Global Review had again the honour to have an interview with Prof. Alexander Rahr, expert in Russian affairs, political scientist, member of the Valdai Club, adviser of Gazprom for the EU and author of the book „Putin decoded-Russia 2054“. Alexander Rahr is a honorary professor of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations and Higher school of Economics. He studied at the Munich State University, worked 1980-1994 for the Research Institute of Radio Free Europe, the Federal Institute for East European and International Studies. He was a consultant of RAND Corporation, USA. From 1994-2012 he headed the Russian/Eurasian Center at the German Council on Foreign Relations. He then consulted Wintershall Holding and later Gazprom Brussels on European affairs. Since 2012 he is program director at the German-Russian Forum. He is member of the Petersburg Dialogue, Valdai Club, Yalta European Strategy network, author of several books about Russia.
Global Review: Prof. Rahr, could you give us the essential biographical and ideological background of your father Gleb Rahr and the relationships with yourself and your family?
Prof. Rahr: Probably the most decisive event in my father’s life was his liberation from the Dachau concentration camp by American troops exactly 75 years ago. A year earlier, Gleb Rahr had been arrested by the Gestapo for finding anti-Nazi leaflets. My father was then, at the age of 24, a member of the Russian emigration organization NTS (Federation of Russian “Solidarists”), which acted equally against National Socialism and Communism, albeit with little success. The organization NTS was banned by Hitler. I very much hope that despite the Corona crisis, I can come to Dachau for the celebrations in late April or early May. Next to the site of the former concentration camp, there is now an Orthodox chapel that my father was able to help build in the 1990s, even before he died in 2006. It commemorates the horrors of the concentration camp, the murdered and the survivors. In his memoirs, which we published after his death, my father describes a touching scene. The Dachau concentration camp was liberated exactly for Easter 1945. Prisoners who could still stand on their feet dragged themselves to a spontaneously organized Easter service on the site of the concentration camp, which was celebrated by imprisoned Athos monk priests. Never afterwards had my father, who as a devout Christian identified with the Orthodox Church later in life, witnessed such an enchanting mass.
My father was born in Moscow to a merchant family in 1922. His father could not make friends with the October Revolution and went into exile in 1924 when it was still possible. Gleb Rahr grew up in Latvia, went to a German school there. After the Red Army’s invasion of the Baltic States, the Rahrs left their second home in 1940 with the last departure ship and emigrated to Germany. After the war, my father worked as a journalist and activist for the emigrant organization NTS until 1974, lived in Taiwan and Japan for 5 years, where he produced Russian-language radio programs – which were broadcast behind the Iron Curtain in the Soviet Union. So it was that I was born in Taipei in 1959. Back in Germany, Gleb Rahr published a book on church persecution in the Soviet Union, gave lectures at American universities in Wiesbaden and Heidelberg, made a name for himself primarily as a church historian. In the early 1970s he was one of the two founding fathers of the renowned International Society for Human Rights (IGfM) in Frankfurt. From 1974 on he worked as an editor for the US broadcaster Radio Free Europe in Munich. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Gleb Rahr was allowed back to Russia after 50 years. There he successfully campaigned for the reunification of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian Church Abroad, which took place in 2007. He knew both the old and the current patriarch very well. In 2001, he received Russian citizenship, which had been revoked from his family in 1924, by President Putin. My father was buried in the Russian cemetery in Berlin-Tegel.
Global Review: Your father Gleb Rahr was a member of the Russian exile organization NTS – Federation of Russian Solidarists. What political positions did the group have, what new Russia did they and your father imagine when Soviet communism fell? Was this an umbrella organization of different groups with a minimal program or an independent organization with a maximum program? If you look at the Russian exiles, it is a spectrum of fascists, monarchist conservatives and mystics such as Solschenyzin, Trotskyists and left-wing opposition and later such democrats like Lew Kopelew. What political positions did the NTS have and what did its “solidarism” mean? Did this mean corporatism like Mussolini?
