Monday, October 13, 2014

Glory to the 'Russian World'

By MICHAEL KHODARKOVSKY, NYT, OCT. 13, 2014

Imagine the unimaginable: Suppose an American supreme court chief justice asserts in an interview that “slavery in the United States, despite its extremes, was a principal bond that maintained the deep unity of the nation.” Now replace “slavery in the United States” with “serfdom in Russia,” and you have the exact quote from an article by the chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court, Valery D. Zorkin, published on Sept. 30.

In legal terms, serfdom, an institution that bound peasants to the land, is considered to be a less-cruel form of bondage than slavery. In practice, however, Russian serfs were routinely bought and sold and regularly physically abused. The abolition of serfdom in 1861 paved the way for the Great Reforms aimed at modernizing the Russian empire and setting free 23 million people, or more than a third of Russia’s population.

Mr. Zorkin wrote his comments while discussing a newly proposed law that would make failure to register with the local police authorities at a place of one’s residence a criminal offense. He further suggested that Russia during the 1990s under the leadership of President Boris N. Yeltsin was similar to the period of the Great Reforms in the 1860s. Then as now the reforms produced political chaos and social disorder, requiring counterreforms and repression to restore stability.

But if Mr. Zorkin sounds like an unreconstructed 19th-century Russian landlord, he is not alone. On April 17, President Vladimir V. Putin, in his televised question-and-answer session with the public, emphasized the inner strength of the Russians, particularly their readiness for self-sacrifice, which he said distinguished his country from the West. He hastened to add that these qualities would soon come in handy. Mr. Putin further suggested that country’s great strength was its peoples’ “unique and very powerful genetic code,” and that Russians possessed greater souls and superior moral values than self-indulgent Westerners. His glorification of the Russian soul and spiritual values repeated a popular theme among Russian nationalists throughout the 19th century.

(More here.)

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