The Menacing Side of Russian Patriotism

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(Correction: Republished on April 2, 2014 from April 1, 2014 due to an error in publication. Last 4 paragraphs did not get included in original publication.)
RussiansWelcomeCrimeaBy Alvetina Rea.

[Participants in the “We Are Together” rally and concert to support the residents of the Crimea, at Vasilyevsky Slope, Moscow.(RIA Novosti / Mikhail Voskresenskiy), RT.]

[Editor’s Note: This article reflects a not uncommon sentiment among many Russians today.  The Stalin era is a complex political and historical point due to the widespread revisionism colored by the Cold War doctrines – many of which persist to this day. Some events attributed to Stalin are exaggerated or misattributed – such as the number of people who died is inflated by those who died of starvation because of the actions of the US and allies to efforts to close off the USSR. The massive “red scare” in the US linked to the threat of mass annihilation created “mass insanity” as Ms. Rea criticizes in her article.  That is an insanity that is encouraged  by those who want to move a populace – for better or worse.  This sense of nationalism also occurs within a specific socio-historical context. Namely the constant drumbeat and threat from the US and NATO to attack Russia in one way or another. This serves to raise the level of fear, as well as the sense of group identification, that Ms. Rea discusses below. In other words, what is driving the nationalism is based in actual threat to life and livelihood by the US (followed by NATO) upon the Russian people. Gaither Stewart wrote an excellent article addressing some of these issues, which may be found here, but that I will republish.]

Mass insanity is easy to bring about – just enough to mention the issue of national security, for one, or point the finger at the injured national pride. In either case, instead of looking for deep-routed sources of discord, the national political agenda, quite obsessively, focuses on searches for wrongdoing and, sad as it is, on finding wrongdoers at any price. Mind you, definitions of wrongdoers become broad enough to include anyone with a critical or differing view.What happen at the end is the installation of phobic objectivity at the level of national self-identity.

In Russia of the Stalin times, a sociopathic formation of reality was such a norm that one specific metaphorical construction, “an enemy of the people” – along with some others such as “socially dangerous element,” “rightist opportunism,” “rootless cosmopolitan,” etc. – influenced, molded, and, thus, imposed the very limits on the national self-identity. Way back, it was enough to whisper that some people are the enemies of the people, and these poor things would disappear in the maze of Gulag to be devoured by the Moloch of paranoia. The latter was so prevalent that many believed, quite sincerely, that the enemies were around every corner. Just to comprehend the scale of the phobic objectivity under the Stalin rule is enough to mention that ordinary people were persecuted and sent to prison only because they “had not been sufficiently scared away from the West. It was fashionable to charge them with: praise of American Technology; Praise of American Democracy; and Toadyism Toward the West. …They took those who were too independent, too influential, along with those who were too well-to-do, too intelligent, too noteworthy…”[1]

The Soviet society’s insanity, gradually and not without fight, subsided in the post-Stalin times, as it seems. Furthermore, the whole Soviet society and, obviously, its national self-identity fell apart and, to a certain degree, sunk into annals of history. However, the recent events of the Crimean referendum, subsequent integration of the Crimea into Russia, and the Ukrainian political predicament in general and the U.S. and EU impudent interference in particular woke up powerful political forces in Russia that started to re-shape national self-identity in a certain mold, by providing a spiritual structure of ideas and beliefs in an overarching unity. “We must strengthen the patriotic upsurge,” the Russian authorities said. The meaning of being the Russian patriot, in this case, is predicated upon the unanimous support of the “party line,” so to say. Which fact alone rings the alarming bell!

Don’t take me wrong – I was among those who, with the abated breath, followed the results of the Crimean referendum and welcomed its results. After all, this referendum was a powerful demonstration of collective activity in deciding what is good for the people of Crimea, that is, it was a rear example of the original concept of democracy, when – in all its glory! – the power of the represented overtook the power of representatives. “A truly autonomous society cannot exist in any other form but that of its own project: that is, as a society which admits an ever expanding freedom of self-examination, critique and reform, rather than a pre-given pattern of happiness, as its only purpose and raison d’être.”[2] The people in Crimea rejected a pre-given pattern of the national self-formation and, admirably so, expanded freedom of self-determination by making a historic decision of re-uniting with Russia, where this peninsula belonged in the past.

