During the last century Russia’s flaws and threats were invariably put down to her Communism, and consequently used as a potent argument against that political ideology. Historians however were aware that authoritarianism and imperialism had long been a feature of the Tsarist régimes that preceded the Soviet one, and consequently could be regarded as an inheritance from that era rather than as something essentially ‘socialist’. This should have warned those who had hoped, and even predicted, that the death of Communism in Russia would give way to a new age of political and social Liberalism there, that the transition might not be as smooth and simple as that.
Autocracy can wear many clothes. Putin’s sort can be traced back to the 19th century, if not earlier; when the threat from the ‘Russian Bear’ was believed to be the major one facing Britain (and British India), manifested in countless cartoon images. (Google ‘Images – Russian Bear’.) Russophobia was widespread in Britain then – books have been written about it – and not always as misdirected as such phobias often are. ‘Just because I’m paranoid’ – about the Russians – ‘doesn’t mean I’m wrong.’
Yes, it’s interesting how Putin invokes the Russian past, Tsarist and Stalinist as it suits him, and in his own mangled way, with the object of ‘de-nazifying’ the Ukraine is an example. The Ukraine of course does have a shockingly violent Fascist-nationalist past especially during the German occupation of 1941-4 with the genoicideal collusion with SS killing units. When the Russians re-occupied the country they saw themselves as ‘liberators’ from Fascism, even if the Ukrainians did not.
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You will remember the animated graphics about the Russian bear at the beginning of Tony Richardson’s film The Charge of the Light Brigade…..perfect…..giving the Czar a bloody nose always had a bite back in the end….
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The casual reference to British India is
disturbing since it suggests
implicit endorsement of British claims
to the region, intentionally or not.
I expected an editorial disclaimer.
To link the alleged “autocracy” of
Putin to 19th century Russia is
too giant a leap. What would you say
about current British intransigence and
autocratic behavior in the
Chaggos islands or elsewhere?
A 19th century curse?
I’m sorry, I don’t quite see what you’re getting at. India was formally ‘British’ at the time, unfortunately perhaps, and was considered to be vulnerable to Russian invasion (through Afghanistan). I would never attribute modern events necessarily to far-off historical circumstances, without taking account of more contemporary factors, and didn’t intend to in this Russian case. I was only pointing out a similarity, which “could be regarded as” as a continuation (I don’t think it is); and (mainly) making a point about ‘communism’. others can read causal connections into this if they like. Lastly, critical as I am of ‘current British intransigence over the Chaggos islands and elsewhere,’ I wouldn’t dream of linking this to (for example) past British imperialism. That’s often done, superficially, I think; but it’s not the sort of historian I am.