23 January 2023
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Exactly 10 years ago, I published an article in Ezhednevnyi Zhurnal, and now I’ve reread it with a certain grim satisfaction. And where is the great predictor Akunin now? Where are the leaders of protest and what has happened to Russia?
Rejoinder to Boris Akunin
23 January 2013
Boris Akunin’s article, “Let’s Not Rush to Win in Russia,” published on 20 January  in the New York Times, breathes calm and confidence. It’s nice to read, the way it’s nice to listen to anyone confident of the triumph of a righteous cause.
Akunin’s confidence in inevitable victory is based on the idea that time is working exclusively in democracy’s favor, thus “I would prefer if Putin’s regime did not collapse too quickly. Let him resist at least another year or so.” And “… the still very young shoots of civil society need time to grow and become stronger,” and “civil society would strengthen and learn to organize.”
It should be said that various versions of the ideology of reconciliation—from partial to total—are being discussed everywhere today by all commentators on current events. The range of reconciliation is incredibly large, from a readiness to coordinate protest ralleys with the authorities (although by law only notification is required) to agreement to put up with an illegally elected president if only he promises to meet at least some of the protestors’ demands. In this context, Akunin’s readiness to put up with Putin for another year or so does not even look all that sinister.
I don’t know whether B. Akunin and Bakunin are connected in some secret way, but in the century before last, the famous anarchist and pan-Slavist wrote that “Reconciliation with reality in all respects and all spheres of life is the great task of our time.” I think that many think similarly today as well.
I’m far from the idea of adding Boris Akunin to the secret supporters of the present regime, but any brake on protests, from my point of view, very much plays into the authorities’ hands. The idea that this regime can be vanquished at a saunter, at a leisurely pace, while enjoying the process—that’s straight out of fiction. History and the practical experience of the velvet revolutions attest to the contrary. The only thing that leads to victory is mounting public pressure, an escalation of demands and actions, and intransigence in defending one’s positions. Otherwise, public protests result, at best, in decorative changes, new curtains or odiose figures in the regime; at worst, brutal suppression of protests and eradication of the opposition.
Akunin is working from the assumption that the young shoots of civil society are going to grow quietly and the regime is going to look on this affectionately or at least indifferently. But I’ll tell you that until these shoots turn into unbridled growth, the regime will try to sprinkle them with herbicide, or even burn them out with napalm. Don’t underestimate your opponent by saying he lacks initiative. It’s useful things they are unequipped for, they’re too lazy to do good, they’re indifferent to misfortunes. When it comes to saving their own power, they are quite enterprising, inventive, and energetic. In that they have no equals!
They’ve already moved on from the initial shock caused by the sudden and to them inexplicable December protests. They’ve already gotten a systemic opposition involved in dismantling the public protests. Their emissaries range from glamorous journalists to disgraced ministers and special services feeding compromising materials on opposition leaders to the press. They’ve already come to their senses and, I’m afraid, have decided on quite a lot while the opposition has been making leisurely preparations for a February rally.
What year or so! The regime will take a decisive step forward the moment the opposition indecisively retreats half a step back. Where the opposition is prepared for discussions, the regime will remain unbending and will concede only where the opposition manifests firmness and digs in its heels. The regime has the psychology of a street gang that retreats with its tail between its legs only when it encounters force or the readiness to use it. Retreating now in time or demands is tantamount to provoking the regime to take harsh countermeasures. Anyone who has clashed in his life with a petty criminal gang or the state’s repressive apparatus understands this.
Unfortunately, the experience of Russian life demonstrates that, for the sake of achieving its goals, the regime will not stop even at bloodshed. Anyone who doubts this should recall the 1999 apartment house bombings in Moscow and Volgodonsk, which became the pretext for starting the war in Chechnya and for Putin coming to power.
At a meeting with the 4 February rally’s applicants, the words of Deputy Mayor Gorbenko about the impossibility of ensuring security for the 6-kilometer route of the demonstrators’ march sounded sinister, like a threat, ready-made for a future justification: “But we warned you!”
No, Grigory Shalvovich, we do not have another year or so to build up. If, of course, we want to change something for the better. If we tune ourselves to a philosophical key and stop at the thought that someday society will organize itself anyway, one man’s regime of personal power will become impossible, and good will vanquish evil, then we really do have an eternity in reserve. Then there is no hurry.
Translated by Marian Schwartz