23:40 GMT +325 September 2017
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    The lessons of February

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    MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Shusharin) - It has been 90 years since Russia's February revolution, when the last czar abdicated and a provisional government took over. This is an important anniversary, but it is hardly ever celebrated.

    This is strange, considering that Russia's recent history began on that day. A date, of course, is just a number, but this particular event has had enormous repercussions.

    In Russia, the anniversary is met neither with complete silence nor heated debates, which are not in vogue nowadays. Groups with different political views on the country's past and present do not get together to discuss them. This is probably the most striking feature of Russia's social environment. On the one hand, this is not such a bad thing - nobody is pressing anything on anybody. But on the other, this lack of debate is a sign of a fragmented society.

    Under the circumstances, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a Russian daily, has found the best way out by publishing Alexander Solzhenitsyn's article of 25 years ago. This is a paradox - could anyone imagine in the Brezhnev-Andropov times that the nation's number one newspaper would carry an article by this Noble Prize winner? This decision, however, makes sense because his literary piece is free of any ideology.

    The author left no one unscathed by criticism. He lashed out at the autocracy, the liberals, and those who believed that both the February and the October revolutions were organized from without.

    Did foreign forces conspire to overthrow the czar in February and bring the Bolsheviks to power in October? Who were the plotters? Until recently, Russians thought they knew the answer to this question, but now the blame is being shifted onto the United States, specifically, American bankers.

    For some in Russia, it is common knowledge that the country is devoid of events or, for that matter, history. It is simply a victim of endless atrocities. Neither Russia nor its people have ever been good for anything. And Russia is not the only victim. All these color revolutions around it are the exclusive result of enemy intrigues. These foes are doing whatever they want on former-Soviet territory, while poor Russia just stands there, a lonely fortress. But in February of 1917 it gave in.

    That is one extreme. The other is full of liberal nostalgia for the heroes who made the February revolution. In his article Solzhenitsyn criticized them with the same fervor as he did Nicholas II. The parallels are obvious. Russian liberals have never craved power, either in the 1990s or now. Today, they are merely trying to constitute a token opposition, with a certain share of seats in the Duma (they are not averse to bargaining) to give them a good image and allow them to lobby successfully for their own interests. The people who found themselves in power in February of 1917 did not crave it, either. They simply wanted to show off. They had no reason to govern because there was nothing to take; their predecessors, the czarist officials, had stolen everything they could.

    There are nuances, of course, but by and large everyone falls into one of these two categories. The truth is by no means in the middle. It lies in a different dimension.

    Unlike Solzhenitsyn in the early 1980s, nobody nowadays wants to discuss February, not only in the Russian but even in the European context. Russians believe that talk of a conspiracy against them is not worth discussing. Solzhenitsyn is the only author to describe the February events as part of a global crisis, which he called "the fading of national identity."

    This is what he wrote about World War I: "This entire war was a tragic mistake for the whole of Europe, and for Russia it was also difficult to recover from." In his words, Russia "was plunged into the war, unaware of the novelty of this century and its own deteriorating condition."

    But other participants in this imperialist carnage were also unaware of this "novelty" and their own condition. World War I was caused by an identity crisis in the whole of Europe, involving each of its nations, which produced a cultural collapse. From the ashes rose two totalitarian models, Russian and German, not to mention other monstrous governmental and social arrangements in some European countries. As always happens, the crisis of civilization was accompanied by unparalleled cultural achievements in all countries, including the totalitarian regimes, but they do not justify the losses sustained by humankind in the past century.

    Unlike Russia, other victors emerging from the war did not suffer such disastrous consequences, owing to their different domestic political systems. War tribunals saved the situation in the West, although they are still an almost taboo subject in France. But successful democratic nations preserved their identities. Russia did not lose its because it had none.

    The February revolution is a landmark in Russian and European history not because it signaled the end of a dynasty which had lasted for three centuries. February saw the failure of Russia's bid to assert itself in Europe by military force, just as the Crimean War in the mid-19th century exposed the futility of attempts to confront Europe. In turn, World War I made it clear that even participation in a European bloc was an unaffordable luxury for a country which had not put its domestic affairs in order.

    As a result, it is not clear whether Russia was a winner or loser in that war. It was an ally of the victors that somehow dropped out. While it certainly did not win, it did not completely lose, either.

    Solzhenitsyn made one more important point, which everyone has now conveniently forgotten. The degradation was total. Both the opposition and the autocracy approached February of 1917 in a deplorable condition. This does not include the Bolsheviks - that is a different anniversary.

    In spite of all this, the February revolution had two indisputable achievements to its credit: the restoration of the Patriarchate and Solzhenitsyn's prose.

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