WASHINGTON, D.C. — “The Manifesto of
Enlightened Conservatism,” published by the Oscar-winning Russian
filmmaker and actor Nikita
Mikhalkov on October 26, provoked quite a stir in Russia. It revived
the old debate between the Westernizers and Slavophiles on
Russia’s role in the world. The liberal Moscow Times found
it “disturbing.” But
outside of Russia, it has not received the attention it deserves, especially
in light of the differing political leanings of President Dmitry
Medvedev, a presumed Westernizer, and Prime Minister Vladimir
Putin, a Russian nationalist.
Mikhalkov’s quest for a stronger government, his appeal to the
Orthodox Church, and his pro-monarchist leaning differ markedly from
the values commonly espoused by conservatives in the U.S. Yet, on the
whole, his “enlightened conservatism” is more genuine than
the “regime change” screed of U.S. neocons who should be
Mikhalkov squarely sides with the Slavophiles, or rather, their modern “neo-Eurasian” offshoot
whose ideas are best articulated by Aleksandr
Dugin. Russia, says Mikhalkov,
is “neither Europe nor Asia. Nor is it a “mechanical combination” of
both. Rather it is “an autonomous cultural-historical continent,
organic national entity, geopolitical and sacral center of the world.” He
warns, “Unless Russia’s place in the world is properly
understood, the Orthodox Christian civilization, the Russian nation,
and the Russian State will perish.”
“Ours is a supra-national, imperial mentality, rooted in Russia’s
existence on a special Eurasian scale,” says Mikhalkov. However,
while claiming an affinity with the Byzantine and Anglo-Saxon empire
builders, he evinces no desire for an empire, much less for the ideological
expansion and global domination to which the U.S.S.R. had aspired.
Leave Russia alone, he seems to be saying. His Manifesto is certainly
less imperialist than the Project
for the New American Century (PNAC)
Clean Break, which the neoconservatives here have used to influence
U.S. foreign policy.
Mikhalkov bases his conservatism on a “wholesome enlightened
nationalism, multiethnic and multicultural,” which has nothing
to do with any aggressive chauvinism. His definition of the Russian
nation is liberal in that it includes all peoples, all ethnic cultures,
and all languages that comprise the Russian Federation.
He calls for the strengthening of the Russian state, but not at the
cost of suppressing the individual. “A person is not a means,
but a goal of social and state development.” He explains, “For
us a person is an organic unity of I, You, and We. We see it through
a lens of social relations in the light of Divine Providence.”
Speaking on behalf of an unnamed conservative movement, he presents
the Manifesto as a challenge for a national debate in which, he hopes, “the
state and civil society will reach a consensus, jointly formulate All-National
Mission, and work out a Program for Russia’s development in 21st
century.” He sees the movement as an incubator for future national
To become a truly modern nation, he argues, Russia must look for inspiration
in its own past. There he sees two preeminent traditions: a spiritual
one of “Holy Russ,” with the capitals in Kiev, Vladimir,
and early Moscow; and, since Peter the Great, the imperial tradition
of St. Petersburg. In Holy Russ, the power of the rulers was limited
by the Patriarch as well as by Christian way of life. In Great Russia,
a tsar’s authority eclipsed that of the Orthodox Church, even
though Holy Russ stayed alive in memory of its people.
After the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the U.S.S.R. morphed into
a sort of “Great Russia but without Holy Russ in it.” Communist
ideology suppressed all religion, subjecting all citizens to the dictates
of the Party. By late 1960s, Soviet people were exhausted with the
Bolshevik experiment, and Soviet value system began to disintegrate.
When perestroika came, “we had no idea that we participated
in events of global significance,” admits Mikhalkov. Soon, not
only the Soviet Union fell apart, but a “political and economic
division of the world” occurred that amounted to a geopolitical
revolution. “As a result, at the outset of the 21st century,
we find ourselves living neither in Holy Russ nor Great Russia, but
in the Russian Federation” whose borders are reduced to 75 percent
and population to 51 percent of those of the U.S.S.R. while 20 million
Russians reside outside Russian borders.
Worse still, economic reforms of the 1990s, undertaken in the guise
of Western aid, greatly reduced Russia’s technological, scientific,
and industrial bases. Mikhalkov promises to “restore what was
destroyed, return what was plundered, and recreate what was lost” during
the misbegotten neoliberal reforms. He affirms the necessity and value
of the market reforms of the centralized economy, but he maintains, “they
should not be exclusively focused on privatization of state property
for the sake of profit and increased consumption.” He calls for “an
organic combination of free-market and state planning.”
“The current social structure, founded on a volatile cocktail
of efforts to catch up with the West through liberal modernization
while tolerating arbitrariness of local bosses and ubiquitous corruption,
does not satisfy the majority of Russians,” says Mikhalkov. “Behind
the veneer of economic reforms and liberal initiatives there lurk old-fashioned,
even archaic social relations.” Modernization is needed but should
not become “a substitute for Westernization.”
