By Paul Goble
Since Putin emerged at the top of the political heap in Russia, commentators have sought to capture what he is about by comparing him to one or another leader of the past or of a foreign country. As his nationalism and aggressiveness have increased, ever more have compared him to fascist leaders.
One of the first to do so was Vitaly Portnikov, a Ukrainian analyst, who in November 1999 compared Putin to Spanish fascist leader Francisco Franco (https://zn.ua/politcs_archive/kaudilo.html).
Portnikov was extremely perceptive then at what kind of a regime Putin was likely to usher in: “This will be a state in which power will be based on the special services and the military elite. This state will have a close-knit elite combining the political and economic” and at least initially, many of his opponents will welcome his decisions.
“There will be no freedom of speech in this state,” he continued. “for the majority of the population, that won’t matter. Most will be certain that they are building a strong Russia and ready to end terrorism, corruption and the economic crisis. For them, perestroika-era democracy will be remembered as a time of complete disappointment.”
Portnikov has now revisited his comparison and posed the question whether now that Putin has launched a major war in Europe, he may be following in the steps not of Franco who did no such thing but rather in those of Hitler who did. But he argues the Franco analogy still holds and is worth recalling (graniru.org/opinion/portnikov/m.285819.html).
Unlike the leaders of radical fascism, Hitler and Mussolini, Portnikov argues, Putin like Franco is “not a revolutionary but a counter-revolutionary.” Franco at least fought for power but Putin had it handed to him by his predecessor. He is “a nobody” and “like any mediocrity is solely concerned with returning to the past and maintaining his own power.”
Both Putin and Franco, the Ukrainian analyst continues, “had only one political program, the program of restoration.” After Franco died, Spain had little choice but to restore the monarchy. Putin too has “nothing to offer Russia and the world but a return to the past,” to the USSR in the first instance but to anything but the present and future.
Like Franco, Putin isn’t capable of building anything new. While he is in office, “everyone is afraid of him and agrees that the past is very good … and that the future won’t happen … But as soon as he dies or loses power, Putinism will die with him because the past never defeats the future.” And people will more or less quickly forget him and his horrors.
Just as the Spanish have done with Franco.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .