Putin looks into the past to make a better future for Russia

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B. Iwanowska Institute of Philosophy and Sociology,
Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw, Poland
Summary. This paper is devoted to a partial analysis of Vladimir Putin’s presidencies. As a contemporary political leader he had his own vision of Russian politics. He often based his policy on symbols and experience from Russian history. A good example is Peter the Great whose rule was very much appreciated by President Putin. In the years 2000−2008 Putin tried to create his politics so that not to repeat some mistakes from the 1990s. This as well as a short reflection on the withdrawn Quadriga award granted primarily to Putin, is the subject of the article below.
Key words: Russia- Vladimir Putin- Boris Yeltsin- Peter the Great- history- the Quadriga award.
As the last world events show the former president and the current prime-minister of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin is again extremely popular and strong in the West. On the one hand there is an unpleasant affair with the Quadriga award. It is a pity that the Quadriga award has not come this time to Russia. They say, firstly, «Putin deserves a separate chapter in a history book and he is paving the way for Russia’s future in the spirit of Peter the Great» but after that they withdraw both their award and their words.
For sure, the Russian political leaders, especially those of the great transition periods, deserve separate chapters in history books. Gorbachev — for inventing perestroika and cancelling Brezhnev’s doctrine. And first of all — Yeltsin. He deserves not only separate chapters but separate books. It was him who made the New Russia. He acted also like an Emperor. Unfortunately, in this New Russia Yeltsin’s era has still been assessed in many ways. At the beginning he was frantic, seemed to be an all-winning and omnipotent reliable man. At the end of his career he lost his popularity and health. His spectacular resignation from the president’s post at the night of December 31, 1999, was a great surprise for both his own country and the whole world. His last words to the Russians: «Forgive me if you can…» touched even those hearts which were filled with hate to him.
Putin’s opposition claims that he is an undemocratic ruler, spy, killer, monster. There are facts which no opposition can deny. He is a political leader playing one of the key roles in global politics. The Russians should be proud of him as he manages to speak with various political leaders as with his friends without any interpreters. It is not usual among world political leaders to manage so linguistically. There are people who say he is a killer but is there any direct evi-
dence? Those who say he is a monster are not right, either. Why then has he such a high support among the citizens? Maybe he is an undemocratic ruler, as the opposition says, but he has not made such a mistake which Yeltsin did. Nowadays, however, it is evident that the main Yeltsin’s mistake was his trying to give Russian people too much freedom thinking that people needed it. The history shows, however, they did not need freedom in such a volume as he provided them. Therefore he has still more accusers than defenders.
It is interesting to make a comparative analysis of these two bright political leaders — emperor Peter the Great and president V. Putin — who without any doubt have a huge contribution in the wide-understandable development of Russia. Just like Peter the Great during his reign, Putin has still been playing a significant role in the contemporary Russian history.
A similarity between them two is evident and of complex character: their intellectual abilities and style of governing, their connection with special services, their ideas of a strong army, prosperous fleet and powerful secret police, their views on internal and foreign policy, and geopolitical plans in relation to other countries. Besides, they are linked by their love to St. Petersburg. Peter the Great founded the city and Putin was born, lived, studied and worked in it.
There can be found an opinion that it is rather «shameful» to compare Peter the Great and V. Putin. Such opinions seem to be not justified. Political scientists know that the authorities need symbols, myths and rituals which, in turn, are aimed at convincing citizens that subordination to the authorities is obligatory and that power is sacred. The symbols, myths and rituals are sources of power legitimacy, first of all in the opinion of citizens. The choice of historical heroes for imitation is not shameful. It is especially brightly shown during the period when the states are at a stage of transition from one style of governing to another. In the early 1990s young reformers of Yeltsin’s epoch widely enough tried to apply symbolism and mythology connected with Emperor Peter the Great. In 2000, after having come to power, the second president of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, has lifted Peter the Great’s name on the banners again.
Presidential image-makers have precisely counted that Putin is a real candidate for a sovereign of maximum similarity to Emperor Peter the Great. The latter was a Westerner, great reformer and also a patriot-dictator. When he was alive people hated him, but after his death it was evident he was a great leader who did a lot for the Russian Empire and, consequently, to Russia. In the modern era he has been loved by scientists, historians, sailors, military men, diplomats and even secret service because a couple of centuries ago he created its prototype — a Secret Office. Since the first days of Putin’s presi-
dency the new president of Russia was in the centre of attention of journalists of the whole world. Many of them wrote about Peter the Great’s portrait in Putin’s office. Then there appeared speculations that the emperor was Putin’s both one of his major sources of enthusiasm and an example for imitation. Far-reaching conclusions were drawn from this assumption that the aspiration of the Russian president is to reign in the spirit of Peter the Great. Under the influence of that portrait, the western analysts consider V. Putin as the political successor and reformer in Peter the Great’s style. Today, after almost four years when V. Putin left the president’s post (what occurred according to the Constitution of the Russian Federation) there is a possibility to check up whether V. Putin and Emperor Peter the Great have similarities in ruling and personality.
Personality, mental abilities, the style of governing
Up to now historical sources have given a set of Peter the Great’s descriptions. Academician S. Platonov has written the following about Emperor Peter the Great: «People of all generations in their estimations of Peter’s personality and activity were converged in one: he was considered as force. Equally — Peter’s pupils („baby birds of Peter’s nest“), dissenters, adulators and critics, Slavonic adorers and Westerners — all recognized that Peter was a remarkable and influential figure of his time, the leader of the people, 'the master of thoughts' for ones and the blighter of thoughts for others. Nobody considered him an insignificant person that unconsciously used power or blindly took a casual way» [1, p. 234]. Besides, Platonov paid much attention to Peter’s personality. He appreciated his energy, gravity, native wit and talents. «The charm of his personality operated irresistibly on those who could see him close, and they all were surprised at his knowledge» [1, p. 234].
According to J. Grot’s article «Peter the Great as the enlightener of Russia»: «In its turn the inquisitiveness of the talented child in the higher degree has been raised and we can admit the assumption that Peter read if not everything so much that was stored in the imperial library» [2, pp. 50−51]. J. Grot claims that Peter the Great used the German and Dutch languages which he got to know during his first travelling [3, p. 51].
The modern writers Alexander Rahr and Michael Stuermer underline Putin’s main characteristics — aspiration to perfectionism as well as hatred to disorder and the absence of discipline [4, pp. 34−36], [5, pp. 26].
It is worth mentioning here some symbolical meaning and value which can be seen in Putin’s uncompromising attitude to the question of terrorism and also in the style of conducting the Chechen
war to that style to which Peter the Great adhered in similar questions. In 1722 Peter the Great accepted an unsuccessful attempt of capturing the Chechen territory [6, p. 116]. At last, V. Putin was a supporter of the Chechen war (1999−2000) which, according to Putin’s critics, guaranteed him victory in the elections for the 2nd presidential term. Besides, there are some historical sources testifying that «the surrounding perceived Peter the Great as the person possessing not only bent for knowledge and science but also inclined to unexpected explosions of aggression and even cruelty. The Emperor could not stand the least resistance to his orders and whims. He took part in tortures of Moscow shooters accused of a plot. Being replaced in the executioner he himself carried out death sentences. He ordered the dismembered corpses of traitors to be left on view, their heads were spread on a stake» [7, p. 27]. The whole world remembers and will never forget fatal historical events which appeared as some kind of «baptizing» the young Russian president operating rigidly and actively when insurgents intruded in Dagestan and in a number of Russian cities there were acts of terrorism. The then prime-minister V. Putin told «We are going to pursue terrorists everywhere. If they are in the airport, we will pursue them in the airport. And if we, excuse me please, capture them in the toilet, then we will waste them in the outhouse too, eventually. That is all. The question is dealt with once and for all» [TV, September 24, 1999].
