“Politics is the art of identifying and neutralizing the enemy.” —Ivan Ilyin, 1948 The Russian looked Satan in the eye, put God on the psychoanalyst’s couch, and understood that his nation could redeem the world. An agonized God told the Russian a story of failure. In the beginning, there was …
Pozdrowienia z Noworosji [Greetings from Novorossiya]
by Paweł Pieniążek
Entscheidung in Kiew. Ukrainische Lektionen [Decision in Kiev: Ukrainian Lessons]
by Karl Schlögel
The new Russian wars are a Bonapartism without a Napoleon, temporarily resolving domestic tensions in doomed foreign adventures, but lacking a vision for the world. Ideals are recognized in order to be mocked.
Ukraine is not a theater for the historical propaganda of others or a puzzle from which pieces can be removed. It is a major European country whose citizens have important cultural and economic ties with both the European Union and Russia. To set its own course, Ukraine needs normal public debate, the restoration of parliamentary democracy, and workable relations with all of its neighbors.
Writing for White Russian émigrés in the 1920s and 1930s, Ivan Ilyin provided a metaphysical and moral justification for political totalitarianism, which he expressed in practical outlines for a fascist state. But his ideas have now been revived and celebrated by Putin: because Ilyin found ways to present the failure of the rule of law as Russian virtue, Russian kleptocrats use his ideas to portray economic inequality as national innocence. And by transforming international politics into a discussion of “spiritual threats,” Ilyin’s works have helped Russian elites to portray the Ukraine, Europe, and the United States as existential dangers to Russia.
The aspiring tyrants of today have learned the lesson of the Reichstag fire of 1933: that acts of terror—real or fake, provoked or accidental—can provide the occasion to deal a death blow to democracy. The most consequential example is Russia, so admired by Donald Trump, but the use of terrorist threats to create or consolidate authoritarian regimes has become increasingly frequent worldwide.
In early 2017, Poland was supposed to unveil what is perhaps the most ambitious museum devoted to World War II in any country. Yet the current Polish government, led by the conservative Law and Justice party, now seems determined to cancel the museum, on the grounds that it does not express “the Polish point of view.” It is hard to interpret this phrase, which in practice seems to mean the suppression of both Polish experience and the history of the war in general.
Trump correctly says that Putin respects strength. But of course Putin prefers weakness, which is what Trump offers. It is precisely Trump’s pose of strength that reveals his crucial vulnerability. As anyone familiar with Russian politics understands, an American president who shuns alliances with fellow democracies, praises dictators, and prefers “deals” to the rule of law would be a very easy mark in Moscow.