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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific