In your last interview for our journal you predicated an overall peaceful character in our presidential election. Nonetheless, I would like to know the basis for your judgment of Nazarbayev?
Well first of all I think that, compared with Putin, for example, he is also more tolerant. As an authoritarian ruler, he must abjure the use of harsh means. He must periodically demonstrate his strong side, his readiness to resort to repression to deal with those opponents who have gone beyond the boundaries of what is allowed. The object is to ensure that others not be encouraged. But compare the case of Zhakiyanov and Ablyazov with that of Khodorkovsky. Although it was namely Nazarbaev who created the precedent of using repressive measures to deal with oligarchs, he did not act in a manner as ruthless, as brutal, as sadistic (I would say) as was done in the case of Khodorkovsky. Nor do I preclude the possibility that Nazarbaev was reluctant to resort to repressive measures with respect to Zhakiyanov and Ablyazov. It seems to me that it was not a matter of personal animus – in contrast, I think, to Putin. In the latter’s case, I think that, apart from political motives here, personal animus did play a role. But your leader has had his own unattractive moments. I would include here the case of Duvanov, as well as the crude methods used to persecute oppositionist journalists. All this is on the level of initial reflexes, when action was taken without giving proper consideration to the real consequences. The inability to foresee the political resonance will bring the regime and its chief nothing but harm; it will undermine his reputation both within the country and, especially, beyond its borders. It is odd that such a skillful politician permits his aides to perpetrate acts that, from the perspective of final effect, are simply idiotic. So that the pressure in the boiler does not reach a critical level, it has to be regulated by periodically venting some of the steam. Among his political advisors, so far as I know, there are people capable of understanding such elementary things.
Well, since you brought up the oligarchs, do you think that they have a political future?
I think they do, and what a future! In this regard, I would recall the case of Joseph Brodsky, later a Nobel laureate, who was exiled to the far north in the 1960s for “parasitism” (under an article that then existed in the criminal code). When Anna Andreevna Akhmatova heard about the sentence, she exclaimed: “What a biography the regime is giving him!” I would not try to predict the political future of Ablyazov and Zhakiyanov (they are young and may God give them good health after all they have been through!). But as for Khodorkovsky, I would not rule out the possibility that this exceptional manager and politician, now languishing in a labor camp, will hold one of the highest positions in a post-Putin Russia, if not the very top position. Putin’s apparatchiks, following the directives of their boss, are zealously making an illustrious biography for the former oligarch. Many biographies in the post-Soviet era have shown such improbable trajectories!
But, turning to the “color revolutions”, there is, after all, influence from the outside. Many people here are convinced that the ideologues and organizers of the “color revolutions” are the United States and countries in the European Union. Can you confirm or refute this belief?
No, I do not agree with it. I find such claims utterly specious. It is extremely convenient for the authorities that embrace this explanation: it is the enemy, they claim, who organizes conspiracies that undermine stability. In this regard the Soros Foundation is most often mentioned. George Soros, a man possessed by the megalomania of a billionaire, spends a lot of money to propagate the idea of Western democracy in post-Soviet countries. And, of course, such propaganda undermines the foundations of the authoritarian regimes in these countries. But he spent still more millions on an anti-Bush campaign during the last presidential elections in the United States; hardly anyone could compare with him in the scale of hatred that he nourishes toward the current American leadership and toward its policies. So to portray him and the organizations that he finances as agents of the “Washington polity” could only come from the arsenal of Goebbelsesque propaganda. I am offering only one example to show the absurdity of such insinuations, but could cite many more.
The United States Government may not be entirely interested in causing strained relations with this or that country. But the government cannot control the members of Congress or the mass media that shape public opinion. It is sometimes difficult for homo sovieticus to grasp that simple fact. Thus, after the Andijan events, the American administration (and especially its military component) was not at all disposed to break with Karimov – given our strategic interests in Uzbekistan and in the preservation of the U.S. airbase there. But congressional commissions have insistently demanded the harshest possible sanctions. The Administration cannot allow itself to ignore the extremely uncompromising position toward Karimov taken by someone like the highly popular senator, John McCain, who quite possibly may be Bush’s successor in the White House.
The capacity to regenerate the clan-mafia political system in Uzbekistan is nonetheless very substantial. Karimov is the founding father of this system; he is at once its protector and its hostage. He is only in a position to make minor repairs so that the mechanism keeps functioning, not to undertake a fundamental modernization.
Your comments seem to contain an implied justification of Karimov’s actions – in contrast to the entire Western press, which is permeated with indignation about the situation and events in Uzbekistan. Or am I mistaken here?
How can you say that? In my publications, beginning already in the mid-1990s, I have continually subjected the economic and the social policies of Karimov to sharp criticism, and I also wrote that his totalitarian regime has no prospects for survival, that he has caused a regression in the development of Uzbek society.