Prof. Rahr: It is true that my father got involved with NTS, the Federation of Russian Solidarists, and had an income there for many years. But he was not a member of the executive staff or the ideologues of this political organization. NTS was founded by sons and daughters of the White Guardsmen in the early 1930s, who had to leave Russia forever after the civil war lost against the Reds. Around 2 million “whites” left their Russian homeland in the early 1920s and settled in Europe as refugees and asylum seekers. Many of the migrants assimilated in the West, but many remained active in the anti-communist resistance in France and Germany. The children of the White Guardsmen – my parents’ generation – were largely shaped by Western ideas. NTS could not do anything with the monarchism of the old White Guards who mourned the Tsarist Empire. The term solidarism was taken from the Catholic social teaching of the theologian Oswald von Nell-Breuning (1890-1991). The founders of NTS wanted a policy that solidarized all layers of society. It was an attempt to link right and left ideas, to reconcile capitalism and socialism at the level of higher human values.
The goal of NTS has always been to overthrow the communist system in the Soviet Union and replace it with a democratic one. However, NTS was always against the dissolution of the Soviet Union into nation states. The USSR was to be replaced by a democratic League of Nations. The NTS advocated a free economic order and the abolition of the planned economy. The future government should be legitimized through free elections. The NTS planned to take part in the future elections in a post-communist Russia. The Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn sympathized with the Federation of Russian Solidarists. The dissident movement in the Soviet Union, however, considered NTS too conservative and not liberal enough.
When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the leadership cadres of NTS were too old to play a political role in the new Russia. They also lacked the funds for political campaigns and there were no political contacts with Russia. The Iron Curtain was not without consequences. NTS was also unknown to most Russians. The organization was banned in the USSR, the KGB also fought NTS in the West. Bombings against emigrant offices, poisoning, murders – you can read all about this in the relevant literature. Individuals, such as Gleb Rahr, managed to make friends with the new elites in Russia, were welcomed with open arms, and new livelihoods were established in the new Russia. But unlike in post-war Germany, where political emigrants like Willy Brandt returned as heroes to their homeland liberated from Nazi rule, most Russian emigrants in Russia remained foreign bodies after communism. But many of NTS’s ideas were adopted by the Russian Democrats
Global Review: How did the NTS want to defeat Soviet Communism? Hitler also appeared to be considered an ally, but while the Wehrmacht and national conservatives had a Russian exile organization that would become the future government of a free Russia, Hitler saw it as a Slavic subhuman, and the NTS did not often use the wrong forces set?
Prof. Rahr: NTS never worked with Hitler, the activists of NTS were in prisons or concentration camps. It is true that some leaders of the Wehrmacht relied on the so-called Russian Liberation Army under the command of General Andrei Vlasov. This general was captured by the Wehrmacht near Moscow. In German captivity, he wished to set up an army of Soviet defectors and prisoners of war to fight the Red Army on the Eastern Front with the aim of liberating Russia from Bolshevism. Some old Russian exiles sympathized with the Vlasov movement. But the broad mass of Russian emigrants understood only too well that Hitler regarded the Russians as subhumans. Hitler himself did not want to receive outside help in the war against Stalin. In the end, it was self-deceiving of Vlasov and other deserters to assume that Hitler would accept a free, independent Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. Rather, Hitler planned to enslave all of the Slavic peoples and to provide Germany with a “living space” in the east. The NTS understood from the start that Hitler’s campaign against the Soviet Union was a colonial war. When there was initially hope from Russian exiles to stir up the Russian people against Stalin, such considerations were disabused by the Battle of Stalingrad and the siege of Leningrad. In 1942 it was clear that the Soviet peoples were not fighting for Bolshevism, but for their fatherland.
Global Review: Was the NTS only against communism in the Soviet Union or did it see its task against communism worldwide? Your father was at Radio Free Europe in Munich and then in Taiwan. Was the NTS member of the World Anti-Communist League, which was just founded in Taiwan and still exists today under the new name World League for Freedom and Democracy, which still has members from 100 countries and which is still headquartered in Taiwan. But many members were military dictators, right-wing politicians who still maintain their worldwide network there and are against authoritarian states such as Putin-Russia, the CP China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc. act? Does the NTS still exist, has it dissolved or have networks survived from it?