The world was not ready to such a turn of events: having got used to see Russia weak, helpless, poor and gradually disintegrating in many ways, sinking in the sea of corruption, convulsively struggling with financial crises of the 1990s, ashamed of its political leaders with their painful perception of democracy as a new order, and even more ashamed of a certain illness — alcoholism — which, still more recently, has been literally associated with the Russian nation… And suddenly everything changed. After above cited words Putin became a political leader. After these words the world understood that other times had come. The world understood that Russia again was a serious player in a political scene. The well-known president Putin’s phrase then followed: «We [the Russians] have shown weakness and the weak are beaten». After these words nobody in the West had any doubts that a new epoch came in Russia- there was a clear split who was a friend and who was an enemy. Subjecting Putin’s personal qualities to criticism the same analysts come to a conclusion that there is nothing negative in his Europeanism which some of them name the Europeanism of a special services' officer who wins Europe more often as a spy: sometimes by means of a steel look which is more similar to the look of the majestic Emperor, sometimes with a look of the most loyal friend, from time to time as an interlocutor’s look as it was possible
to observe during V. Putin’s meetings with some heads of states during which there arose an impression that those were not V. Putin and J. Bush or not V. Putin and G. Schroeder, but two Bushes or two Schroeders looked out from the screen. There is obviously nothing suspicious in the fact that the political leader who perfectly knows four major world languages is able to subdue the same world by means of official performances, natural conversations, acceptance of rational decisions, and sometimes, contrary to everything, the demonstration of force and determination.
Orlando Figes is convinced that it is impossible to name Putin either a Slavonic adorer or a Westerner because he is simultaneously both the former and the latter, but first of all he supports the idea of a great Russian state [8, par. 36].
In the same way as Peter the Great, president V. Putin aspired to investigate the world. During his two presidential terms he visited 64 countries and made more than 190 foreign trips [8, par. 25]. A correspondent underlines that Putin speaks fluently English, French and German and definitely likes to play a main role in the global world [8, par. 25]. Emperor Peter the Great’s lack of culture and drunkenness coursed negative impressions in Europe but they were compensated by his numerous merits for Russia. Documentary sources testify that the Emperor invited to Russia some hundreds experts in ship, military affairs and other sciences [9, p. 59]. All those people were not urged to serve or act in a role of hired workers performing the role of trainers and teachers of the Russian population in those branches in which they were professionals. This was one of the ways of formation and occurrence in general (along with Peter’s educational policy) of the new Russian intelligentsia — highly educated people, purposeful, ambitious, fluently speaking several foreign languages. Peter the Great told once: «I have found Russia a stream and I will leave it a river- if my successors reasonably lead destinies of Russia they will make of it a huge ocean the waters of which will flood the whole of Europe despite obstacles of those people who will try to suspend this flood» [9, p. 59].
Emperor Peter the Great as a prototype of an intelligence officer in the 17th century
There are a lot of common in Emperor Peter the Great’s and president Putin’s professional past. President Putin’s past finds the reflection also in Peter the Great’s past. In literal understanding of this fact it is necessary to underline similarities that are obvious taking into account Putin’s direct activity while staying in the former East Germany (1985−1990) under the cover of the director of the Dresden House of Friendship between the USSR and East Germany
and, on the other hand, Peter the Great’s experience and activity in West Europe where in 1697−1698 he learnt various crafts and gathered information on western professionals. Similarly, the main objective for V. Putin in East Germany was an ordinary reconnaissance. As he personally tells in his book «From the first person» his activity comprised: the recruitment of the sources of information, gaining information, its processing and sending to the centre [10, section 5].
Peter the Great’s perfect ability to accept the rules of ordinary people, his extraordinary patience, his ability not to be afraid of humiliation (the transformation from the Emperor-lord into a journeyman) for the achievement of certain prime targets (in this case knowledge and studying shipbuilding) tells for itself. Those facts from Peter the Great’s life are very accurately described in the sketch «Peter the Great in Sardam» by Ustryalov. This Russian historian described some extremely interesting facts about Emperor Peter the Great’s way and style of life to the North-West from Amsterdam behind the sea bay where there was an extensive shipbuilding with an active trade. Peter the Great lodged in a wooden small house with two windows and two tiny rooms carefully hiding his dignity and he voluntary doomed himself to hard work pursuing the aim of secret study of the art which should «glorify Russia» [11, pp. 45−48].
The idea of a strong army, prospering fleet and powerful special services
The foundation of the Russian fleet more than three centuries ago is Emperor Peter the Great’s huge and conclusive merit. Emperor Peter the Great gave proper attention to the abilities which were necessary for carrying out effective military operations that later were reflected in the 21-year-old Northern War (1700−1721) in result of which Russia got an access to the Baltic Sea. Such a series of events was possible thanks exclusively to Peter the Great’s wisdom taking into account the modernization and improvement of the Russian army. According to Peter the Great’s order Russian special military educational institutions — the Sea Academy and the Artillery School were created. Similarly, during his first and second presidencies Putin put emphasis on the development and perfection of the Russian army, militia and special services.
