Russian Crisis: Omen of evil written in the sky

THE BLACK smoke rising into the clear October sky over Moscow is writing a warning. It is a warning for the generation of our children, and its message is that the struggle for Russia is not over, that the future of Russian democracy and therefore of world peace will be uncertain for the rest of our lifetimes. The struggle in Moscow, even if it ends in military victory for President Yeltsin, has discharged a terrible and long-lasting poison into the bloodstream of the Russian Republic.

Many people have tried to compare these events, starting with the failed putsch of August 1991, to the years after the collapse of the tsardom in 1917. Then too there were counter- revolutions and risings which failed, coups which melted away after a few hours and a coup - the Bolshevik seizure of power in October 1917 - which succeeded. There was civil war and foreign intervention.

But there is a closer, even more sinister comparison to draw. The birth agonies of this Russian democracy are like the agonies of the new German democracy in the years which followed the First World War. Suppressed in bloodshed, the forces of hatred and rejection waited for 10 years until they could seize control of Germany and plunge Europe into disaster.

In Germany, after November 1918, one upheaval followed another. After a social-democratic revolution came bloody fighting in January 1919, as the new republican government used the right-wing army to put down the Berlin rising of the far left - the Spartacists. Fighting flamed up in one city after another for the next six months. In March 1920, right-wing officers launched a coup d'etat in Berlin, the so-called Kapp Putsch, and there was more killing. Economic and political chaos lasted until November 1923, when the little-known agitator Adolf Hitler, with a group of rebellious officers, tried to start a revolution in Munich. The army barred his way, and the rising collapsed in gunfire.

And then it all seemed to be over. Calm slowly returned, and the Weimar Republic was able to construct an apparently stable, increasingly prosperous and enlightened democracy. The middle and later 1920s were good years in Germany. But the enemies of democracy were only waiting, and at the end of the decade the world slump gave them their chance.

As in Russia now, an empire had been lost and a whole class - the imperial bureaucracy and its officers - had been disinherited. Whole sections of German society refused to accept this loss; they blamed military defeat and the overthrow of the Hohenzollern monarchy on internal treachery - the 'stab in the back' myth.

In consequence, they rejected not merely the new political leadership but the entire new system of Weimar democracy. They nursed the wounds of their bloody defeats in those early years, and made their dead into patriotic martyrs who had borne witness against 'national treachery'. For much of the German middle class, the Weimar Republic continued to feel like an imposition without real legitimacy.

The danger in Russia now is that we are watching the founding of a 'rejectionist' tradition. The blood has been split, and the martyrs are there. As in Germany in the 1920s, the enemies are a chaotic mixture of conservative nationalists, aggrieved old-regime bureaucrats and fanatical fascists whose outspoken racism and longing for a Fuhrer is as venomous as National Socialism ever was. They will continue not only to swear vengeance on Boris Yeltsin, but to regard his republic as a forgery, a sham imposed on the 'true' Russia which existed until Mikhail Gorbachev disarmed it, betrayed its soldiers in Afghanistan and let the great country fall into the hands of plutocrats and criminals.

There may now be years of peace and reform. In a while, these upheavals may seem part of history. But Russia will not be safe. Hitler won power by the democratic process, not by force. If there is, after a time, a period of renewed economic calamity in Russia, the rejectionists may persuade the terrified mass to vote for them.

If the rest of us have not created a strong European security system by then, guaranteeing the independence of lesser countries from the Baltic to the Caucasus, it may be too late to save peace in Europe. All possible help should be given to strengthen the young Russian democracy after this ordeal. But from now on Russia's neighbours must also be vigilant. We have been here before.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
Sport
footballBrighton vs Arsenal match report
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

£15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

Day In a Page

Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

Diana Krall interview

The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

Pinstriped for action

A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

Michael Calvin's Last Word

How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us