People often ask me what lies ahead for Russia. This question always surprises me. It suggests that people think historians are part prophet, as if knowing a lot about the past means you can predict the future. Or maybe this attitude has something to do with the influence of the Marxist approach to history: since society is governed by ironclad and irrevocable economic laws, once you know those laws, you can predict how society will develop.
I don’t buy it. Of course, we can see historical patterns, but whenever I hear “it’s ’37 all over again” or “it’s just like in Hitler’s Germany,” or even “remember the French Revolution and the Jacobin Terror,” I can’t help but shudder. The world is changing, society is developing, and people are evolving. Of course, there are some traits shared by all people – ancient Egyptians, Parisians during the French Revolution, or Gulag prisoners – but today’s world is a different place. For example, now the entire planet knows about how Alexei Navalny was poisoned and flown out of Russia, or how Belarusian activist Maria Kalesnikava smiled when she was handed down a lengthy prison sentence. That changes things.
And this is what makes the course of history so unpredictable. I have seen proof of this many times with my own eyes. In March 1985, nobody could have predicted that perestroika would make its thunderous arrival the very next month. In August 1991, the Soviet Union was a tinderbox, so I can’t say that the attempt to overthrow Gorbachev was unexpected, but the fact that the putsch was over in just three days – that was a total surprise. At the time, some people had been expecting a long and deadly civil war.
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