over Russia,” Dubinyansky says. “But now the time has come to look at things in a more sober fashion and to determine how probable such a course of events is to reality.”
Many in Ukraine and in the West believe “in the incredible strength of national liberation movements and in the ability of any people to achieve independence.” But such movements were successful only when the metropolitan centers were more liberal and when the populations there weren’t prepared to continue to bear the costs of empire.
That pattern has been true for Russia as well. For most of its history, Russia has been more like the repressive Portugal than the more liberal Britain or France. Indeed, there were no successful risings by non-Russians before 1917 and none under the tyranny of Stalin in Soviet times. Only when the empire weakened did the nationalities have a chance.
And “whether we like it or not, not a single national movement in the USSR was able to win out over the totalitarianism of the Stalinist system,” the Ukrainian historian says. Only after Gorachev began to loosen things up did a new “window of opportunity” open, one that allowed Ukraine and the others to escape.
All this leads to “a completely obvious conclusion,” he continues. Victorious risings by the non-Russians under Putin’s is “a fantastic scenario” that is based exclusively on “wishful thinking.” A more sober approach must pursue the liberalization of Russia as a path toward that end.
Unfortunately, Dubinyansky concludes, Ukraine has “fallen into the trap of its own emotions and the dogmatism that such a trap generates.” Obviously wanting the Rusisan Empire to disintegrate is a good thing; but wanting it to happen in a way that it has never happened before is a mistake.
It is long past time to recognize that “in order to see the day of the collapse of Russia, we will have to live to see a time when Moscow again starts talking about freedom and democracy.” Unless the latter happens, the former will never occur.