Prof. Rahr: The NTS naturally wanted to be part of a broad anti-communist front. Especially since such movements also received large financial contributions from the United States and Great Britain. Russian exile organizations naturally saw communism as an existential threat to the world. That is why exiled Russians fought alongside Franco in the Spanish Civil War. The Cold War was raging and black and white thinking prevailed everywhere. And the Western powers with their secret services naturally relied on exile groups, such as Cuban opposition members in the failed Bay of Pigs operation. The NTS believed that by overthrowing the communists in Moscow, they could free the entire world from the idea of communism. However, they were very naive to believe that in the event of the collapse of communism in Moscow, the Americans would accept an NTS government that advocated a strong national democratic Russian state.
In the 1980s, Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded in doing what no power in the world was capable of at the time. He became – albeit unknowingly – the gravedigger of communism worldwide. As far as NTS is concerned, my father and his colleagues in the world, whether in Taiwan or Latin America, advised governments in the 1960s on how the struggle against communism could be organized. He was often on “missions” that he was not even allowed to tell my mother about. But my father soon saw the pointlessness of the undertaking and concentrated on church issues. Russia’s return to faith seemed to him to be more important than the stubborn struggle against a communist system that had been dulling ever since the 1970s. After the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, the NTS attempted to engage in partisan warfare from Pakistan, to bring Soviet soldiers captured by the Mujahideen to the West. I think those who tried so experienced that they didn’t do themselves and the poor soldiers a favor.
Global Review: If you see the development of Russia after the fall of communism under Yeltsin and Putin, to what extent would this Russia please NTS or your father? And what role did the NTS play in the overthrow of Soviet communism and afterward?
Prof. Rahr: In my novel “2054: Putin decoded” I let many voices from the past speak. I think the history of “exile Russia”, which took place far from the Soviet Union, should not be withheld from future generations. Good question – whether the NTS would have preferred Russia or Yeltsin or Putin. For the sake of clarity, I always cite the positions of two great Russian thinkers of the 20th century: on the one hand, Nobel Prize winner and regime critic Andrei Sakharov, on the other – Solzhenitsyn. For both – Sakharov and Solschenitsyn – the communist system in Russia had to disappear. For Sakharov, freedom, human rights and the rule of law played the dominant role. For Solzhenitsyn, the idea of the nation-state came first – communism was the enemy, not the strong state. I remember numerous discussions in the emigrant circles. Regime critics who had just emigrated from the USSR wanted Russia to become an alternative to the democratic West. That’s what Yeltsin wanted in the 1990s. The NTS wanted to prevent the disintegration of the unified state, Russia was seen as an independent civilization that should be preserved at all costs. Other nations should be persuaded to stay in the Russian multinational state. Frankly, I think NTS would be closer to Putin today for patriotic reasons.
Global Review: Your father was a very religious person who probably also rejected the Soviet Union because of her atheism. What role did religion play with your father and the NTS in their worldview? Did they want a clerical-fascist Russia (Franco-Spain model), a clerical-authoritarian Russia, a conservative-democratic Russia ( like the German Christian democrats or the Italian Decocrtia Christiana)? Were there more secular or laizist exile organizations? How was the relationship between religion and Russian identity, also with regard to the question of whether Russia is a European or Asian power? And what about Putin today? The disputes about Pussy Riot in the Orthodox Church, which criticized Putin’s close connection with religion, were highlighted in the West as quite central, also in questions of religion and homophobia, women’s rights and secularism? What is the relationship between Putin and the Russian elites and the population to religion? Are the Russians a religious people or has the Soviet Union’s atheism and strict secularism succeeded?