Internal and foreign policies, geopolitical plans in relation to other states
In the history of the Russian State the 18th century begins with Peter the Great’s epoch. Nowadays it is evident that Peter the Great
was the greatest political leader in the history of Russia. He was an Emperor who considerably changed the face of the country. He was an exclusively intelligent and proud lord who dreamed that his country became a European power. The Emperor’s purpose was achieved despite citizens' discontent.
As numerous remained documentary sources testify, Peter the Great’s reforms were positively estimated in Europe. As a result of the reforms Russia turned into a civilized power. The events that occurred in Russia during Peter the Great’s reign were carefully traced, first of all, by European diplomats who prepared analyses and reports, extracting in various ways some necessary information on Russian internal policy. Travelers who had visited Russia then underlined the «presence of a special hatred attitude to foreigners which Peter the Great, wishing to consecrate and civilize the country, tried very much to eradicate but which remained in the Russians' blood despite everything and which clears up from time to time» [7, p. 221]. Up to now the Russians have had in their political and social tradition a certain way of the perception of their fatherland (the strongest belief in the «sanctity» of Russia as the only earth which keeps the sacred Orthodox religion). At the same time a specific way of perception of foreigners has been observed extraordinary brightly during the times of crises. In such cases foreigners or foreign countries are often perceived as friends or enemies. However, in most cases such messages are the subject of research for analysts and historians who try to understand the history of the Peter the Great’s epoch.
In his article «Peter the Great as the enlightener of Russia» J. Grot testifies that «Peter managed to forgive much to those who supported him in the first crucial years of his reign» [12, p. 284]. Peter the Great was surrounding himself with loyal and trustful to him people. And similarly Putin flooded the Kremlin with the former officers of the former KGB but, as he said, bribery eradication was his purpose: «I have known them for many years and I trust them. It hasn’t anything in common with ideology. It simply goes about their professional qualities and personal relations» [3, par. 4].
The fear of an enemy has been present in Russia since the reign of Peter the Great and even nowadays it is possible to notice the existence of a constant threat situation in internal and foreign policy. As the empire that had its contenders, the modern Russia sees contenders even in a circle of actual allies but in modern times this does not mean any animosities at all (except unusual cases).
Coming back to reforms, it is possible to draw a parallel between the period of Peter the Great and the years of Putin’s presidency. It is worth noticing that the innovations and reforms undertaken by the government in 2000 — 2008 were positively accepted in the foreign arena just like Peter’s reforms by his opponents and support-
ers abroad three centuries ago. Under president Putin’s leadership the revived Russia got a quickly developing economy, affirmed foreign policy. However, thanks to Putin Russia received a strong feeling of statehood awaited by its citizens after the insane years of 1990s. This feeling has constantly been backed up by numerous films and TV programmes continuously informing that Russia is a great nation with a nice history and unique destiny. Sometimes the methods of proving Russia’s nice history are rather controversial. The controversy is widely demonstrated with an example of exalting Stalin’s regime. The modern schoolbooks claim that Stalin is the country’s most successful leader that Russia ever had and the best representative of the leader-plebiscitary power with a strong legitimacy. The handbooks do not mention that Stalin was also a killer and narcissist. Like many years ago the Soviet state and the Soviet satellites' populace gained the legitimacy sources of their authorities from news reports of the Soviet’s combat victories, plays, films and other popular art forms that portrayed the Soviet authorities as heroic and brave. These art forms resulted in mobilizing national energies and building patriotic feelings. Historians claim that since the Bolsheviks' victory and Stalin’s regime based on fear and terror the Russians have become accustomed to living in fraud and illusions. The Soviet people trusted in the slogans of the communist party, presented on a May Day march, and in the fairy tales about Lenin — «Lenin lived, Lenin is alive, Lenin will live!» («Ленин жил, Ленин жив, Ленин будет жить!») and that «Lenin is so young!» («Ленин такой молодой!»), «Lenin eternally young!» («Ленин вечно молодой!»). It is really good that from these fairy tales there remained not so much. The conscience of the former Soviet people has been changing slowly and new generations become real citizens. Nowadays the Russian people learn how to distinguish history from myths, real politics from demagogy. They learn how to distinguish pre-election promises from the possibilities of real economy. In spite of the above mentioned there are sometimes recurrences of the Soviet disease — the denial of the truth. This is not fortuitous. 