Czar Vlad’s Tolerant Tyranny

by Ralph Peters [author, novelist]

While Western leaders remain mired in 20th-century thinking, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia has reinvented dictatorship for a new century. The new czar’s creation is tolerant totalitarianism.

Putin’s one brilliant insight – a revolution in political thought – is that the dictators of the past, whether ideologues or religious fanatics, didn’t know where to stop. The Stalins and the Maos, the Calvins and Khomeinis, all insisted on prying into the private sphere.

Czar Vladimir grasped that a post-modern dictatorship needs to make only a single compromise to prosper: It has to halt at the front door.

We Americans inherited a unique tradition from England, the belief in the freedom of the public space. But most human beings – not least, Russians – are content with the right to do or say what they want behind closed doors, among family and friends.

The obsession with controlling the private sphere weakened past dictatorships (just as it sabotaged al Qaeda in Iraq). The iconic novel of the last century, George Orwell’s “1984,” captured the corrosive effects of the state’s intrusion into each last corner of private life: Even if effective as a means of control, such bullying makes the citizen an enemy.

Putin got it. He grasped that kitchen-table complaints and bedroom rebellions, far from being a threat to state power, are essential means for citizens to let off steam. So he formed a compact with his people: “I get the political power, you get material progress and social freedoms. Behave in the streets, and I’ll stay out of your sheets.”

This was a move of genius. The Putin model – tolerant totalitarianism – gave the dying command-state a new lease on life. The new czar saw that most human beings don’t care who governs them, as long as the government minds its own business. And if the ruler can revive the illusion of national power, so much the better.

Shamelessly cynical, Putin goes through the stage-managed forms of democracy. He even permits scripted media criticism of the state (though not of himself).

But there are limits to the new totalitarianism’s tolerance. You can call Putin a baboon-butt monkey-boy over the vodka bottle at your kitchen table – but don’t do it in public.

Cross that line and you are, literally, dead. A deal’s a deal.

The breathtaking lack of response from the West as the Putin regime murders uncooperative journalists, human-rights activists, defense lawyers, regime apostates and even foreign critics is a glorious gift to Czar Vladimir. His security services are permitted to murder ex-pats in Vienna or London. Even an assassination attempt on an American critic in the Washington, DC, area got swept under the diplomatic rug with remarkable speed.

Putin’s starting to look like a slicker version of Saddam Hussein, with sharper targeting skills (and Vlad really does have weapons of mass destruction). As a result of the West’s cowardice, his ambitions are soaring: The most-predictable geopolitical event of 2009 is an assassination attempt on Georgia’s president, Mikhail Saakashvili, by a “Georgian patriot.”

Working through the traitorous Ukrainian power-broker Yulia Timoshenko, Putin’s also going to do all he can to “reunite” Ukraine and Russia. And he’ll continue to use natural gas as a strategic weapon, while Europe boldly responds, Oh, dear. . . One really ought not to do that . . . Really, one oughtn’t. . .”

A friend who’s gotten up close to Putin sees the dictator as a mere chinovnik – a petty bureaucrat promoted above his station. But that view misses the elementary human reality that greatness and pettiness, courage and cravenness, brilliance and banality, can all be attributes of the same individual.

As I’ve pointed out in the past, Putin does have two weaknesses: his temper, which leads the ice-man to attack his neighbors in fits of pique, and economic illiteracy.

The one-two punch of the oil-price collapse and a global depression is limiting Putin’s ability to keep up his half of the “other New Deal” by improving Russia’s quality of life. A serious outburst of unrest could fire his temper and wreck his political Ponzi scheme.

Yet protests to date have been minor and managed. Developments could go a number of ways as the Russian economy crumbles.

But whether Putin continues to reign for decades or falls in an orgy of Russian self-destructiveness, his intellectual legacy will endure: the dictatorship that stops at the front door. ExileStreet

courtesy NY Post / copyright 2009 NY Post

Ralph Peters’ latest book is “Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World.”

Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of 19 books, as well as of hundreds of essays and articles, written both under his own name and as Owen Parry. He is a frequent columnist for the New York Post and other publications.

Leave a Reply