Last month Illarionov, having resigned from his duties, testified before Congress on the state of Russia, describing how a country that most, including its citizens, thought was transitioning from tyranny to democracy, had made the transition to becoming a tyranny again.
I have excerpted a few key points in his testimony that are relevant not only to Russia, but to the future of the United States as a democratic country. Because what has happened in Russia, could happen here too. It might have happened already.
Today’s Russia is not a democratic country. The international human rights organization Freedom House assigns "Not Free" status to Russia since 2004 for each of the last 5 years. According to the classification of the political regimes, the current one in Russia should be considered as hard authoritarianism. The central place in the Russian political system is occupied by the Corporation of the secret police.
The personnel of Federal Security Service — both in active service as well as retired one — form a special type of unity (non-necessarily institutionalized) that can be called brotherhood, order, or corporation. The Corporation of the secret police operatives (CSP) includes first of all acting and former officers of the FSB (former KGB).
CSP and the Russian society
Members of the CSP are specially trained, strongly motivated and mentally oriented to use force against other people and in this regard differ substantially from civilians. The important distinction of enforcement in today’s Russia from enforcement in rule-based nations is that in the former case it doesn’t necessarily imply enforcement of Law. It means solely enforcement of Power and Force regardless of Law, quite often against Law. Members of the Corporation are trained and inspired with the superiority complex over the rest of the population. Members of the Corporation exude a sense of being the bosses that superior to other people who are not members of the CSP. They are equipped with membership perks, including two most tangible instruments conferring real power over the rest of population in today’s Russia — the FSB IDs and the right to carry and use weapons.
Capture of State Power by the CSP
Since ascension of Vladimir Putin to power the members of the CSP have infiltrated all branches of power in Russia. According to the Olga Kryshtanovskaya’s study up to 77% of the 1016 top government positions have been taken by people with security background (26% with openly stated affiliation to different enforcement agencies and other 51% with hidden affiliation). Main bodies of the Russian state (Presidential Administration, Government apparatus, Tax agency, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defense, Parliament, Court system) as well as main business groups and most important mass-media outlets have been captured by the CSP. Since the members of the CSP have taken key positions in the most important institutions of the state, business groups, media channels, almost all valuable resources available in the society (political, executive, legal, judicial, enforcement, military, economic, financial, media) have been concentrated and in many cases monopolized in the hands of the CSP.
Independent mass media in Russia virtually does not exist. The TV channels, radio, printed media are heavily censored with government propaganda
Since 1999 there is no free, open, competitive parliamentary or presidential election in Russia. The last two elections — the parliamentary one in December 2007 and presidential one in March 2008 — have been conducted as special operations and been heavily rigged with at least 20 mln ballots in each case stuffed in favor of the regime candidates. None of the opposition political parties or opposition politicians has been allowed either to participate in the elections, or even to be registered at the Ministry of Justice.
The key to Russia's transition from democracy under Yeltsin to tyranny under Putin was to exploit a crisis, and use a dedicated corps to take control of branch after branch of government at all levels of authority, proceeding then to eliminate independent media outlets and political opposition.
The crisis was twofold, first Russia's economic disaster that was blamed on an excessively deregulated free market and the heads of various corporations. Secondly the disastrous war against Islamic terrorists in Chechnya, and an attempt to intervene in Yugoslavia to prevent the rise of a Muslim Albanian state in Kosovo.
An economic crisis blamed on deregulation and two wars against Muslim terrorists. Sound familiar yet?
Widely blamed for economic corruption and military failures, Yeltsin resigned turning over the government to Ex-KGB man Putin. Putin's solution to Russia's economic problems was nationalization.
For this Putin was hailed as a reformer fighting for the people, who had brought stability to Russia. Using the seized loot of nationalized corporations, he created a network composed of KGB and ex-KGB personnel who now control most of Russia's political and business infrastructure. Much of Russia's wealth was siphoned away as bribes to them.
The press was not openly nationalized, but it was ruthlessly winnowed. The media ceaselessly chant praise of Putin. Opposition outlets have been taken over or shut down. Journalists who dissent are beaten and eventually killed, if they don't get the message. The media speaks in one voice.