70 years of communist reality distortions and a complete fraud caused severe injuries to Soviet people’s consciousness and memory. Despite the proved fact that it was the Soviet Army at Stalin’s command that murdered more than 20 thousands Polish officers at Katyn and other places there still appear some articles in Russian newspapers and magazines claiming that the officers were killed by the Germans. Despite the cruel truth of the «Archipelago GULAG» in the Russian state there are still lots of adherents of Stalin’s regime. In steep labyrinths of Soviet people’s memory there live legends (about a good Soviet boy named Paul Morozov, «26 Baku commissars», «10 Stalin’s thrusts») according to which without the help of the heroes of the legends the victory in the World War II was purportedly impossi-
ble. As the Russian expert Viacheslav Kostikov claims, despite opening many archival documents proving the tragedy of the state and the nation in the 20th century, many Russian veterans still try to justify many millions of victims by the following argumentation: «thanks to that the whole world was scared of us», «thanks to that we made rackets», «thanks to that we explored the space», «thanks to that we were strong» [13, p. 4]. Moreover, a lot of young people in contemporary Russia who have grown up on imaginary historical books are convinced that Stalin and his associates are national heroes who fought for the good and cleanness of the Russian nation. Every year in contemporary Russia they print books with Stalin’s testimonials where he is presented not as a killing monster but as a hero, a real Soviet man who fought bravely for a prosperous future of the country.
As opposed to his many predecessors Vladimir Putin does not hate the West. On the contrary, he was the first president of modern Russia and the first Russian political leader who was and still is precisely able to define what is really valid in the western modes, what is necessary to appreciate, what is necessary to take as a worthy example as well as what is necessary to adopt in Russia and what it is necessary to refuse. Putin’s approach was similar to that of Peter the Great. Emperor Peter the Great loved and even idolized the western finds. Peter the Great, whose domination lasted 29 years, resolutely changed the country’s shape. He adopted the Swedish system of boards having assumed them as a basis in the process of creating state institutions. He ordered to measure the French Versailles gardens in order to create similar on the Russian earth later. He based the Petersburg police on the example of the Parisian police. Thanks to his numerous travels the Emperor touched the western civilization from which Russia was separated in reality then. This was the Emperor’s motive to carrying out reforms in the country.
Putin’s presence in the political arena has been possible to the present day as the occurrence of a new type of a political leader -pragmatic and strong. During Putin’s presidencies the self-esteem of the Russians increased extraordinarily. Comparing today’s Russia to that from 10 — 12 years ago it is possible to make a conclusion: the progress is really huge. By the majority of citizens Vladimir Putin will be remembered by carrying out political reforms in their positive meaning. The shape of the Federation Council, the election system of governors, the selective legislation and the political parties' law were changed. These Putin’s actions (among others) were treated as aiming at the rolling back of democracy and human rights.
Of course, there was a lot of good in the 1990s, too. The main achievement was the breaking totalitarianism off. Despite Yeltsin’s numerous positive achievements for the independent democratic Russian state there were also some very negative ones — the 1st Che-
chen War, the 2nd Chechen War, money crisis, the furious 1990s which were like a non-ending series of failures. From the today’s point of view it would be more advantageous for the people to organize a smoother dismantling of the monopolized Soviet economy and another model of privatization — nominal vouchers [14, p. 4]. The shock therapy brought fears in people’s hearts and minds. A lot of time must pass to get an unprejudiced evaluation of the 1990s, a couple of generations must go out. But our parents still live and remember those days when they lost their money twice in the 1990s, when they received their salaries not in money but in products, e.g. food processors «Vikhr'», electric irons «Minsk», TV sets «Horizont», hair-dressers sets «Nadeyka». Some children could not go to school in the winter of 1998 because winter jackets were changed for bread and cereals… My grandmother still blames those governments for the financial slumps of the 1990s when she had enough money on her bank account («sberknizhka», сберкнижка — сберегательная книга) to buy a new «Volga» car and after the money crashes she could buy only ten kilos of split peas for that money.
