October 25, 2018 Special Dispatch No. 7730

Former Kremlin Advisor Karaganov: Our People Are Anti-Western; Authoritarianism Is Not Imposed On Us From Above, History Shaped Our Genetic Code

October 25, 2018
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 7730

Sergey Karaganov, a former Putin advisor and one of Russia's leading intellectuals, spoke on democracy in contrast to the Russian authoritarian approach.

In an interview, published by the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Karaganov explained one of his major theses: Russian authoritarianism is not imposed on Russians from above but is solicited from below by the people themselves.

Karaganov argued that authoritarianism is the product of Russia's historical experience, which shaped the Russians' "genetic code". He further explained that a giant country like Russia would be unable to survive and defend its borders without centralized power.

In a previous interview, Karaganov elaborated on his thesis, stressing that Russia has a hybrid European and Asian heritage. "Russia is a country with a largely European high culture and economy, but a partially Asian mentality and attitude to power. It's a very odd and original blend of European, Byzantine and Asian civilizations," the former Kremlin adviser stated. This Asian heritage leads Russia, defined as the "successor to Genghis Khan's empire", to be an authoritarian power by its "genetic makeup".[1]

Karaganov stressed on numerous occasions that Russians should stop feeling ashamed that they were Genghis Khan's successors. "This is our historical and genetic code, and it's time we stopped feeling ashamed that historically, we are committed to the authoritarian system of government and not to liberal democracy. If we were not authoritarian and centralized, we would not have existed in our current borders," Karaganov argued.[2]

Karaganov considers authoritarian regimes as having "an advantage over modern democracies," since they better consolidate resources and promote a consistent long-term policy. However, Karaganov is also aware of authoritarianism's negative aspects, but he predicted that in the intermediate term difference between Russia and the West will narrow. Russia, he believes, needs 15 more years of peaceful development, and then the country will become "more democratic" and "more humane." In contrast, European countries, which now enjoy democracy, will become more authoritarian in order to survive current global challenges, such as immigration. He thus recalls the convergence theories popular in the 1960s and 1970s but his convergence is based on strategic rather than industrial dictates.

In an article, titled "How to Win A Cold War", Karaganov specified that in the future (in a dozen years or so) the "regressive authoritarianism—progressive democracy" dichotomy will fade out and there will be a variety of hybrid systems. According to Karaganov, democracy will survive exclusively in the United States due to its efficient economic system, and America’s uniqueness. "In fact, this is the only state born as a democracy and it is probably simply unable to give up this form of government," the former Kremlin advisor stated.[3]

Below are excerpts from the interview with Karaganov:[4]

Sergey Karaganov (Source:

Authoritarian Regimes Enjoy An advantage Over Modern Democracies

Q: Hold on, does this mean that you consider democracy in Russia impossible as well as useless?

Karaganov: "The whole world is proceeding towards a greater democracy. We as well are moving towards a non-western type of democracy – though in a non-linear path. It is most likely that in 20 years from now we'll have more [democracy] than in some Western countries. Yet, in the long term I'm not sure we'll become a "big Holland" as Peter the Great dreamt [of Russia]. When I was younger and even now, at the time of the Neoconservative setback, Putin listens attentively to the population's opinion, it's important for him. We are living through a time of reaction, but try to open that Pandora box and you'll see that our people are anti-Western. Russian authoritarianism is not forced on us from above. It is the result of our history, which shaped our genetic code. Without a centralization of power it would have been impossible to master and provide security for our giant country with geographically indefensible borders. When that [centralized] power weakened – in the beginning of 17th century – there was turmoil, collapse, break apart and Polish intervention. The very same followed [the democratic] February revolution in 1917 – collapse, civil war, intervention. Then the Bolsheviks came, delivering the Gulag nightmare. I consider it miraculous that the country did not die after the 1991 Revolution and the ensuing collapse..."

Q: "I'm afraid you'd share a thought that pro-Western romanticism is a purely Russian disease. I'll stress the word 'disease'."

Karaganov: "People like you and me, a previous me, do not want or did not want to believe that [this is] the mentality of those living in Russia. Just try to understand, a conditional Putin became an authoritative leader, because Russia demanded it. That's the way of history. Russia has dethroned non-authoritarian leaders. I'll repeat - constant interventions and internal land grabs have forged a certain mentality. This [mentality] comprises a fierce aspiration for sovereignty and autonomy. People like you and me have always underestimated those deep feelings.

"When you say that 'Russia is the successor to Genghis Khan's empire', it arouses extreme irritation amongst the intelligentsia. But what can be done about it– that's who we are. Moreover, in the current world of tough competition, authoritarian regimes enjoy an advantage over modern democracies as they are better capable at consolidating resources and promoting a consistent long-term policy. Yet, authoritarianism of course is not a panacea. It frequently leads to stagnation and sometimes to a failure. Russia needs 15 years more of peaceful development. As a result we'll become more democratic and more humane, while our European neighbors will inevitably become more authoritarian in nature because otherwise they won't survive in a new world. Then we'll meet again. Yet, one can't wait for a decade and a half. The denial of unity back in 90s led to the weakening of both Russia and Europe. This tragic mistake can and should be corrected by broad cooperation."


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