I’ve long argued that if Westerners are looking for liberals in Russia, all they need to do is turn to Vladimir Putin and the rest of the cabal that runs the country. True, caveats are in order. They are not the “liberal communist” variety that Slavoj Zizek speaks of. For the most part, the liberals in the Kremlin do not preach the sanctity of the free market while at the same time championing the “liberal values” that have become the market’s ideological correlative: democracy, tolerance, freedom etc., etc. Putin is far more of an old school liberal, though rhetorically he and his people speak the language of their American and European counterparts. Nor are Putin et al. classical laissez-faire liberals who eschew an economic role for the state. In their social-economic cosmology the state plays a fundamental role as initiator, facilitator, and stabilizer of economic development. They are situated on the conservative end of a particularly Russian liberal tradition that accepts capitalism as a fundamental truth, but only as far as it can bolster the Russian state’s transformation into the ever elusive Rechtstaat, or legal state. The Putinists do not pray to Locke or Smith but to the Russian pantheon of great reformers Speransky, Witte, and, I think most importantly, Stolypin.
Nothing confirms Putin being in the tradition of the latter more than his recent chairmanship of the committee tasked with erecting a monument to Stolypin in time for his 150th birthday in 2012. The monument will stand in front of the White House.
Here’s a snippet of Putin’s opening remarks on the Tsarist Prime Minister:
Pyotr Stolypin served his country for a long time and was its prime minister at a very difficult, truly dramatic period in Russia’s history, a time of political and social turmoil. The consequences of the Russian-Japanese war, revolutionary upheavals and economic decline presented a real danger to Russia’s territorial integrity and even sovereignty. Society was searching for answers to questions of fundamental importance to Russia’s development, including the perennial question of land ownership. The prime minister needed not only a will of iron but also personal courage and readiness to assume responsibility for the country at that time. Pyotr Stolypin had all of these qualities in full measure.
A true patriot and a wise politician, he saw that both all kinds of radical sentiment and procrastination, a refusal to launch the necessary reform were dangerous to the country, and that only a strong and effective government relying on business and the civil initiative of millions could ensure progressive development and guarantee tranquillity and stability in a large multinational country and the inviolability of its borders.
Furthermore, he thought that the state and society should not be divided from each other, that the state in the form of government and society in the form of public institutes should be united by a common responsibility for the country. When it served the interests of the state, he always assumed an uncompromising and tough stance and was never afraid of making decisions that were considered unpopular.
Pyotr Stolypin formulated the ideology of reform and also launched large-scale change in nearly all spheres of life in Russia. He believed that the main goal was to remove all obstacles and limitations to the development of productive forces. He thought it was necessary to release the nation’s creative energy and direct it towards creation. He achieved many of the goals he had formulated. He created foundations for social policy in Russia, reformed state institutions and government agencies and ensured the impressive growth of industries and an industrial breakthrough. I’d like to remind you that, at the time, Russia’s economy was growing at the highest pace in the world. It also implemented large development projects in Siberia and the Far East. The last, but not the least of his achievements was agrarian reform, which had a staggering potential. He said, yes, it was Stolypin who said it: “Give Russia 20 years of internal and external peace and quiet and it will change beyond recognition.” These words point to his deep belief in Russia and its people.
Putin could have been talking about himself.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Olga Kryshtanovskaya told Nezavisimaya gazeta: “Of course it’s no accident that Putin sufficiently and consistently connects his stance to Stolypin.”
But it seems that the committee’s opening meeting was a big ceremony wedding the two Prime Ministers. Andrei Kolesnikov argues in Kommersant that committee’s members in and of itself point to Putin’s desire to drape himself in Stolypin’s legacy. In attendance were Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, government ministers and representatives, provosts, archimandrites, Duma deputies, and also none other than the head of the Filmmakers Union, Nikita Mikhalkov. Was this a meeting for a monument or a shrine? According to Kolesnikov, Putin’s effort to directly connect himself to Stolypin isn’t just plainly evident from the who’s who at the meeting. It’s all too clear if you merely substitute “Vladimir Vladmirovich” for “Petr Arkadevich” in the Prime Minister’s speech, particularly where he talks about Solypin’s will, patriotism, and commitment to preserving the state’s interests while recognizing the need for reform. In an effort to put his money (or I should say other people’s money) where his mouth is, Putin even demanded that committee members give up a month of their salary to fund the Stolypin monument. “Members of the cabinet, and not only members of the cabinet, will have to direct at least a month’s salary to the Stolypin monument,” Putin said. They should think of it more as a personal tribute to Putin himself.
Pavel Pozhogailo, the head of the Regional Social Fund, got the message, and adjusted history accordingly: “[Stolypin] was a key figure who could lead Russia away from catastrope. His principal quality was that he could unite the divided. And he dealt with the task of bringing peace to society! You see, the moment he entered power he took ahold of the bacchanalia of terrorism! This courageous man could rally the healthy forces of society around himself and showed that the government was not a powerless! He returned moral authority to the government!” For him, Putin’s speech was nothing less than “magnificent.”
The only problem is that it’s hard to figure out who Pozhogailo is talking about here: Stolypin or Putin, or some mutant hybrid of the two.
But I think Mikhailkov summed it up the best with “Stolypin lives!”
Yes, in Putin’s Russia, Stolypin lived, Stolypin lives, Stolypin will always live.