Basically, It's the Same Old Antidemocratic Enforcer



By Amy Knight

Princeton University Press

318 pp., $24.95

The current Russian police system is far less benign and far more powerful than it appears to be. How can Russia's alleged embrace of democratic reforms be reconciled with the continuation of a massive security apparatus?

The reader, caught in the debate, strives to find solid footing in the morass of argument, distinguishing truth from exaggeration, wisdom from special pleading.

This contradiction overhangs Amy Knight's "Spies Without Cloaks," a careful, detailed and grimly pessimistic account of the fate of the KGB since the Soviet empire collapsed in 1991. Despite changes of name, organization and personnel, Knight contends that, in the absence of solid democratic traditions, the essence of the KGB continues as before. The years since 1991 have, after all, been marked by power struggles that pivoted on control of the military and the security systems; what politician would saw off the branch on which he was sitting?

Yet, Knight argues, there can be no true democracy in the presence of a massive and unrestrained security service, supported by most Russians, who fear crime, a breakdown of public order, and foreign political penetration. The basic question is whether Russia has the basic conditions required for Western democracy. Or is Russia fated to go its own way, embracing the painful themes of a strong state and a weak society?

*Leonard Bushkoff regularly reviews books on history for the Monitor.

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