Respected Russian Political Scientist, Author and Journalist Dmitry Yefimovich Furman (Дми́трий Ефи́мович Фу́рман) died on 22 July. Born in Moscow in 1941, Dr. Furman was Director of the Institute of Europe at the Russian Academy of Sciences.
One might not always see eye to eye on every issue, but Dmitry Furman’s dedication to his homeland, his professionalism, and his insight commanded respect from every corner. Today we offer our respects and pray that his memory will be eternal.
Dmitry earned his PhD from Moscow State University in 1965 and over the years authored works on Ukraine, Belarus, Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and the Baltics. Considered an expert on the state of religion in both pre and post Soviet history he produced works on religion in post-Soviet Russia as well as a collection of his political journalism titled Our Last Ten Years which was published in 2001.
From an interview in the Prague Watchdog:
The book Chechnya and Russia: Societies and States, which you edited and which appeared right at the beginning of the second Chechen war, was imbued with anti-war sentiment. Does that mean that when you were putting the book together you had absolutely no idea of how events were going to develop, the scenario they were going to follow? And could the situation really have turned out any differently?
Dmitry Furman: When we were putting the book together (and the situation was the breathing-space between the wars) my feeling was that even though a second war was approaching and was practically unavoidable, there was none the less some chance of stopping it. And so we tried to get the book out before the war started, and to do this in such a way that the book would become a factor, no matter how tiny, that might change the situation.
People always think that what has happened was bound to happen. Human consciousness is so constituted that we find it very difficult to find alternatives in the past. And yet I think there were some meagre chances that events could have taken a different turn. It is very hard now to say what those options might have been, when the opportunity was missed, but they certainly existed, even though by now they are very hard to see with the naked eye.
But what did in fact happen – the second war and its result – was the most likely scenario and the most natural one.
Prague Watchdog: And what were the reasons for that? Who was to blame? How would you yourself define the set of causes?
Dmitry Fruman: The main one is undoubtedly that Russia has followed the path of centralization and the construction of an authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regime, in which any compromise with independent territories has been impossible. As soon as the vector of political change had developed in this way, it was impossible to leave Chechnya alone.
In addition, it must be borne in mind that Russia’s defeat in the first war was a terrible humiliation for the whole of Russian society. And among the elite, and possibly in the rest of society, too, a spontaneous consensus formed – the humiliation had to be wiped away, it had to be compensated for.
Chechnya’s ungovernable character, the provocative role played by Basayev in his Dagestan campaign – these are also causes, but they are secondary ones. To a very large extent we ourselves have contributed to the situation becoming uncontrollable – in theory it could have been more orderly. The fantastical, hysteria-charged plans that emerged from Chechen leaders of the Basayev variety were also a result of our rapid and very tangible evolution into authoritarianism and war.
Dmitry Furman on Putin handing over power to someone else in 2008, from Russia in Global Affairs. № 2, April – June 2008:
Putin’s decision marks a step toward the modernization of Russian mentality that was fashioned by centuries of tsarist autocracy, which suggested that “once a Tsar, always a Tsar.” Second, it implies divesting supreme power of the sacral and personified properties. Third, it sets a precedent whereby a ruler submits himself to “a piece of paper” – the Constitution.
Dmitry Furman on President Medvedev from Russia in Global Affairs. № 2, April – June 2009:
There is no doubt that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev wants Russia to become a free country ruled by law. One would be a naive cynic – and cynics are often naive – to think that a person could say “Freedom is better than not being free,” while actually thinking “Isn’t it clever of me to deceive these fools?”
However, let us imagine that the president is indeed full of resolve to put the country on the track towards greater freedom. This is easy to imagine; all the more so because his pro-democratic, legitimacy-related aspirations may stand in accordance with his other natural desires, such as independent actions, real rather than formal personal power, respect and popularity. Many people now dream of a thaw after “Putin’s freeze.”
