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Tocqueville Annulled?

PARIS: French author Alexis de Tocqueville was 30 when he wrote, in 1835, after a long trip to the US, this page of his Democracy in America. Of all the forecasts the last century devoted to ours it is probably the most accurate and certainly, at least in the West, the most often quoted. It’s all the more striking since he couldn’t imagine that the Tsarist Empire would someday turn red: Marx was only 17 at the time, and, although it had been advocated by Plato, communism was usually considered an inoffensive dream of a few eccentric intellectuals. Neither could he foresee the advent of the Nuclear Age, probably the main reason why the Cold War didn’t turn into a hot one. His analysis was mainly geographical, not to say physical: no other nations had such space, and so many resources, open to its ambitions.

What remains of this vision, four years after the disappearance of the USSR? Despite all its worries, shortcomings and setbacks, the United States is in all fields, from military to economy and culture, a superpower. Does post-communist Russia deserve the same title? The answer is yes. It is by far the largest country in the world. It shares with America the questionable privilege of holding an arsenal large enough to bring the history of mankind to an unquestionable end. The wreckage of its economy is due to decades of managerial and political absurdities and to the dreadful plight of two World Wars, a Civil War and a Cold War, not to a lack of resources. Potentially, Russia is a very wealthy nation.

This nation has managed to retain a permanent seat on the UN Security council, and periodically threatens to use the attached veto right. It won’t let the “near abroad” countries join NATO. Russian Foreign minister Andrei Kozyrev has frightened the Baltic Republics when he made clear, early this year, the Kremlin’s claim to protect the Russian minorities outside its borders. He and Yeltsin would very much like to renew with the old tradition which made the Tsars defenders of the orthodox in the Balkans, to start with, in former Yugoslavia.

From their stand in Chechnya or in the Kouriles dispute, one can conclude they are definitely not willing to give up any parcel of their wide Empire. Far from that: at least since the December 1993 election, one can’t fail to notice in their behavior, something very much akin to imperial nostalgia. Without going as far as General Gratchev who declared, during a visit to Azerbaidjan in March 1994 that CIS is Russia, the fact is that, from Belarus to Georgia and Kyrgystan, Moscow keeps troops in several Republics of this Community of Independent States the members of which are obviously not equally “independent.”