But the fact is that many people, even those who have personally suffered from Karimov’s intolerance, malice, and deceit, nolens volens are forced to recognize his strong will, intellect, decisiveness; they also think that only Karimov is capable of keeping in check the ever-conflicting mafia-clan groups and maintaining stability in the country. I know the position of those who support the preservation of the Karimov regime. That viewpoint is not without its own rationale. The civil war in neighboring Tajikistan, with all the attendant horrors, is fresh in the minds of people. The spontaneous overthrow of this regime (following the model of the Kyrgyz coup) will destabilize Uzbekistan and unleash chaos throughout the region, which in turn can play into the hands of Islamist radicals. There is no serious secular opposition in Uzbekistan; Karimov has effectively destroyed it. That vacuum makes it easier to mobilize forces under a green banner. This is what Putin fears (he already has Chechnya and the Caucasus to deal with); the same applies to the Chinese leadership (with its own Islamic problems in Xinjiang) as well as responsible officials in Washington. Indeed, America has no interest whatsoever in seeing Karimov’s regime overthrown. I also think that the U.S. administration must have been concerned and irritated to see how Karimov threw himself into Putin’s embrace. After all, one can hardly find among the post-Soviet rulers any greater Russophobe than Karimov. Was it not Karimov who not long ago was speaking, with contempt and even hatred, about Russia’s policies? Was it not Karimov who ordered that Russian-language books be removed from the libraries and burned? Was it not Karimov who ordered that history be rewritten such that every conceivable mortal sin be ascribed to Russia? And now we find the prodigal son returning home. He rushes about; paranoically suspecting everyone, constantly reshuffles his cadres, and stands ready to pawn the country to anyone to save himself and his family. Yet, all that being said, one has to admit that it is better to have Karimov than to plunge this enormous region into bloody chaos. I imagine that Nazarbaev, who was never distinguished by love for his colleague in Uzbekistan, shares this view. Of course, to justify the extremes and excesses of his rule, Karimov is constantly playing the Islamist card. But one has to admit that the menace of Islamist aggression is not something that Karimov invented! Herein lies the whole paradox of the situation.
I believe Karimov arranged the Andizhan carnage out of hopelessness. I am convinced that, in Karimov’s view, Akaev’s fatal error was to foreswear the use of force – that is, shoot into the crowd and disperse it and end the tumult. Karimov was no longer able, as he had once done in Namangan, to calm an unruly mob with promises and persuasion: no one would have believed him. Indeed, to do so would have been seen as a sign of weakness, which is fatal for a repressive regime. Karimov stabilized the situation of the complete loss of his real legitimacy: what kind of head of state is this if he is unable to participate in the sessions of the General Assembly of the United Nations! This all comes down to a collapse in the living career of the architect of a “Great Uzbekistan”. Warmly embraced in Moscow and Beijing, he is regarded as an outcast by Washington and the European Union. If one leaves aside the egoistic interests of the clan bureaucracy (whose protector he is), does Uzbekistan need a president who is a pariah in the rest of the world? One must castigate him as a politician for letting things reach the explosive point. Time is apparently running out for Karimov. However, I think that what he has built will stand: the authoritarian regime will retain all its basic systemic features. The task is that, when authority is transferred, there must be an inter-clan compromise and consensus so that the regime change is a regulated process; and, of course, a suitable successor must be found.
As I understand it, you do not foresee the possibility that a post-Karimov Uzbekistan can develop into a democratic society.
To be perfectly honest, I see no such possibility – if, by “democracy,” you mean one based on Western standards. It seems to me that, for Uzbekistan today, it is more realistic to talk about a transition from an absolute dictatorship to a “managed democracy”. And that would be a good thing in its own right. The transition from a “Karimov regime” to a “Nazarbaev regime” would be progress.
How do you see Russia’s role in supporting stability in the region? And, concerning external influences on the “orange” shock, how do you understand Russia’s policy?
As for the policy of Russia in all these events, it is primitive and myopic. That was especially evident in their relations with Ukraine. They constantly did things that only exacerbated bad relations with Ukraine. In 2003 there was the idiotic story involving the island Tuzla in the Kerch Strait, which all but led to an armed conflict; in 2004 there was the unconcealed (I would even say shameless) pressure that Moscow exerted during the elections. Moreover, everything Russia did only ensured the failure of its favorite (Yanukovich) and fanned the flames of anti-Moscow sentiments, leaving people indignant and inclined to use the pejorative “moskali” for “Russians.” At the end of 2005 there was the confrontation over the price of natural gas, which was escalated by nationalists on both sides. Of course, Western non-government organizations and foundations were exerting strong influence; these deftly exploited the national feelings that had been trampled by Moscow over the course of many centuries. Kremlin political technocrats revealed themselves to be incompetent psychologists, for they failed to account for the mythological mass consciousness of a significant part of the Ukrainian population, which thoroughly despises the “moskali.” After all, there is the Ukrainian classic, Taras Shevchenko (1838): “Love each other, you handsome people, you’re not with the moskali. For the moskali are alien people. They’ll bring you harm.”