This is an ideal, liberal scenario, so let us analyze it in more detail. The whole story begins with certain phrases and symbolic gestures that place Medvedev, the president, some distance away from his predecessor Vladimir Putin, who left Russia somewhat frost-bitten before he became prime minister. Polls show a flagging trust in the prime minister (which has happened as well). Medvedev makes a number of statements, saying that the scale of this crisis stems in some measure from previous mistakes, uttering phrases like “the mistakes we made earlier.” Yet everyone understands who is actually meant by “we.” The president’s rating begins to climb above that of the prime minister, who suddenly turns up “in charge of crisis management” (this has not happened yet, although it is quite likely).
This is not all that important in itself, but it has a symbolic significance. Everyone is waiting for the climax of the story. As a man of good morals, the president understands he owes much to the prime minister, who was his predecessor, but he also understands the government’s flaws, his personal responsibility to the people and the interests of the state, which prevail over his personal feelings. Time passes and Putin steps down as prime minister with honors (what he will do next is a big headache for Russia, but we can think up something). And then it turns out that the people really do not care, the top bureaucracy has been longing to see this, and the liberals are walking on air. The West is also satisfied and it hopes that the thaw will bring about a detente.
Dmitry Furman on modern day Russian democracy from The Post-Soviet Penumbra:
…countries in which power has never been transferred to the opposition, or indeed to anyone not nominated by the authorities themselves. There are four of these: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, ruled today by Nursultan Nazarbaev and Islam Karimov, both former First Secretaries of the cp Central Committee of their respective republics; Turkmenistan, ruled by Saparmurat Niyazov, also a member of the Soviet nomenklatura, until his death in 2006, when the presidency was handed to one of his comrades-in-arms; and Russia, where power has twice been transferred—but to men designated by their predecessors. These are what I have termed ‘imitation democracies’, characterized by a huge disparity between formal constitutional principles and the reality of authoritarian rule.
Dmitry Furman on Ukaine from The Post-Soviet Penumbra:
Ukraine experienced one democratic rotation of power, in 1994, from its first post-Soviet president Leonid Kravchuk to the second, Leonid Kuchma; the latter then made an unsuccessful attempt to establish an ‘imitation democratic’ regime, leading in turn to the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004. At present, a democratic system is stabilizing in Ukraine, gradually and with great difficulty. Belarus, on the other hand, currently has a harsh authoritarian regime. But it has not been on this path from the beginning: President Lukashenko was democratically elected in 1994 as a representative of the opposition.
Dmitry Furman on the relationship of Religious faith to Democracy from The Post-Soviet Penumbra:
In my view, the deepest factor is the religious-cultural one. It is no coincidence that the first group consists of countries with a Western religious-cultural tradition—mostly Lutheran and Catholic, with the idiosyncratic addition of Orthodox Moldova. The countries in the second, authoritarian group are Muslim, with the exception of Russia. The rapid construction of democracy after 1991 in the Baltic states is undoubtedly connected to their Western religious-cultural affiliation—there was no comparably rapid or successful transition to democracy in any of the Orthodox, or mainly Orthodox, countries (Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Moldova, Georgia).
The influence of Orthodoxy on political systems is a much larger question, worthy of separate discussion; but it is evident that Orthodoxy had a different impact from Lutheranism and Catholicism, and a less favourable one for post-Soviet democratization. Similarly, the reasons why democratic processes have encountered most obstacles in the Islamic world are complex, and the social influence of Islam is the subject of intense debate; but the same obvious facts apply in the post-Soviet space as in the rest of the world.
Of course, religious-cultural affiliations are in part a product of geography. The proximity of the Baltic states to Western Europe was important in determining their inclusion in the West. But it was not geography per se that led to this; rather, it was historical processes—the conquest of Estonia and Latvia in the 13th century by Germanic knights, the union of Lithuania with Poland in the 16th.