Putin's advisors created Nashi "Ours", officially the "Youth Democratic Anti-Fascist Movement", a youth corps personally loyal to Putin and his agenda. With the passage of HR 1388, the (GIVE) Act, or as one subtitle is labeled with no trace of irony, (Learn and Serve America) ,only the comma before America is missing-- it's worth taking a look at how the Russian version works.
It's official. To be patriotic in Russia is to be a fan of Putin, specifically a Putin Youth.
“The idea was to create an ideology based on a total devotion to the president and his course,” says a Kremlin adviser, Sergei Markov.
While their methods are still mostly street theater, it’s probably only a matter of time before they graduate to more serious violence. Indeed, their recruiting boot camps feature paramilitary training to fight against fascists
Another deeply disturbing government initiative is labeling critics “extremists” and criminals, another tactic of all serious totalitarian states. When you can criminalize criticism of the government, there is nothing you can’t get away with, and all remaining freedoms are hanging by a thread.
Now officially Nashi looks almost benevolent, a service corps of youth volunteers that aids the sick and disabled, provides information, aids the birth rate and meets with political leaders. In return its "volunteers" receive college educations followed by careers in politics and the Russian bureaucracy. It looks a lot like the vision for a youth service corps embedded in HR 1388.
Of course the real purpose of Nashi is a national corps of volunteers combating "fascism". Fascists being anyone who criticizes Putin. Their guiding principle is an obsessive devotion to Putin. Their ultimate purpose is to form the next government party, one composed of men and women completely obedient to Putin, membership in which is compulsory for government service.
It is fascinating to see this reverse engineered version of the Communist and Nazi parties. It's also horrifying because the ingredients are in place for the same process to be applied to the United States.
Obama rose to power to power based on an economic crisis and two wars. His response to the crisis is to push nationalization and centralization, backed by a cult of personality. His advisors are determined to leverage this crisis to transform him into a savior, to be given credit for ending an economic depression, followed by giving him virtually unlimited power.
Obama already has widespread media worship, but his paranoid control over the press makes it clear that he isn't satisfied with anything but total power. Hence the early campaign against Rush Limbaugh and then CNBC figures who criticized him. Like Putin, you can't support Obama 75 percent of the time. You must support him 100 percent of the time, or keep your mouth shut.
If Obama's plans come to pass, the casualties will be independent businesses which will be given the choice between serving as Obama supporters, their CEO's serving a role similar to that of Putin's pet oligarchs, and state governments, which will become unable to meet their debts and expenses, and will be taken over by Federally appointed caretakers that will become Governors in all but name.
The youth corps would serve as the final element. HR 1388 calls for integrating them into every academic and learning environment, including private schools. It calls for treating "service based learning" as a fundamental part of every curriculum, from cradle to university. It lays out specific guidelines and the bare bones of a far larger plan with campuses and superintendents, with a 6 billion dollar price tag, over Obama's first term.
Throughout the 20th century, power has increasingly moved out of the hands of the American people and into the hands of local and national bureaucracies. Tax rates have climbed in order to fund the constant expansion of government, which in turn has placed more and more government demands on the average person.
The problem is not the left's phantom military-industrial complex, but the very real balance beam between corporations and government, that are likely to end the same way they did in Europe or Russia. With the bureaucracy co-opting corporations into government rule.
Law enforcement has gained more authority over a general public that now reflexively defers to their power, and feels inept and unable to engage in any form of self-defense. Answering to authority, a reflex once described as foreign to Americans by Lafayette, is now a commonplace part of daily life.
Independent thought has become increasingly absent, people get their opinions from the corporate media and from the wider celebrity oriented discourse, that helped push Obama to the top. People have stopped listening and they have stopped thinking. Many have also stopped believing. Values have become degraded, religion has become entertainment with celebrity preachers and rabbis mixing pop culture populism with feel good advice. The difference between right and wrong, propriety and impropriety, selflessness and selfishness is no longer apparent to most people.
All the conditions are there for implementing authoritarian rule. And all the conditions are also there for the people to wake and restore America as a government of the people and by the people, that governs the people least. Which way the pendulum will swing, may determine where a decade from now former top American political figures are giving testimony somewhere abroad about how America ceased to be a free nation.