By creating a fuel crisis in the midst of winter, the Kremlin co-owners of Gazprom have helped to ensure the most favorable conditions for Ukraine to reconstruct its economy, rid the country of its old productive capacities that waste energy, and adapt to postindustrial challenges. The process is of course painful, but I think that Ukraine will cope – especially if it gets help “from abroad”. It has intellectual capital. And they should be grateful to Putin. “If there’s no good fortune, then misfortune will help out.” And this entire history undoubtedly will accelerate Ukraine’s movement toward the West and NATO. Yet once again the unforgettable words of Viktor Stepanovich Chernomyrdin, are to be heard, “We wanted make things better, but it turned out like it always does.”
It seems that you blame the political consultants, but not the Russian leadership. But they were simply carrying out the latter’s orders. Incidentally, the Moscow PR experts also service our power structures. If I am not mistaken, Gleb Pavlovskii was invited during the recent elections in Kazakhstan.
Well, Nazarbaev would surely win without inviting imported PR consultants. But Pavlovskii and the colleagues in his workshop have shown their true worth by exposing their total ineffectuality in Ukraine. In general, it is high time to overcome the impulse to genuflect before the mandarins from Moscow. In Kazakhstan you have plenty of your own professional sociologists, psychologists, and political scientists.
But you are right: the PR experts fulfilled the order insofar as their abilities permitted. But those giving the orders still operate under the influence of stereotypes generated in the course of Yeltsin’s campaign for reelection. They are unable to comprehend the difference between “political management” and “politics.” It is one thing to manipulate mass consciousness when it is inert, as it is now in Russia or in Kazakhstan. But it is quite something else when a revolutionary situation has arisen, as was the condition in Ukraine in 2004. In that case, even the most expensive political advisors showed their failings. What was needed here was serious politics. The whole point is that Western experts correctly assessed the situation as revolutionary (in classical Marxist terms); Western organizations acted on this basis. But Russian manipulators of public consciousness failed to understand this; they were mentally incapable of applying methods other than the employment of “administrative resources’’, the inflation of poll ratings, and other devices invoked during the Yeltsin-Putin years.
How do you see American policy with regards to Russia?
That is the subject of animated discussion in the American political establishment. I personally subscribe to the view that America should be interested in a strong Russia. But in America we increasingly have come to doubt whether the powers-that-be are capable of providing Russia with stability and normal development. In any event, the United States cannot be indifferent about what happens to the enormous potential of nuclear weapons in the event that the situation in Russia degenerates and becomes unstable. As I understand it, that is the key problem facing Bush and his government; it determines America’s relations with Moscow and compels Washington to close its eyes to a great deal.
But you evidently do not share the view of many Western analysts who with respect to Putin recall the aphorism of a foreign visitor to pre-Revolutionary Russia that “the biggest European in Russia is the tsar”, and who regard Putin as more acceptable than those who are most likely to take his place.
I have to admit that it was only quite recently that I came to appreciate the great importance of an inalterable, inviolable order for the regular rotation of those who hold supreme power. If Russia retains the existing system, given the conditions of a clan-based, intra-corporative succession of the ruling elite, it is obvious that someone chosen by Putin will come to the helm. Yeltsin laid the precedent with regards to succession to the throne; the country has adopted something tantamount to a political stare decisis, with legal precedent giving the ruler the power to select his successor. Nothing like this ever happened in Russia since 1797 when Emperor Paul I issued a law that fixed the precise order of succession to the throne.
Whether the present system will last for long is difficult to say. To judge from public opinion polls, it seems that the situation will remain stable at least until the next elections.
But we know far too little about public life outside Moscow and St. Petersburg. But such does exist and is by no means so apathetic as it might seem. One needs only read, for example, the results of substantive research on the youth movements in various regions of Russia that have been conducted by Alexander Tarasov and published in his series of articles on “Youth as an Object of Class Experiment.” It is entirely conceivable that various social forces will generate a national patriotic movement and that this could even be transformed into a sort of national socialist party. And this wave will bring forth a charismatic leader. To see where this all may lead, we need only to recall some recent history.
In any case, just three years prior to new elections, members of the Kremlin corporation (the greedy crowd around the throne) have, like pirates, seized whole sectors of the national economy, and they will not look passively on what is happening. It is safe to surmise that they are vitally interested in keeping the current autocrat on the throne.
Putin himself, to judge from his earlier remarks, is well disposed toward the idea of monarchy. In an interview given in 2000, Putin declared that “in certain periods of time, . . . under certain circumstances, . . . monarchy played and still plays a positive role. The monarch does not need to think about whether they will reelect him or not, to align himself to petty trends, somehow to exert an influence on the electorate. He can think about the fate of his people and not be distracted by trivia”. In response to the interviewer’s remark that it is impossible to reestablish monarchy in Russia, Putin replied, “You know that much seems to be impossible and unrealizable, and then there comes a bolt from the blue! That’s the way it was with the Soviet Union. Who could have predicted that it would collapse?” It is possible that, after five years of autocratic rule, Putin has become more firmly convinced about the idea of the “positive role of the monarch” for Russia and that his staff is preparing the coronation for a new Russian sovereign. Again, it is possible that in the foreseeable future Vladimir I – like a bolt from the blue – will occupy the Russian throne that has been vacant since 1917. And he will not need to be distracted by trivia and can exclusively “think about the fate of his people”. And then, finally, the time of prosperity will come for his people.