Dmitry Furman on Nagorno Karabakh:
The prospects of the Nagorno Karabakh conflict settlement based on recent negotiation are vague and irrelevant. There are examples of successful talks between representatives of the states the population of which experienced a very negative attitude towards each other, for example the agreements concluded by Sadat and Begin in Camp David. Nevertheless I think
that nothing can be expected from the Armenian-Azeri talks in the
Dmitry Furman from Russian Peace and Democracy:
…first of all, in the past, the contact with foreigners was the most important status symbol in Russia. Anybody – the peace movement – were status symbol. And people wanted to belong to Pugwash or other peace movement only to get the possibility to come out. Now it is not important. Now we can take a tourist trip anywhere. Now we are much more rich than before, so there is no great interest in this political contact, or these conferences. Then the peace movement and so on, all these kind of movements were in the Soviet period a very important part of official ideology — the struggle for peace against imperialistic aggressors and so on. So all these contacts were important for the officials as well. Our rulers. Now it is not important for them as well. Naturally.
I think that spontaneous movements of this kind may appear in 20 or 30 years but not now. There is no psychological or intellectual soil for these movements. Movements of the soviet period were not real spontaneous movements. Now we are not in the period of such movements. Not now.
Dmitry Furman on Chenhnya from Russian Peace and Democracy:
As far as separatism goes, I wrote a book about separatism a few years ago and I take a very strong position that almost always separatist movements are destructive. I want democracy, not separatism. I think that the export and import of democracy is more or less impossible. The society must be prepared by its internal development for its democracy. And all premature attempts to impose democracy can lead only to backlashes and to reactions. Of course it is possible to help create democracy. It is a very, very complicated task. And I think that the Western powers in Russia played a not very good role for creating democracy.
I believe in spreading democracy through nonviolence and support – not imposing democracy. Never something like what happened in Iraq. But always supporting and assisting grassroots groups in countries that need help. I believe in that. And I believe in working with people from Burma and Tibet, for example, who have that problem.
Dmitry Furman on the character of the Russian people and the relation to self-government from Russia in Global Affairs. № 2, April – June 2006:
Russian society has nominally broken with its Soviet past and adopted democratic values. There is no serious and real ideological alternative to democracy, and it is doubtful there ever will be. However, this society is unable to live in accordance with democratic values. It is recreating a system of “uncontested power” that is increasingly similar to the Soviet one but void of any ideological foundation.
The post-Soviet Russian system is based on a profound contradiction between the formal and informal social arrangement – a contradiction which society has to hide from the world and itself (seemingly democratic and contested elections, the outcomes of which are generally known in advance; seemingly independent courts that pass judgments that serve the interests of the authorities, etc.).
Final thoughts on Dmitry from Alexei Pankin writing for The Moscow Times
When I visited my friend, political scientist Dmitry Furman, on Aug. 18, 1991, our intense discussion of the political situation in the country lasted so long that I ended up staying the night at his place. The next morning, Furman woke me up, exclaiming: “There’s been a coup! Gorbachev is out!”
I had barely awoken when he was already predicting how events would unfold. “It doesn’t matter who comes out on top — the people who organized the putsch against Gorbachev or Boris Yeltsin” he said. “The winner will destroy the opposition and cling to power as long as possible on the pretext of overcoming the chaos or of defending democracy. “Neither side will have any use for Gorbachev because of his penchant for reaching compromises and consensus among conflicting interests. This means that true democracy has already lost the battle,” he said.
Furman’s words, uttered in the first minutes after learning that tanks had been stationed on Moscow streets, have proven prophetic.
On Friday, Dmitry Furman, the renowned thinker, political scientist and journalist, passed away. I first met and became friends with Furman at the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies. He was unusual among Soviet Americanologists. At that time, most people in the field either characterized the United States as the evil empire, or else they faithfully recounted whatever they read on the subject from U.S. books and magazines barely concealing their feelings of inferiority considering how far the Soviet Union lagged behind the United States.
Furman’s distinction was that he was an objective scholar. Although Furman was Russian, he was genuinely concerned with developments in Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. In his books, he finished only shortly before his death, he treated the subject as if these independent republics were still his country. His works will be relevant for many years to come. Although the situation in each former republic is changing rapidly, their political cultures were formed over the course of centuries. Studying that past will always provide a meaningful reference point for understanding the present.
We have lost a man worthy of being considered a classic and timeless scholar of international relations.
Read the Moscow Times article here.
This is a great loss for Russia.