Prof. Rahr: It is certainly true that the majority of Russian emigrants also rejected the Soviet Union because of atheism and church persecution. Lenin’s struggle against religion, which was a central component of the October Revolution, was evil for them. Religion did not play a role as a worldview at the NTS. NTS stood up for a secular state. However, the Orthodox Church was assigned a central role in the future moral renewal of the Russian people after the end of communism. Many Czarist, arch-conservative White Guardsmen in emigration disliked the NTS. They may have thought in a clerical-fascist way, but one should not forget that for these people the Orthodox Church and faith, which they had inherited from their ancestors, remain the only major pillar in life, probably also in politics. They could not imagine a new Russia without restoring the monarchy and power of the church. For my religious father, who was brought up in the West, Russia was embedded in the Christian-Byzantine heritage, he saw the difference in the Eastern and Western Church, found it historically legitimate and by no means reprehensible. He also thought that only the Orthodox Church could teach people the right values after Communism, but he saw a democratic constitution as important for Russia. The discussion of whether Russia is an Asian or a European power has been known for ages. They were also continued in emigration and transferred to the upcoming, anti-communist Russia. The thinking of Putin, who grew up in this world of thought, is not unknown to me. Putin is conservative of values, sees Russia as a different Europe, in which other traditions and values are upheld. It is not true that Putin put the Russians on the “right path” to the liberal West in the 21st century. The opposite is the case. When he came to power, Putin wanted an alliance with the West, albeit not based on common values, but on interests. That has not happened and it is idle to argue about whose fault it was. Putin has followed the majority opinion of his population, and the majority of them are very conservative of values. Putin cannot rule against his own population. In fact, he’s more liberal than 80 percent of the Russians. You may not believe that in the West, but it is still true.
Global Review: The anti-Judaism of the Russian Orthodox Church and the anti-Semitism of the Tsar House entered into an unholy alliance. The Russian Orthodox Church viewed Judaism, as well as Western Christianity and Islam, as hostile religions, and the Tsarist secret service wrote the first modern anti-Semitic script “The Protocols of the Elder of Zion”, which claimed that the French Revolution was a conspiracy by Jews The Tsarists and the church were anti-democratic, anti-enlightened and anti-liberal. Tsarist Russia was also notorious for its Jewish pogroms, which is why the US-Jewish banker Jacob Schiff refused a war loan to Tsarist Russia and gave it to hostile Japan, which in 1905 was the first Asian power to defeat Western power in the Russo-Japanese War. Russian anti-Semites, therefore, saw themselves confirmed in their anitseinitic world conspiracy theory, then saw the October Revolution as a conspiracy of Jews, and Jewish-born atheists like Trotsky and Zinoviev in the Bolshevik leadership strengthened this view. The Russian right-wing exile organizations, including the NTS, were also said to have anti-Semitic, at least anti-Judaic tendencies. How widespread was anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism in the exile organizations and how widespread are they after Yeltsin and Putin after the fall of communism in Russia?
Prof. Rahr: Thank God, we live in an enlightened liberal world and no longer in the Middle Ages. We have more or less overcome racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism, especially through the catastrophes of the Second World War. The world has been startled by the horrors of the Holocaust forever. I am not aware of any cases of anti-Semitism in emigrant organizations after the war. Before the Second World War, anti-Semitism still existed in many European countries. It is true that there were anti-Semites among the emigrants from Tsarist Russia. For them, there was no doubt that the October Revolution was the work of Jewish extremists and opponents of the regime. They pointed out that the majority of the members of the Bolshevik leadership were men and women with Jewish names. Historians later found that not only Jews but also other minorities supported the October Revolution out of their own interests. In tsarist Russia they were often denied opportunities for advancement. For example, Stalin was Georgian. Many representatives of minorities made careers among the Bolsheviks and took part in repression. It is also true that the tsarist secret police were behind the ominous, conspiratorial “Protocol of the Elder of Zion”, which was supposed to “uncover” an alleged international conspiracy against Orthodox, tsarist Russia. But similar conspiracy theories were also found in other parts of Europe, including America, Russia and Europe. There is as little anti-Semitism in post-Soviet Russia as there is in the West. As far as the Soviet Union was concerned, it was often difficult for Jews there to rise to leadership positions. On the other hand, it should not be forgotten that the Soviet Union gave protection to Jews persecuted by Nazi pogroms in Eastern Europe and finally liberated Auschwitz.
