Listen to the entire interview with the historian Kolenovská in Context:
The alternative paths that Russia could have followed in the past three decades began to be debated in connection with the death of Mikhail Gorbachev. Vladimir Putin did not go to his funeral on Saturday, but he bowed at his coffin and soberly assessed the last leader of the Soviet Union as “a statesman who had a huge influence on the course of world history”.
“It was interesting to watch how a former member of the KGB crosses himself over the coffin of the former leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,” says Daniela Kolenovská. According to her, the Russian president went through a religious catharsis during his more than twenty years in power, and his thinking is largely influenced by his relationship with the Orthodox Church.
Of course, the sources of his ideological inspiration include Stalin as a brutal modernizer who forcibly elevated the Soviet Union among the great powers. And also the philosophy of Eurasianism based on the idea that the military regime once practiced by Genghis Khan is best suited for the administration of immense Russia.
According to Kolenovská, one can find quite a few similarities between the geopolitical orientation of today’s Russia and the coexistence of medieval Moscow princes with the Golden Horde. “They were able to brutally suppress power rivals and, above all, defeat Veliky Novgorod, a city republic representing a completely different tradition from Moscow, which was servile to the Golden Horde and did not seek cooperation in the European west,” says Kolenovská.
According to her, looking at the Middle Ages offers many more parallels than the Soviet era. “The servitude and readiness to cooperate with China at all costs, to sell the national economy to the Chinese in order to preserve the regime, that is certainly an interesting aspect of Russian history that can offer us a certain explanation,” says the historian working at the Institute of International Studies of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Charles University.
Today, Moscow accuses everyone of fascism and Nazism, but Russia is also often compared to Hitler’s Germany because of its aggression against Ukraine. According to Kolenovská, such a dictionary is dangerous and, moreover, the comparison falters – Putin’s regime is so flexible and pragmatic in its thinking that it is impossible to speak of a comprehensive state ideology.
He also sees as highly unlikely the possibility that Russia will undergo some form of deputization in the future – similar to how denazification took place in Germany after the Second World War. However, the occupied country was ordered by the victorious powers, while the vision of the total defeat of Russia is not at all in play yet. In addition, the Russians already proved in the times of Peter the Great that they are very resistant to external influences.
According to Kolenovská, change can only come from within and not earlier than in ten years, when there will be a natural change at the head of the state. “The intellectual elite, which in many cases had to leave Russia, is now playing to be able to offer some new idea to society,” the historian thinks.