Asking rhetorically “What needs to be done?” he answers
1. Establish and maintain law and order.
2. Work for cultural and national security.
3. Secure “economic well-being for all” (the quotation
marks allude to Soviet promise; never fulfilled, now it is even more
4. Restore pride and a sense of civic responsibilities.
5. Guarantee social justice for all citizens.
“Above all, we must start believing in our Russia again, strengthen
the spirit of our nation, and restore its positive image around the
world,” says Mikhalkov. This reminds me of another actor, another
country, another era: Ronald
Reagan, a conservative Republican, trying
in 1976 to lift the Americans from the mood of humiliation and defeatism
after the debacle in Vietnam.
Just how enlightened is Mikhalkov’s conservatism? He is well
aware of Russian conservative thinkers, including the Slavophiles of
the mid-19th century and such monarchists as Konstantin
Pobedonostsev and Konstantin
Leontyev. He also cites a dozen 20th-century thinkers
from the White Russian émigré diaspora. Among Russian
conservative statesmen he favors the reformer Peter
Conspicuous is the absence of the Nobel Prize-winning Russian novelist
Solzhenitsyn, an admirer of Stolypin and the first to call
for an evolutionary, nationalist, and essentially conservative way
of getting Russia out from the morass of Communism and returning it
back to the fold of humanity. As I described in my 1991 book, Russia
Beyond Communism: A Chronicle of National Rebirth, he first proposed
a gradual replacement of communist ideology with an enlightened Russian
nationalism in his Letter to Soviet Leaders in 1973. In 1990, at the
height of perestroika, in an essay Rebuilding
Gorbachev’s vain efforts to save communism
with a program that emphasized the need to save Russian people.
In his 1998 essay Russia in Collapse, Solzhenitsyn scorned Boris
reforms much the same way as Mikhalkov does now. Solzhenitsyn’s
omission is regrettable because his writings are well known in the
West and are authoritative enough to buttress his argument. Solzhenitsyn
influenced many Western intellectuals to turn them away from communism
and toward conservatism.
Mikhalkov makes no effort to reach out to conservative thinkers outside
of Russia, such as Edmund
Burke and Joseph
de Maistre. Burke is especially
relevant because his liberal conservatism goes against the grain of
the so-called neoconservatives who think that the U.S. has the mission
to “spread democracy” around the globe. Not so fast, says
Burke. Each country should strive to find a form of government that
best suits its tradition and character, foreshadowing the insistence
of the Slavophiles on Russia’s own unique way. De Maistre could
have provided more support to Mikhalkov’s pro-monarchist leanings.
Besides, he wrote his pro-monarchist and pro-Church treatises while
serving as an ambassador of the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia to Russia,
which he regarded as the major bulwark against the spread of the virus
of the French Revolution.
Mikhalkov’s Manifesto signifies a perfect 180-degree turn from
Karl Marx’s, The Communist Manifesto, which tempted Russia with
Westernization but instead mislead her on the 73-year long historical
detour of global revolutionary violence so abhorrent to conservative
thinking. Mikhalkov’s call for law and order, civil peace, mixed
economy, social justice, good will to other nations, and pride in one’s
own sounds like common sense.
A reputed monarchist, Mikhalkov does not directly call for a restoration
of monarchy. However, his keeps the door open for whoever can best
project a stronger central authority, through a referendum and constitutional
change. In his film, The Barber of Siberia, he acted as his favorite
Tsar Alexander III. One would not be surprised if he opted for the
restoration of monarchy.
Does the Manifesto signal a beginning of the politics of personalities
in Russia? Mikhalkov’s family certainly embodies the continuity
of the Russian history. His father, Sergey
Mikhalkov, was a poet whose
verse was familiar to millions of Soviet people of several generations.
The current national anthem is based on his words, originally approved
by Stalin, but later adapted for post-communist era. Sergey’s
noble origin should have condemned him to infamy, death, or exile.
Yet he managed to thrive under Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov,
Chernenko, Gorbachev, Yeltsyn, Putin, and Medvedev.
The Manifesto was already warmly welcomed for discussion by the ruling
United Russia party. Vladimir
Zhirinovsky said it borrowed most of
what his Liberal-Democratic party has been saying for years. Mikhalkov
has appeal to a wide swath of Russian electorate; he has many detractors
as well. Regardless of whether he decides to make a political bid,
he is a factor to be reckoned with.
Russian-American Samizdat archives
Russian-American Samizdat column is copyright © 2010
by W. George Krasnow and the Fitzgerald
All rights reserved.
W. George Krasnow (also published as Vladislav Krasnov), Ph.D., directs
the Washington-based Russia
and America Goodwill Associates,
a non-profit organization of Americans which promotes friendship with
See his biographical sketch and additional
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