Global Review: The Soviet Union saw itself as an atheistic state, what was its religion policy like? Were there different phases under the rule of Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Andropov and Gorbachev? Dr. Kulikov told Global Review that the Soviet Union’s religious policy shouldn’t be thought of as roughly as just persecuting Christians. Especially since many members of the CPSU, and also some members of the Politburo, would have baptized and married their children and children in the Russian Orthodox Church? Did the Soviet Communists see Russian Orthodoxy as part of the Russian tradition, even if they weren’t themselves believers? Can one imagine the relationship between Don Camillio and Pepone or would it be more of a trivializing view?
Prof. Rahr: When Stalin realized in 1941/42 that Hitler could defeat him and that his Communist slogans did not reach his own population, he looked for a covenant with the previously destroyed Orthodox Church. He reinstated the patriarch, allowed services and worship of saints. After the war ended, he cut the church back to a minimum, but no longer persecuted her. His successor Nikita Khrushchev then further restricted the church. It was not until Gorbachev’s Perestroika that the Orthodox Church and Islam regained their former rights and influence in Russia and the other successor states of the Soviet Union. Yeltsin and Putin identified with the faith and church and went to church on public holidays. Putin is an avowed Christian. The Orthodox Church, like Islam, has taken on important social functions in the past 30 years. Most of the population sees the Church as a guardian of the old traditions and values that exist for today’s Russia. While the role of the Catholic and Protestant churches is declining in the West, in Russia – in reverse of what was practiced in Communism – not faith but rather atheism is virtually punished.
Global Review: What role has been assigned to the Russian Orthodox Church in the previous Russian constitution and in the constitutional reality under Putin? And which in Putin’s intended new constitution, which is to guarantee him to rule forlife? Are there constitutional paragraphs that have an explicit reference to the conservative moral values of the Russian Orthodox Church? How many percents of the Russians are still members of the Russian Orthodox Church and does this show signs of dissolution similar to those of the Catholic or Protestant Church in the West? Is it conceivable that, should the Russian Orthodox Church have its own will or oppose Putin in part or in whole, a new wave of repression or a campaign will be launched in which scandals by the Russian Orthodox Church become public comparable to child abuse or corruption in the Catholic or Protestant Church in the West? Or is such a development not to be expected since the Russian Orthodox Church has mostly come to terms with the powerful?
Prof. Rahr: I can only answer this question: Russia does not want to be the West. In the next 50 years, I cannot imagine an anti-church development like that in Western Europe. God has been included in the constitution – as a traditional value and religion has become a historical model. There is no formal membership in the Orthodox Church, also no church tax, no entry or exit. You come to church or stay outside. The churches in Russia are crowded on big holidays. Most Russians have their children baptized and married in church. Is Russia a Christian country? Abortions continue to take place in Russia, to what extent the majority of Russians really believe and do not simply “follow” tradition, I cannot say. There are no sociological studies on this.
Global Review: The Covid crisis has surprised the world. How do you assess this crisis? What are the main geopolitical changes from this? Will the Covidkirse end the interstate and geopolitical conflicts, bury neoliberalism, lead to a new socio-economic world system or a new multipolar world order, or will the schism between the two world powers USA and China escalate even more and the other states will have to join in and it can only be fought out until a new world order emerges?
Prof. Rahr: The future world order after the Corona crisis can only be conceptually sketched out. Maybe she will soon be overcome with relatively few dead people – then everything will stay the same. The existing conflicts continue to be fought, and the existing frontlines continue to exist until the next major crisis that comes in the 2030s. But if the world were really to be shaken up by the Corona disaster, a lot will change dramatically, like 1945 or 1990/91. Perhaps a meeting of the Heads of State of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council in New York in September will see a kind of reissue of the 1945 Yalta conference, when after the war they reorganized victorious powers. But who are the victorious powers after defeating the pandemic? From today’s perspective, China will make an enormous leap forward because it will be the first major power to leave the crisis behind. America will surely climb up again. It will be more difficult for the EU, which runs the risk of splitting up. Russia, as the most resource-rich country in the world and a second nuclear power, will play a leading role in the reorganization of the world – the question is whether on the side of the West or on the side of China. The situation in developing countries is getting worse. In addition to an economic collapse in Africa and the Near and Middle East, people in these regions face unbearable suffering and consequent radicalization. What is certain is that Western liberalization strategies cannot save these poor regions. The tone is getting rougher in the international community because solidarity has been lost. Redistribution struggles are common. I think the current conflicts, such as Syria, Ukraine, Yemen, Iran, should be put on ice and a common agenda for the future against the common enemy – the virus. We may be in World War III, against an invisible but highly dangerous enemy. We need a broad alliance against him.