The western political experts applying the western democratic principles to the situation of Russia are mistaken. In its history Russia has never had a stable democratic tradition.
I. Solonevitch in his book «Russia in a concentration camp» claims: «Any measures, recipes, programmes and ideologies borrowed from somewhere outside are inapplicable for the Russian statehood, Russian nationality, Russian culture… Self-management was the political organization of the Russian people on the bottoms and autocracy was the political organization of the people as a whole… The tsar assured first of all a public balance. In infringement of this balance industrialists will create plutocracy, military men -militarism, spiritual ones — clericalism, and intelligentsia any '-ism' that will be in a fashion book at a certain historical moment» [15, p. 11]. He added: «I do not have a slightest doubt not only that a monarchy is the best exit for Russia but that the monarchy for Russia — is inevitable as well. For me the belief in a monarchy is understood as the same thing as the belief in the Lord: neither without the first nor without the second Russia cannot be restored» [15, p. 3].
It seems that Putin did not roll back democracy but for sure he rolled back the liberal-connivance style of governing stabilized in the 1990s. Three Russian political leaders contributed to Russia’s successful democratic development at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s: firstly Yeltsin, secondly Gorbachev and thirdly Putin. Gorbachev as the first and the last president of the USSR whose «courage tore down walls». But it was exactly Yeltsin, not Gorbachev, who finished with communism as he could do this that time and it was Yeltsin’s «commitment that built bridges». Yeltsin left a huge legacy after himself.
He made the foundations for all those successes which are the subjects of great proud of the current Russian authorities. Unfortunately, though Yeltsin created the New Russia with his own hands, he killed it also with his own hands applying only two tools: a «family» phenomenon and oligarchs. As at the beginning he tore down the walls, so at the end he built the new ones even higher than they were in the USSR. The economic catastrophe of the 1990s made Russia kneeing in the West. Despite the spectacular Yeltsin’s friendship with Bill Clinton, Helmut Kohl and other political leaders, Boris Yeltsin put the state in the position of a permanent borrower and, consequently, a permanent debtor. Any country which is kneeing, which is being in the asking position cannot perform its national policy in the international arena. Many world events took place without Russia and, unfortunately for its authorities, in many cases in defiance with the Russian interests. These are the NATO spreading to the East, bombarding Yugoslavia and Iraq, strengthening Washington’s and Brussels' influences on the post-Soviet territories. Putin took over the state from Yeltsin hearing from the latter two requests: «forgive me if you can» and «take care of Russia». Putin got out Russia from chaos, brought it to a certain path. His ideas are working, his convictions are checked in life. For this all, and not only, he deserves Russian society’s gratitude and — without any doubts — a better award than the Quadriga prize granted for German political reasons.
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K. Czerewacz-Filipowicz Politechnika Bialostocka, Bialystok, Polska
Summary. The objective of this paper is to scrutinize the regional integration policy of Slavic countries in the post-Soviet area with the special consideration of the Russian Federation policy in the aspect of the instruments applied, directions and forms of integration.
The model of relations and interdependencies built within the project is an attempt at the presentation of the characteristics, nature and determinants of the connections linking the Russian Federation with selected states and regions of the modern world. Regional integration processes are used by many of postSoviet countries to change/improve their positions on the international level, improve their competitiveness and economic development.
Key words: regional integration policy- Commonwealth of Independent States- Eurasian Economic Community.
1. Uwagi wst^pne
Rozpad ZSRR spowodowal szereg procesow ekonomicznych, politycznych, kulturowych w duzej mierze wynikaj^cych z faktu, ze pi^tnascie panstw powstalych w wyniku jego rozpadu musialo zdefiniowac swoje miejsce i rol^ we wspolczesnym swiecie, znalezc wlasn^ drogQ politycznego i ekonomicznego rozwoju oraz niejednokrotnie rozwazyc kwestie wlasnej tozsamosci.
Konsekwencjami rozpadu ZSRR bylo d^zenie tworz^cych go republik do wyzwolenia spod dominacji Moskwy oraz nat^zenia procesow dezintegracyjnych w skali lokalnej, na terenie samej Rosji.

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