Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Boris Strugatsky Interview: "We cannot do it any other way yet"

The Moscow News has an interview with one of the greatest Russian SF (sci-fi) authors, who alongside his brother Arkady wrote a number of great books I've read during my teens (Serbian translation, from the edition "Kentaur"). The intro says it all: "A famous sci-fi writer believes that the authoritarianism of Russian society is thus far incurable. So the screen version of his novel It's Hard To Be A God, now in the making, is not about to lose any of its relevancy." Excerpt:
For some reason, one outcome of a decade-long democratic reform has been the revival of the autocracy - the building of an authoritarian regime. Why is this?

Because we cannot do it any other way yet. We can only hope that all of this is but a stage in the transition from the accustomed totalitarian Russian system to a totally unaccustomed democratic system. At the end of the day, we are less than 20 years removed from classic totalitarianism - less than the lifetime of one generation.

How long could the "authoritarian stage" last in Russia - until,for example, an economic catastrophe strikes with the plummeting of oil prices?

Should - God forbid - an apocalypse, called "the crashing of oil prices," occur, a real "authoritarian stage" will set in. The present situation will be just the thin end of the wedge - nothing compared with what is to come. A new serious decline in living standards will only be compensated by a further tightening of the screws. It is another matter that the screws are not what they used to be. So what - a new Great Anti-bureaucratic Revolution? God forbid! There has been enough trouble, enough damage caused already. High oil prices impede our advancement. ("Why do we need advancement if things are going so well for us?") With low oil prices advancement raises its head, but then it turns out that this is the head of a dragon (uprising, coup, revolution, etc.).

People's tendency to swap freedom and democracy for order and security is unmistakable. Is this a purely Russian phenomenon?

This is characteristic of any country with a rich totalitarian past. In 1933, the Germans traded freedom and democracy for "order and statehood." But Nazism is a dictatorship of nationalists. Ours is somewhat different - a dictatorship of bureaucrats. The similarity comes from dictatorship. The common denominator is dictatorship. Always and everywhere it has the same characteristics: the iron hand, the rigid vertical chain command, unbridled demagoguery, the enemy stereotype, etc.

Why is there none of this today in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, or Bulgaria? How do they - those that at one time resembled the USSR - differ from us now?

As a matter of fact, they have never resembled us. Their peoples are also different, with a different history. The same with their rulers. Their method of governance is more European. It's simply that there are no Soviet troops there now nor Soviet secret police, which were the only source of this "similarity."

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