Global Review: Russia is currently experiencing two crises: On the one hand the Covid crisis, on the other hand the oil price war, Saudi Arabia and OPEC started against Russia. Putin does want US fracking oil to be included in the negotiations, Trump does not, while he calls on Russia and Saudi Arabia to negotiate a deal. How can Russia cope with this double crisis and what role does and can Russia play in these crises? Dr. Kulikov said: At best Russia can be a game-changer, but not a global game player. Do you agree with this assessment?
Prof. Rahr: The corona crisis may leave everything as it was, as I indicated in the previous answer. During the financial crisis ten years ago, everyone also thought of the apocalypse. And thank God it didn’t happen. The world survived and everything went on as usual. This time the crisis appears to be more serious. The economic slump in all countries could lead to social upheaval, unrest, and overturns. Nobody wants them, but they can happen. The political landscape in Europe could be a completely different one in just a few months. In my view, China, the USA, Germany (not the EU) and Russia are currently global players. The oil price war is temporary since the green deal is likely to be suspended for cost reasons (not in Germany, but everywhere else), fossil fuels will celebrate a renaissance in the 2020s. The time when Europe only wanted to rely on renewable energies is postponed. People in Germany still lack a lot of imagination for the victims that the global community will have to make in order to overcome the crisis and keep the world stable. These victims will be unimaginable, but the problems must be mastered as they were mastered after 1919 and after 1945. In the 1990s, the West had to make tremendous efforts to direct the disintegration of the Eastern Bloc into civilized and economically viable lines. In the 2020s, it will not just be a matter of replacing European fields. We’re not going to talk about a Marshal plan for Southern Europe like we do now, we’re going to have to talk about a Marshal plan for Africa, the Middle East, Latin America to save the world as we know it.
Global Review: Allow me to ask a personal question at the end. Your father, who has experienced so much in his life – from the civil war in Russia, exile in Latvia, occupation of the Baltic states by Stalin, flight to the “wrong” Hitler Germany, concentration camp, anti-Soviet resistance in the Cold War, fall of the Berlin Wall, End of the Soviet Union, return to democratic Russia, reconciliation with the former enemy, reconciliation of the churches – how would he look at your activities in Russia today? For a long time you were considered a proven expert on Eastern Europe in the West, but in 2013/14 your reputation in the German media was destroyed because you have shown a clear pro-Kremlin stance.
Prof. Rahr: It is true that when German-Russian relations became increasingly fragile and the war in Ukraine began, I was prevented from commenting on politics by transatlantic circles. I found that to be unfair. 25 years after the turn, I always tried to reconcile Germans and Russians. I have always represented two sides in the media, the German and the Russian. After 2014, according to the media, I was no longer allowed to do that. Russia was in the pillory, everyone who did not condemn Putin became suspicious and became an accomplice. My father would have supported me a lot in this situation. He, who had seen several epochs in his life, was always concerned with understanding the very great lines of development in history. Loyalty to the alliance, opponents in world politics are only temporary, change according to the circumstances. The big lines remain. As for Russia, he would say: unlike Germany, which had to be liberated from the outside by National Socialism, Russia liberated itself from communism in 1991. This Russia belongs to Europe. He must have a place in Europe. There must be room in Europe for Western liberalism and Russian traditionalism. The common Christian heritage unites all Europeans. Now that the greatest threats to Europe come from outside, all Europeans must bury their disputes and take common defense. This includes understanding yourself anew. For this new phase of reconciliation – Matthias Platzeck has just published a bestseller book “Die Neue Ostpolitik”/ The New East Policy, I am happy to help.