The infamous Russian experience of sorrow will deepen this century. It is not the case that we are responsible for the disaster: most of us never set foot in the rooms where national decisions are made, and many never voted for Putin. I am deeply shocked by the war (yes, I will call it War, despite the fact that doing so is now worthy of 20 years in prison in Russia), and the suffering it has brought to Ukrainians and Russians alike is immense.
As a Russian living in England, I bring a dreadful warning. I have witnessed how my home country gradually became more authoritarian, how power was concentrated in very few hands, and how civil liberties like the freedom of speech were stripped away. The proponents of truth were either murdered like Nemtzov or imprisoned like Navalny, and many highly skilled people like me fled in search of a better future.
Now that everyone is paying painful attention to the decisions of the Kremlin, I want to carry this message to the Conservative Party, and, indeed, any other entity in Great Britain which aspires to create rather than destroy or survive. We should avoid Russia's fate.
The evolution of contemporary Russia mirrors many events of the 20th century that Hayek describes. It started with light things: in 2009, Russia banned casinos (which, by the way, Norway is doing as well). Then, in 2013, the so-called gay propaganda law was passed, and it should have alarmed me more at the time. Not only was it a law restricting the constitutional freedom of speech, but it was passed unanimously – a telltale sign of a nonexistent democracy. Things only intensified from there. The Russian government passed a law against "offending religious believers", which allowed authorities to proclaim people "extremists" and "foreign agents"... Much like the term "foreign elements" that the Soviets employed.
And so, bit by bit, Putin has drained the last drops of democracy from Russia, while using the OMON to disperse countless peaceful protests. Russia is a new dictatorship of the information era. Its leaders have managed to wreak havoc upon the economy and achieve an unspeakable level of control despite a rather high average education among its populace - a startling feat that should not be underestimated when we consider the potential futures of other highly-educated countries. I fear that Russia is going to suffer from an immense financial crisis, which will only bolster the authoritarian influence of Putin. I mean, do you expect Russia to become a Western democracy after hyperinflation, maybe like Germany did a hundred years ago? Does it mean the sanctions just condemned the Russian people, who are still protesting despite arrests and beatings, to a continuation of a crippling regime? Quoting Boris Johnson, "I do not believe this war is in your name". It is not, indeed, yet only ordinary people will face the consequences.
This is why I urge the Conservative Party to be extremely careful with any laws that restrict human activity, whether in economics or other areas. Our rights and freedoms are not to be taken for granted; they are a treasure that we should be committed to protect. This treasure is becoming rarer and harder to preserve: Russia proves that education alone is not enough to resist the corruption of dictatorships.
The history of the Conservative Party actually offers a way to manage the balance between protection and freedom. There is no proponent of Hayekian economic policy more diligent than Thatcher, and no proponent of skepticism more earnest than Churchill. Britain has a long tradition of protecting human rights, starting back in 1215 with Magna Carta.
However, during the pandemic, many governments have imposed restrictions on their citizens, which introduced a dangerous temptation into the minds of politicians. As kindly illustrated by the Prime Minister himself, authoritarian measures are often evaded by the ones who impose them. Russian history reminds us that small deviations from democracy, when forgiven, can eventually lead to nightmarish ones. We should remain vigilant when we build the future of governments: promote human rights, let no individual be above the law, and ensure free economic activity.