All that, of course, is only one scenario; others are entirely possible. For the time being, though, Putin’s rating has not fallen.
As I understand it, you propose that we in Kazakhstan should place ourselves in the western orbit – even at the expense of our recently acquired sovereignty?
Yes. It is perfectly clear to me that Kazakhstan can only profit from such a reorientation. I do not think that you will be misled by the real motives that have inspired Putin’s oligarchs suddenly to show increased attention in Kazakhstan. Russia can use its energy superiority to achieve political objectives and can make energy its principal weapon in geopolitical games, big or small. And if earlier Russia had sought–at any price–to expand its missile and nuclear potential (so as to maintain control over its satellites and to oppose the West), energy has now become the weapon of choice. That is why the Putin team deems it so important for Russia to establish a major role in the development of Kazakhstan’s oil and gas resources. It is against this background that one must examine the agreement with KazMunaiGas that permits Moscow to control the natural gas exports from Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. But the enthusiasm of the Moscow oligarchs and bureaucratic elite for having Russia achieve energy dominance is explained not only by ideological considerations such as a thirst for revenge, for the reestablishment of Moscow’s former influence. It is not difficult to imagine what boundless opportunities for enrichment will open up to those who have access to the “feeding trough” controlled by the Putin team.
While it is entirely possible that Russia has a real chance of becoming an oil-and-gas superpower, it will not become a country with an innovative economy. And in our postindustrial world that prospect is anything but cheery.
As for your sovereignty, that notion has become greatly devalued in the post-Westernized world. It has become a truism that the only countries with real sovereignty are those that possess nuclear weapons. So which orbit is better for Kazakhstan: the Russian or Western? Or, perhaps the Chinese one?
All that you say conveys the impression of an anti-Russian attitude. It seems to me that you take a one-sided view and do not take into account the interests of Russia.
That is really not an accurate assessment of my views. I do not at all feel that I am a Russophobe. On the contrary, I would be more inclined to say I am a Russian nationalist. As Stanislav Lem said of the Poles, they are a splendid people, but quite hopeless as a society. I am perfectly ready to say the same of Russians.
As for “Russia’s interests”, I do not identify them with the interests of the ruling clique, which proclaims that it is devoted to the creation of a state, but in fact clings to the naive belief that the state exists for them to plunder. There are an ever-growing number of signs that Russia is increasingly moving from an “imitation democracy” to an authoritarianism draped in pseudo-democratic garb. Someone recently said that “there are two variants for the development of events in Russia: the worst possible and the least likely”. I would like to believe that Kazakhstan will not follow in Russia’s footsteps – that the vector of political development in Kazakhstan will move in precisely the opposite direction, toward a liberalization of public life. And if that is the case, then it makes no sense to let Kazakhstan drift into the Russian orbit.
As for Russia’s role in Central Asia, your position is quite clear. But what would you say about the policy of China, which has followed a very restrained policy toward Central Asia?
You are correct to describe Chinese policy as “very restrained”. Within the framework of the other geopolitical interests of China (relations with the United States and India, the Taiwan issue, the mounting tensions with Japan), relations with Central Asia and also Russia do not cause much headache for the Chinese leadership. In general, I have to admit that I am rather fatalistic about China’s growing influence in the world. I recall the famous dicta of Deng Xiaoping that China must not assert itself, but should calmly observe events in the world and gradually build up its power.
As you probably know, in a relatively recent statement, the academician Primakov proposed to create an anti-American triangle of “Russia-China-India.” What do you think about this idea and its feasibility?
This idea reeks of political dilettantism. And what can one say of it? Neither China nor (especially) India seeks a political confrontation with America. An authoritative Russian Sinologist, Professor Alexey Voznesensky, recently offered a comment in this regard, “It is necessary to understand clearly that the Chinese political elite has no illusions with respect to the construction of a bloc to oppose the United States. Such illusions do exist among part of the Russian political elite.”
Nevertheless, you apparently are aware of the fact that America is unpopular around the globe. What do you think about this, and how would you explain it?
That phenomenon is complex and not easily explained. Hatred of America is indeed widespread in the world. It is possible, to be sure, to personify the hatred and attribute it to George Bush. But I think that is wrong; the animus is directed at America itself.
As for Russia, I have repeatedly heard from people in Moscow, Khabarovsk, Tiumen, and many other cities (including Almaty) that the CIA organized the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Gorbachev and Yeltsin were agents of the CIA, and that the tragedy of 11th September 2001 was also the handiwork of the CIA (or else Israel’s Mossad). And all this was said with absolute conviction. At the end of November 2005, the banner-bearer of Russian national patriotism, the brilliant publicist Alexander Prokhanov, declared on television that Chubais is an American agent, that the Committee on State Property was thoroughly infiltrated by CIA agents, and that Putin’s entourage is filled with American agents. I think that he is entirely sincere in saying all that. But it is a case of clinical paranoia.
