|Walter Laqueur, photo by Joanna Helander|
Walter Laqueur is the author of the new book Putinism: Russia and its Future with the West. His many other books include A History of Zionism and The Last Days of Europe. He served as director of the Institute of Contemporary History in London and chairman of the International Research Council of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington for 30 years.
Q: You write, "Putinism resembles more the kind of dictatorship that was (or is) in power in less developed countries--mainly in the Middle East and Latin America." What defines Putinism?
A: The use of religion. But on the other hand, it is not clear whether that many Russians are in fact practising orthodox Christians. Church attendance is not high; crime is high.
Q: In the book, you note, "The roots of Russian messianism, the belief in a special mission from God, go deep." Where did that belief originate?
A: Messianism goes back to the Middle Ages, [to] the belief that ancient Rome collapsed, [and] so did its successor, Byzantium. Moscow will be the third Rome--and there will be no Rome thereafter. [There is] also the present belief that Russia can exist only as a great power, otherwise it will go under.
Q: How do you see Putin as compared with Russian leaders of the past?
A: Russians in their history always wanted strong leaders. Otherwise there will be chaos, [which is] no good. Given the belief in a Russian world historical mission, there is bound to be conflict. [There is] also the belief in conspiracies against Russia, which goes back a long time.
[As the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev wrote in 1892]:
“Let us imagine a person healthy in body and strong, talented and not unkind—for such is quite justly the general view of the Russian people. We know that this person or people are now in a very sorry state. If we want to help him, we have first to understand what is wrong with him. Thus we learn that he is not really mad, his mind is merely afflicted to a considerable extent by false ideas approaching folie de grandeur and a hostility toward everyone and everything. Indifferent to his real advantage, indifferent to damage likely to be caused, he imagines dangers that do not exist and builds upon this the most absurd propositions. It seems to him that all his neighbors offend him, that they insufficiently bow to his grandness, and in every way want to harm him. He accuses everyone in his family of damaging and deserting him, of crossing over to the enemy camp. He imagines that his neighbors want to undermine his house and even to launch an armed attack. Therefore he will spend enormous sums on the purchase of guns, revolvers, and iron locks. If he has any time left, he will turn against his family.
We shall not, of course, give him money, even if we are eager to help him, but will try to persuade him that his ideas are wrong and unjustified. If he still will not be convinced and if he perseveres in his mania, neither money nor drugs will help.”
--Interview with Deborah Kalb