Opinion | I Wrote a Book About the End of Dictatorships, and It Became a Best Seller in Russia
In days gone by, it was possible to broach such subjects, albeit gently. But in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Kremlin’s repression of dissent, the space for candid discussion has been sealed off. The Carnegie Moscow Center, for example, where I worked and was able to converse with members of the ruling elite, was shut down by the authorities last spring. The bulk of its scholars have left the country and are now creating another think tank in Berlin.
Those who remain in Russia have lost the opportunity to engage in an open dialogue on the country’s future. Yet the extraordinarily high level of interest in the book is evidence that, despite the fiction of consensus that state propaganda has tried to reinforce, Russians have not stopped asking questions about what comes next. Given the book’s focus, it seems that readers are thinking not about the regime’s continuation — as the authorities would wish — but about how it might end.
For many, the simple act of buying the book is a political statement, and numerous bookstores are using it to quietly indicate their positions. А major store near the notorious Lubyanka, the headquarters of the Federal Security Service (and previously the K.G.B.) in Moscow, placed copies of “The End of the Regime” right next to “Putin’s Path,” a hagiography devoted to the Russian leader, and a book on Stalin. The implication was clear.
Unlike many authors of the Soviet and czarist eras, who — deprived of the opportunity to discuss their country and their future directly — masked those discussions by focusing on other peoples and eras, I didn’t set for myself the goal of writing a book about Mr. Putin: This is not a book about Russia disguised as a book about Spain, Portugal and Greece. Nevertheless, unlike numerous Western works on similar topics, the book is written by an inhabitant of an autocracy for other inhabitants of an autocracy. This links author and readers with a special, almost conspiratorial view of the subject.
Most important, the book gives readers a new, more accurate perspective on the country they live in. Russian and informed international readers are aware that analogies with the collapse of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union are misleading. It is difficult to imagine a defeat along the lines of that suffered by Germany being experienced by a nuclear power such as Russia. Similarly, the collapse of the Soviet regime came about first and foremost because of its sclerotic economic system, which left the population behind the Iron Curtain without food and consumer goods.