As for the rank-and-file citizenry, the old maxim (articulated by Goebbels) holds: for mass subconsciousness, the most fantastic myth is preferable to the most obvious truth. And, in general, it is easier and more comprehensible to explain the collapse of the Soviet Union (in Putin’s words, “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth century”) not by a mortal crisis of the entire Soviet system, but by the machinations of the “Washington polity”.
Hatred of America has a long history. It appeared shortly after the establishment of the United States. Much indeed has been written about this. In the nineteenth century, European intellectuals (including Balzac and Stendal) were already disposed to portray American civilization as soulless, inhuman, mercantile, and so forth. However, hatred of America was particularly characteristic of Hitler. One cannot deny that he had an extraordinary political intellect and perspicacity, but his hatred of America blinded him and constituted one of the main reasons for his defeat. In January 1942 (that is, a month after Germany had declared war on America), Hitler told his immediate entourage that America is a “decadent country”, that he sees no future for Americans, that he despises everything American. He personally detested Franklin Roosevelt and attributed the latter’s paralysis not to poliomyelitis, but to syphilis (with one consequence being his “mental degeneration”). Obsessed by his aversion for America, Hitler absolutely underestimated not only Roosevelt’s intellect, but also America’s industrial and scientific potential, its capacity to mobilize resources, and the country’s moral power. He was deeply convinced that the American army was unfit for combat. This blind hatred led to misjudgments that proved fatal for Hitler and the Third Reich.
Today too there are many who predict that America will collapse in the near future. But just think how many crises America has endured in the postwar years! The founding fathers created a uniquely resilient structure that has proven capable of withstanding powerful seismic tremors. So too now as per the results of 2005: despite the Iraq war, enormous natural disasters, and the huge surge in the price of energy, the United States can boast of economic growth, a rise in productivity, a construction boom, low inflation, an increase in the purchasing power of the population, an upward movement in stock prices (despite various fluctuations), and a consistent government policy to reduce taxation. Politically, the system of checks and balances is working and ensures social stability in the country. The country’s most important problems are the war in Iraq, the national debt, and the negative balance of trade.
Nevertheless, the flow of immigrants to America steadily increases, including hundreds of thousands of “illegals” every year. People vote with their feet. People curse America, but at the first opportunity come here for a better life. And so it has been for centuries.
And does your famous “melting pot” continue to absorb this diverse human mass? Is America really not experiencing what is happening in Europe, where immigrant communities live as in ghettoes, without assimilating and integrating into the social fabric of the country?
The “melting pot” does indeed continue to work. This is particularly noticeable in the second and, still more, in the third generation. While preserving many special ethnic and cultural features, people become Americans, combining these unique characteristics with typical American qualities. Here, of course, not everything is so simple. It is naturally much easier for Europeans to integrate, but the same can be said of Chinese, Koreans, Indians, and Japanese. In terms of their capacity for adjustment to a new country, and in terms of their level of income and education, these ethnic groups far surpass all others. The situation with Mexicans, Brazilians, and Hispanics in general is more complex, but on the whole they adapt rather quickly. The African-Americans, the black population, constitute a special case. This problem is not yet resolved, notwithstanding enormous efforts (material and legal) taken by society and the government over the course of several decades.
The London weekly, The Economist, which is hardly distinguished by a pro-American attitude, recently wrote that work plays an enormous, if not the primary, role in the adaptation of immigrants. It is at the workplace that immigrants interact with people from other ethnic groups. Or, having established a business, people become integrated into society. And here (this is not my biased opinion, but the view of a highly respected journal) one finds a striking difference between Europe and America: unemployment among the immigrants in America and their children is quite insignificant, whereas in Europe the jobless rate is very high – two to four times higher than in America. One should mention inter-ethnic marriages here, which are much more frequent in America. In a word, the “melting pot” continues to function.
But I am especially interested in knowing how it applies to the Muslim population, but you have said nothing about this.
Fine, let’s talk about that. I can cite some figures from a sociological study of American Muslims conducted in 2003 by John Logan of Brown University. Thus, for the period since 1990, the Muslim population in America has grown by 85 percent and now numbers about three million people. In contrast to the Muslims in Europe, the American Muslims constitute a solid middle class and are actively becoming integrated with non-Muslims. The average income of a Muslim family in the year 2000 was more than US$52,000, while that of a “white” non-Muslim family was only slightly higher – US$53,000. Even the poorest of the Muslim families had an average income on the order of US$40,000. I was especially impressed by the results of this study that the typical American Muslim had fourteen years of formal education and that 35 percent are college graduates. Approximately 60 percent of the Muslims in America live in their own homes. On the whole, Logan concludes that the Muslim population of America is characterized by a high level of education and income and by a low level of unemployment. I am therefore convinced that we will not have the mass disorders among Arab immigrants like those that recently happened in France. And the soil to generate adherents of al-Qaeda is less fertile in America, although of course individual cells apparently do exist. We have better social and economic conditions for Muslims as a whole, a more tolerant atmosphere (as with other religions), however much the Islamic extremists might try to destroy this.
