Susana Torres. Professor. IE University
3 March 2017
In just over a century, Russia has missed three big opportunities to change the course of its history. But its leaders have always taken decisions that benefitted themselves rather than the Russian people.
In a few days it will be the hundredth anniversary of the abdication of Nicholas II as the last Tsar of Russia, almost 300 years after the Romanov dynasty first took the Russian throne. The Tsar abdicated in haste on a train that was supposed to take him back to Petrograd, but was diverted to Pskov. The abdication and the creation of a provisional government that could put an end to the massive strikes and protests in Petrograd was meant to create, or so it was hoped, a more modern Russian Republic that would have joined other former European empires in progressively updating social and economic conditions. It probably would have happened too, if Lenin, who certainly coined the term “no means no”, had not been so stubborn, or so interested in his own party. Unfortunately, Nicholas had also lost the favor of his people 12 years before, in 1905, when a peaceful demonstration led by the Orthodox Pope Gapon, had ended in a bloodbath in front of the Winter Palace, the Russian Bloody Sunday.
The February Revolution of 1917 (according to our calendar, it was actually the March Revolution) should have sufficed to change not only the government, but also the state, and would have spared the life of millions of Russians who fell victims to the subsequent October Revolution, the Civil War, and all the purges, first by Lenin, then by Stalin.
Almost seventy years later, in 1983, President Boris Yeltsin also found himself in a position to grant Russia a proper constitution and a solvent parliamentary system that would create yet another new Russia, one that could leave behind once and for all decades of terror and misgovernment. He chose to use the Army’s tanks to bombard the Duma, instead, and to create one of the most powerful presidential systems in the planet, where the president has almost unlimited power in all spheres of government. For the third time in the same century, Russia’s leaders lacked the sense of state and future vision to make their country a better place. None of them, neither the Tsar, nor Lenin, nor Yeltsin took the opportunity that History offered them to do the right thing. Given the choice of helping themselves or their people, they chose to help themselves. Given the choice between autocracy and Russia, they chose autocracy.
People often ask nowadays how is it possible that people in Russia like President Putin. The answer is quite simple, really. They have been brutally educated to do so for more than a century, and, as the saying goes, “spare the rod, spoil the child”.