January 21, 2014
In the summer of 2002 over 100 high school students got together in Sighetu Marmatiei, for the 5th edition of the Memorial of Victims of Communism and the Resistance Summer School. I was one of them. We were young and eager to learn more on what our country, and too many of our neighbors have been going through between the end of WW2 and the fall of communism in 1989/1991. One of the key lecturers of that edition was Vladimir Bukovski. It was an experience like no other. We had in our mists one of the greatest pravozashchitniki [ n.a – defender of legality] from the former USSR.
One of the best experiences we shared then, besides the many informal long nights by the the river Tisa, was a long lecture he gave us, on the USSR. The lecture was followed by a Q&A session, where yours truly asked if what happened at the end of the 1980’s and the following two decades (remember this was in 2002, it is important) was just a grand scheme to allow the Russian Federation to recover from the economical collapse and was to be followed by a return to power of the same people and value system. The answer Vladimir Bukovski gave me then [for a full transcript please refer to Bukovski la Sighet, Vladimir Bukovski – Bucharest 2002, ISBN 973-8214-00-9] is extraordinary if considered today in 2014 in many aspects. The most relevant of these are the following – At the time Mr. Bukovski did not believe this scenario to be completely true. He said that in 1988, when the crisis became imminent and unstoppable, Gorbachev issued special directives for young activists of the Russian Communist Party, young activists of the Komsomol and young KGB agents to specialize in finance and develop businesses, in an effort to simulate capitalism, a sort of privatization of the party. This took place between 1988-1990, when it became chaotic and collapse imminent. It was at that moment when the the people mentioned above, began to retire from party structures keen to protect their newly acquired properties and wealth, and as such the control the party exercised over the whole affair was lost. He continues though that in the same period, 1988-1990, the Moscow Central Committee instructed agents from KGB and GRU to create and operate “underground” operations, to infiltrate Russia’s “capitalism” in an effort to insure that the party had means to regain control, in effect giving birth to what we know today as the Russian Mafia. So, back in 2002, he concluded that while the intention might have been the one I mentioned, an attempt to regroup and reform to ultimately regain full control, it spun out of control and the plan failed.
Now consider history – in 1999 Vladimir Putin, former KGB agent, rose to power, following the sudden resignation of President Yeltsin, as interim president of the Russian Federation. He won the elections in 2000 with 53%, becoming the democratically elected president of the Russian Federation. The wikipedia article on him, states that “between 2000 and 2004, Putin apparently won a power-struggle with the oligarchs, reaching a ‘grand-bargain’ with them. This bargain allowed the oligarchs to maintain most of their powers, in exchange for their explicit support – and alignment with – his government”. What followed is common knowledge. What we have today is a Russian Federation reborn, attempting to recreate the lost empire, albeit not by force, but by the more lucrative power of economics.
“Mr Putin is not waiting to negotiate – he is creating facts on the ground and building new alliances albeit with reluctant partners.
In the past all this would have had an ideological background but in the present circumstances economics is enough. This is about the recreation of Comecon rather than the Soviet Union.”
So now, when internal control has been achieved, interests move to the former satellites. The Winter Olympics in Sochi is going to be the first show of economic might from this new Russian Federation, already labeled most expensive Olympics in history at $50 billion and rising. Recent developments in what concerns the EU Eastern Partnership are also very indicative of this regained power, particularly so with the Ukraine.
I believe today, as I did in 2002, that my first assessment is correct, and unfortunately history has proven me right and Mr. Bukovski wrong. Although I very much wish it was the other way around.
Mr. Bukovski, residing in the UK since he has been deported out of the USSR in December 1976, is a patron of UKIP. I am not. I am a supporter of an united and strong Europe. And yes, this new Russian expansion worries me. Worries me a lot. But I also know that the only way to resist is to keep arguing for more union, more democracy. There was a recent article in the Romanian online press, dubbed the Putin Sindrome. I welcome all my readers to follow the link, because even if the article is in Romanian, it has an interactive map showing a red ring around Romania – the red ring of Putin’s Russian Federation cash and gas influence in CEE states.
I am afraid. I am afraid of returning to that reality, albeit new in nature. However recent developments in NGO regime in Russia, and in Bulgaria an member of the EU, in the treatment of minorities and overall democratic environment in the Russian Federation convince me that is only the shape that has changed. And that a new terror rises in the East.