But many American politicians accuse Bush and Cheney of distorting the intelligence data and accenting only what served to justify the decision to start a war.
Well first, that comes mainly from his political competitors in the Democratic Party, especially its left wing. Second, how could Bush and Cheney falsify the information of the British and Russian intelligence services? Instances where even the best intelligence services erred are not rare in modern history. Third, and it is important to understand this, the situation frequently arises where, in critical situations, a leader must make a fateful decision while relying on contradictory information. I am inclined to think that, in this case, he must take the safest course of action and that means giving top priority to the information that is most threatening. Stalin had a plethora of convincing intelligence facts about German preparations to attack. Well, you know what Stalin decided and what happened next.
Do you also justify how the war is being conducted?
Not entirely. There have been a lot of mistakes. The generals always plan war, its methods, by drawing on the experiences of the last conflict. Our generals and military political strategists failed to foresee a great deal. But in history have there been a lot of wars of this character, being those having the goal of destroying a ruling regime and building an entirely new state order and that being conducted strictly according to a prior plan – without mistakes and defeats? I personally cannot think of any such wars. This war has nothing in common with all past military experience. Thousands of young fanatics stand in line to blow themselves up and to ascend to Allah; they dream about this, as the few whom we have managed to capture alive openly attest. Has war ever in history been conducted against such an adversary? This war is conducted by a method of trial and error. To wish us defeat is tantamount to “cutting off your nose to spite your face”. In Iraq and Afghanistan, America has paid with the lives of its soldiers to stop the aggression of Islamic terrorists. This aggression is directed not only at America. And if one imagines that we lose this exhausting, long war, then not only America, but also Kazakhstan, Russia, and China will lose, not to mention the European countries.
But, after all, there are many opponents of the war among your own experts, including Zbegnev Bzhezinsky. How would you explain that?
I do not share the enthusiasm for this geopolitical chess player that is shared by many, especially in Russia (and, by the way, in Kazakhstan). When he served as the main foreign political advisor of President Jimmy Carter and in effect was directing American policy in the world, America suffered some of its greatest debacles in foreign affairs. Bzhezinskii is now opposed to the current leadership, and I think that is simply because of pique – they did not solicit his counsel. As a theoretician of geopolitics he is still thinking with the categories of a past era. And if one wants to talk about the prima donnas in this sphere, then far more interesting and perspicacious is Henry Kissinger, who has demonstrated his superiority not only as a theoretician, but also as a practicing politician. And Kissinger, on a number of principal positions, including the justification of this war, supports the current leadership.
One gains the impression that you are a great admirer of Bush and Cheney. But their approval rating, after all, has fallen in American public opinion. And outside America–even in England – you know how negatively they are viewed.
Yes, neither man (but especially Dick Cheney) has many admirers in America and even fewer in the outside world. But I belong to the ranks of their supporters. In terms of strategic vision, capacity to assess a situation adequately, and consistency in defending his position, Cheney in my view is a figure comparable to Winston Churchill. Recall how the political elite of Great Britain in the decade before World War II denigrated Churchill, with the great majority in favor of appeasing Hitler. In the prewar years, Churchill was a pariah in the British political establishment. Many despised Churchill and dismissed him as a warmonger. What human and civic courage, what will he had to possess to withstand the pressure from the appeasers (who had the support of the majority of the population)! And, despite all the public opinion stirred up against him, he toiled tirelessly to persuade people that war was inevitable and that England needed to prepare for it. In the 1930s Churchill was the most unpopular politician in England, indeed in all of Europe. Well, you know what happened later. I see strong similarities here in Cheney. In the November issue of The Economist he is called an “ideological hardliner”, and that is certainly true. But Cheney is an irreconcilable foe of Islamic fascism; like Churchill, he is an “ideological hardliner” in the battle against fascism.
As for Bush, it would apropos here to look at the recent past. Almost all of his predecessors in the postwar years (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, and Clinton) experienced periods of acute crises, and many suffered a bigger drop in their approval ratings than has Bush. Moreover, you should read American newspapers from the 1930s, including the most influential, and see how they tore Roosevelt to pieces! The anti-Bush propaganda in the New York Times is nothing compared to what the Chicago Tribune wrote about Roosevelt. And how the liberal press castigated Reagan during his presidency; how anti-Reagan demonstrations with many thousands marched in New York – financed, as we later learned, by agents of the KGB!
I think that Bush’s role in history will receive a different treatment from that which now dominates in the world.
