Historian: I do not believe Putin is strong enough to clock out himself

David Vseviov.
David Vseviov. Source: Mathias Markus Kangur/ERR

Historian David Vseviov believes that Russia has reached the phase of agony under Vladimir Putin and that it could last for a long time. "In this case, the parallel with Hitler and the bunker is rather likely. Only, I do not believe this dictator is strong enough to leave the arena himself," Vseviov said on the "Hommik Anuga" program.

You know Russians and their lives and history down to the minutest details. Do you understand what happened?

I do and don't, because talking about navigating nuances and an entire nation, nuances lead to individuals who are all different. Just like individual Estonians and their viewpoints differ, looking if only at our politicians and where they stand. The same goes for Russians on a larger scale. Therefore, the deeper you delve, the more difficult it becomes to sum up the big picture.

The events aren't surprising, as imperial rulers, authoritarian types think inside the same framework, making all of this expected.

Were you able to foresee it, suggesting that authoritarian leaders think the same? Putin has been ruling Russia for a few decades now. Did his tyrannical rule and the brainwashing suggest it was always going to end this way?

It has always ended this way. That is not to say I knew on February 23 how it would unfold. But that it leads to something like this is logical. It was the same for Stalin, Hitler and Nero, and always has been.

For authoritarian rulers, territory is often a solution or idea that gives them wings. They live with convictions they all share but that have nothing to do with today's world. It is the world of yesterday.

Based on historical precedent, how will it end?

It will come crashing down. But how that will happen and what will be the aftermath is very difficult to predict. There's no sense in even trying.

It won't necessarily collapse territorially, but it will collapse. Things have come to the phase of agony.

Whence this conclusion?

The steps being taken by the authoritarian administration – mobilization, referendums – all signs of agony, the end. But it could go on like this for years.

Does Putin consider himself authoritarian and compare himself to other authoritarian leaders?

If he does, or if his desire is to go down in history, parallels are inevitably drawn with those who have thought in roughly the same categories.

It is often said, in Estonia and elsewhere, that the Russian people need an iron-fisted Czar.

It's true and isn't at the same time. That is the case with all of it. Of course, traditions that go back to Byzantium; the idea that instructions come from above, unlike in the Lutheran world, is characteristic of the civilization. It lays down a framework in which people think a little differently than here in the West.

People believe what the so-called Czar tells them. They have been conditioned not to doubt, no matter their suffering, and believe that Russians will not surrender, will not break.

It is characteristic not of Russians but all of us as human beings. Why do we vote for those who promise us bananas? Because we believe and want to follow. We are social animals biologically who always hope someone knows where the pack should be headed and can make us all happy. It is so human.

Do you understand Russians who believe Putin's version and the messages coming from there?

Like I understand people who believe that they'll grow horns if they get vaccinated.

We come from a similar culture, understand the world the same...

We do and we don't. Thinking about one of the largest civilizational boundaries that determines the relationship of authority and intellectuality/spirituality in Europe, it runs along our eastern border, Latvia's eastern border, then Lithuania before finally splitting Ukraine in two. It is among the greatest civilizational dividing lines in Europe. There are others, separating the Islamic world from the Christian one in the Balkans, but it is one of the ancient ones.

It is a matter of the balance of authority and spirituality, their partnership versus the eastern variant, including in modern Russia, where the latter is absolutely dependent on the former. Let us take the example of the Russian Orthodox Church – the church, as a traditional representative of spirituality, approves of killing and annexation. We know how many Jews the Catholic Church helped save during Hitler's occupation. It is a different world, different civilization, and yes, it goes a long way affecting how people think. Customs, traditions and convictions follow their roots to the distant past.

That said, we have more or less the same idea of what is bad and what is good. How to explain what the Russians are doing in Ukraine?

Evil cannot really be explained. It has always been around. It is immune to explanation for normal people, nor can it be justified, while it is there in our nature. But when certain, people sometimes use the word chakras open, people start to function in this way, many do.

Fromm (American philosopher Erich Fromm – ed.) has an analysis of Hitler where he divides people into two groups – biophiles and necrophiles. Some people see destruction and demolition as the solution, they are the vessels of evil. If you free them from the shackles of civilization – I won't do these things in Moscow, in Russia as there is the militia, surveillance and my loved ones there... This is where what the Russian administration is doing comes in, the us versus them, and if they have a big swastika bullseye on their foreheads, it frees me from these shackles, ethical constraints.

If the ruling authority accepts and promotes it, and once the connection has been made that they are fascists and should be dealt with, that is just how I will behave. We have seen and experienced this many times in history. It repeats and holds nothing new. Unfortunately. The only silver lining is that it always ends the same way too.


Well, drawing the parallel with Hitler and the bunker is quite likely in this case. Only, I do not believe this particular dictator has the strength to exit the arena himself.

He will not leave and is surrounded by people who are terrified.

Of course, these systems are built on fear. Why is it possible for authoritarian rulers to take wholly irrational decisions? Because no one dares tell them the actual situation. Just like no one dared tell Stalin the Germans were about to attack.

It is probable no one dared tell Putin, who sported a maniacal conviction that he can get what he wants with little effort, that it is impossible to take Ukraine with so few troops, and that Russians would not be greeted flowers in hand. Far from it, he was encouraged. They are the Potemkin villages from Catherine the Great's time (Prince Grigory Potemkin, 1739-1791 – ed.). It is the same principle.

If you say that all of it has happened before, does that mean there could be other such leaders once Putin does disappear from the arena?

I hope that the world will not end with Putin, so it will inevitably happen again. I don't know whether it has to be repeated in the Russian version, but history is made by people, and people don't change.

Is Russian culture being cancelled in a way? Perhaps theaters will no longer put on Russian plays, and I know choirs where singers are moving for the removal of Russian songs from the repertoire.

This reluctance is entirely understandable. Whether it is justified is another matter. We do not want to see these symbols, these signs. But whether taking the five-pointed star off the building opposite the Stockmann shopping mall is justified is, again, a different matter. I believe it shouldn't be taken down, as it is an architectural element from another era.

We do not have to worship this insignia. We can simply look at them to remember what will happen if we do certain things. I call them red lights. Let them remind us of the danger. It is not something that should be forgotten. The fascists' concentration camps in Poland have not been destroyed. They have been preserved as a symbol to help us remember. There is that option.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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