As for the attitudes toward this pair outside the United States (in England, Europe), one should not rely on the assessments of contemporaries, even the most famous and influential. On the day of France’s capitulation in the summer of 1940, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in an Indian newspaper an enthusiastic article about Hitler and even called him a genius; prominent English and French intellectuals, including Bernard Shaw, Andre Gide, Knut Hamsun, and many others, during the prewar years castigated Churchill and Roosevelt and sang the praises of Hitler. In Europe and in the world there were many admirers of Nazism. But history eventually puts everything in its right place.
Those who played the lead roles on the proscenium of world politics in the previous epoch were people who, philosophically, were historically educated and historically thinking. And it is not a matter of formal education. The Nobel laureate Churchill graduated from a military school and, indeed, ranked toward the bottom of his class, and his famous History of the English-Speaking Peoples became a classic. While at Harvard, Roosevelt wrote a historical essay. And, however one may regard Hitler (and for me he was the very incarnation of evil in the world), the fact is that he read a great deal and constantly turned to historical parallels.
What about Stalin? You did not mention him.
Stalin? Stalin read and reread Robert Wipper’s History of Rome. He was a Marxist dogmatist, but to judge from his marginal comments on the books he read, he judged what was happening from a historical perspective. Along with enormous practical current activity, he was constantly immersed in an intensive intellectual life. The list of books that he read was tremendous; and he did not simply read, but wrote notes in the margins and made thousands of bookmarks. Among this mass of books are books on military history, philosophy, religion, literary classics, and of course Dostoyevsky (in particular, The Brothers Karamazov). In a single volume of this classic work he left more than forty bookmarks. Throughout his life he constantly read and collected books.
It would appear that you are a great admirer of Stalin.
An admirer?! Hardly. I already began to hate Stalin in my youth. As the son of “an enemy of the people”, I personally experienced all the “charms” of Stalinism. But it would be too primitive to portray him one-dimensionally, simply as a brutal tyrant. To be sure, he was one of the most brutal tyrants “of all times and peoples”. But he was a spiritually multifaceted, extremely complex personality. And, unquestionably he possessed an absolutely extraordinary intellect. In my opinion, the best researcher on the psychological, intellectual, and physical sides of Stalin is the historian-archivist Boris Ilizarov, who said that Stalin’s “hypertrophic intellect devoured his human soul”. Intellects of such a caliber, like Stalin and his colleagues in the anti-Hitler coalition, are not to be found among today’s world leaders. But that perhaps is our good fortune – namely, that they are such ordinary, common people who often have risen by sheer chance to the top. And, thank God, we know what to expect from them.
Many people think that the stubborn imposition of democracy in various countries is a smokescreen for Washington’s imperial policy, which seeks to extend American influence in the world for the sake of American corporations. Is it perhaps in this sense that America is interested in disseminating “orange revolutions”? Is it the case that Bush is not the idealist you portray, but (to put it mildly) simply a cunning practical politician?
In fact, it is more complicated and not so simple. The real motivation of American neoconservative politicians, including Bush and Cheney, who with missionary zeal preach the superiority of the Western democratic model (regardless of the ethnic and cultural peculiarities of this or that country), entails a sincere belief in the importance of their historical mission to export democracy. At the same time, that missionary zeal is combined with a rational political calculation and the interests of national security. As for American business, in an epoch of globalization and the dominance of gigantic transnational corporations, the role of the state in advancing their interests is no longer so great. Corporations themselves have their own opportunities and their own methods for economic expansion. Today the main foreign policy role of our state is threefold: provide national security (which for American includes the resolution of energy problems in all its diverse forms), defend the country against terrorism, and avert a nuclear catastrophe on the planet.
As to your question about Bush specifically, whether he is an idealist or pragmatist, I would say that he is both. As an American president, Bush in this respect is in no way original. This combination of pragmatism and idealism is to be found among many of his predecessors. Let’s take, again, John Quincy Adams. His speech on Independence Day in 1820 is a hymn of praise for America’s exceptionalism, a declaration about the providential destiny of the United States to take into the world the universal values of the Declaration of Independence (which are based on the Jeffersonian thesis that “all men are created equal”). At the same time, as shown above, Adams was a hardheaded political pragmatist with respect to everything that concerned the country’s foreign interests. To what category of politicians should one ascribe Roosevelt, who in many instances showed himself a pure idealist, and who, speaking in Boston during the pre-election campaign in 1940, assured the electorate that America would not become embroiled in foreign wars, “I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again. Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars!” Yet he said that at the very time that he was convinced of the inevitability and absolute justification of American participation in the war in Europe, and as the first step decided to give England fifty military vessels. Was Ronald Reagan a realist when he called the Soviet Union the “evil empire” and urged Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, or was he an idealist when he improved relations with China and armed the Islamic jihadists in Afghanistan? Lincoln, Roosevelt, Wilson, and other American presidents showed themselves to be both idealists and quite sober-minded (sometimes even cynical) pragmatists. Such is the nature of American foreign policy – a policy of “double standards” and compromises, when, in critical situations, fundamental principles have to be put on hold for the sake of national interests.
In general, the idea of morality in politics is far from identical with the conception of morality in private life. Charles de Gaulle observed that international relations are a harsh sphere devoid of sentimentality. To paraphrase Pushkin’s Mozart: “Morality and politics are two incompatible things.” There is reason to accuse America of smugness, inconsistency, and arrogant moralizing. Nevertheless, in terms of its absolute manifestation, this is a nation of idealists, the nation of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan – idealists at heart, but pragmatists in real politics. Such is the strange synthesis. And the forty-third president, Bush, when calling for democracy and simultaneously maintaining friendly relations with the Saudi monarch, fits in completely.
I think we have become too concerned with America, and the interview is becoming somewhat asymmetric. Let’s return to Kazakhstan. Optimistic assessments of our reality are now prevailing. However, is now the time to rest on our laurels? What, in your view, are the key conditions for ensuring stable economic growth and for improving the people’s standard of living?
Your political economic elite in Kazakhstan has already advanced beyond that age when it needed the advice of foreign specialists. At times, it seems to me, they tended to take that advice too trustfully, sometimes in a way bordering on servility. It’s time to stop praying for a foreign guru. Sometimes these are not even experts but outright frauds. American economists cannot make sense of the special economic realities here, but are eager to proceed with the treatment of your ills. Alan Greenspan himself admitted that he does not understand the dynamics that underlie a number of the most important indicators of our economy. The authoritative economic analyst Robert Samuelson declared in June 2005 that American economists are unable to explain the macroeconomic trends in our economy.
In any case, Kazakhstan now has an opportunity to accelerate modernization and to join the club of developed countries. The choice is clear: either to remain in the role of a supplier of natural resources and continue living off the income generated by these exports (or, as you said, “rest on our laurels”), or accept the challenges of the postindustrial world in which we live. This challenge determines the need to reform political and legal institutions so that they correspond to the institutions of a contemporary democratic society. The enormous income from natural resources, of course, makes it possible to ameliorate the living conditions of the populace and to defer political liberalization to some remote future. Such, in particular, is the practice of the Saudi rulers. But you are not Saudis; at the time Kazakhstan became independent, 90 percent of the labor force had a secondary or higher education!
The key problem here is geopolitical and geocultural self-determination. Let’s leave aside ruminations about the relative advantages of this or that social system. Well, in the contemporary world there is no more effective system than the Western democracy. And the transition to that system does not signify the repudiation of one’s own ethnic and cultural peculiarities and traditions, as has been shown in the experience of Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and India.
It is extremely important for Kazakhstan to define its position with respect to Russia. In many respects, Kazakhstan has moved ahead of Russia, and it is time to establish your independence from Moscow. To be sure, that is difficult: the umbilical cord has still not been severed. But Russia is in no position to create a nation-state, whereas that task, in principle, has already been resolved in Kazakhstan. Russia has no national community; it has neither an ideology nor a national idea. The authorities manipulate people through political subterfuge. That is not politics, but a surrogate. Moscow had no other means left to defend its version of the Monroe Doctrine except to engage in energy blackmail. But that is no threat to Kazakhstan. In fact, Moscow has no real political or economic instruments to exert an influence on you. It is simply a matter of political will in your leadership. In your relations with Russia, it is useful to recall the Ukrainian proverb: “If they talk a lot about friendship, obviously it’s time to hide the suet better; if they talk about brotherhood, you need to check to see if your purse is still there.”
Well, how would you yourself formulate the key question for our future?
It is hardly possible to suggest anything that is not already obvious to your experts. The problem is not the lack of good ideas; they abound. The key thing is to implement them. Nor do I want to touch on the issue of macro- and microeconomic policy; that has already been treated extensively in our project and in many other publications, including your journal.
Without any pretense at offering some great revelation, I would like to focus on one, most fundamental question. A United Nations report on the situation in Arab countries in 2002 cited the statement of an Arab philosopher from the seventh century, Ali bin abi Talib: “No wealth can profit you more than the mind”, which I would rephrase thus, “No wealth can bring you greater advantage than your intellect.” In my opinion, a key condition for joining the ranks of post-industrialized countries (and, to repeat, Kazakhstan has reached a level where such a possibility exists) is a sharp increase in human capital. Vladimir May clearly formulated the main condition for such a breakthrough when he suggested that the first measure of the adaptability of a socioeconomic system is its “capacity to react, quickly and adequately, to the challenges of the time”. Adaptability looms as more important than the concentration of resources; it is much more important than formal indicators of the level of economic development as measured by the GDP per capita. To the maximum degree possible it is essential to unfetter people’s initiative, both political and economic. “Freedom of creation, freedom of information flows, freedom to include individuals in these flows – all these are the most important preconditions for a breakthrough. In other words, it is necessary to create the political and economic conditions favorable for the development of a country’s intellect.”
For that it is essential to invest heavily in education, science, and public health. How one realizes this strategy (without placing at risk the macroeconomic stability already achieved and without suspending efforts to restructure the economy) is of course the most serious challenge for your economic strategists. How they realize this will show the degree to which they have mastered the art of economic policymaking.