Furthermore, for a few days in a row at least, I raved about such an egregious fact as the shameless U.S. and EU support of the neo-Nazis in Ukraine, who – with the West’s monetary and technical support – played a decisive role in the recent political coup. There is more than enough information that proves a big presence of neo-Nazis on the current Ukrainian political stage. And members of these neo-Nazis groups “are well-trained and judging by their infiltration of the security services and their ties to foreign intelligence and financial sources, as well as public meetings with U.S. officials and intercepted communications, there again appears to be the hand of CIA planners at work, however US/NATO/CIA have been extremely careful in covering their tracks, choosing to use German, Turkish and other intermediaries to control their agents in Ukraine.”[3]

On the top of my indignation concerning the Ukrainian neo-Nazis support, I was very much proud of the Russia’s stand against the Western – and especially the United States – threat to “further isolate Russia and diminish its place in the world,” according to Obama’s belligerent rhetoric following the referendum. Enough is enough, Putin said in response. To threaten Russia is useless, and his advice was “to stop hysteric tantrums, abandon Cold War rhetoric, and recognize the obvious thing: Russia is an independent, active participant in international life, and, like other countries, it has national interests that must be considered and respected.”

However, notwithstanding my support mentioned above, right now I would like to bring an attention to the alarming tendency of the renewed Russian patriotism, which, in the recent days, materialized in backlash on those who think differently. Oversimplification is just one of the limitations of the dualistic approach. The lexicon of this model sports such dichotomies as good/evil, order/disorder, just/unjust, etc. Attitudes are reduced to two: positive and negative. Anyone with differentiated opinions is simply placed into one group or another. In oversimplified fashion, basically overnight, the Russian society has been divided in two groups – the patriots, and … “the national traitors.” Thus, the “perils” of a dualistic rhetoric could definitely lead us to the circles of Dante’s Inferno. If you ask me, the latest metaphorical construction reeks of the Stalin-era boogeyman expression, “an enemy of the people”!

Sure enough, the ridiculous consequences of “the national traitors” scare didn’t wait for long – whoever were brave enough to go against the official line are being ostracized by the rest of the “righteous” part of the Russian society. For example, on Internet there is a real informational badgering of a well-known cultural figure, a rock musician and a leader of the “Time Machine,” Andrey Makarevich. His so-called crime amounted to his dissenting stand, for he voiced his condemnation of the Crimea reuniting with the mother Russia. Following the spread of outright lies about the alleged ownership by Makarevich of some business on Ukrainian territory, on March 27, 2014, the pseudo-independent Internet organizers launched a smear campaign and posted a petition for stripping Andrey Makarevich of all of his state awards.

According to Irina Prokhorova, an author of the Snob.ru column, this famous musician is accused of “incitement to murder people,” and he, himself, is being called a “Nazi collaborator” who should not have this award. Here we are, having a patriotic indignation on quite a shameful display! To dissent and criticize is deemed unpatriotic and even criminal. From the psychopolitical point of view, this kind of ideological mass insanity “is a rare opportunity to really hate someone, loudly, publicly, and with absolute impunity. It is a matter of good and evil … and so a gesture against [“national traitors”] defines you as decent.” What so-called Russian patriots – at least a chunk of them – had found is “common cause – the sensation of communal motivation … which used to define people’s sense of selves, and which [is] no longer available to them.”[4]

As Jacque Ellul emphasized, in his book Political Illusion, even the presence of countervailing facts that expose the truth is not enough to dispel the public’s belief in interpretation of various political events. “A frontier accident, a plane crush, a bombing attack on a nation in peace is not important unless properly ‘staged’; neutral and purely objective information does not move public opinion.” Therefore, “…unless a campaign is launched in which values are injected,” the public “does not take any written fact seriously.” Only then people start to judge the fact and form an opinion. At that moment only, “the fact becomes politically important.”[5] Thus, in the current situation of uncertainty, such metaphorical construction as “the national traitors” is used to easily manipulate the Russian political constituency. Mere facts will not be enough to persuade the public that they are being deceived and that rather than enjoying freedom of choice they have been transmogrified – to put it politely – into the myrmidons of those who staged the drama.

One might ask, who staged the drama in this case? Not surprising perhaps, it is none other than the Russian president, V. Putin, whose political rhetoric underlined the way the concept of “the public good” is perceived. According to one of the New Yorker’s blogs, “In an address to Parliament on March 18th, Putin raised the specter of ‘a fifth column’ – a ‘disparate bunch of national traitors’ – sowing discord inside Russia.”[6] As Joseph Gusfield summarized in his research on the legal myth of social order, “the function of punishment, or ‘scapegoating,’ is essential in restoration of authority,” moreover, “the punishers transfer to the scapegoat their own impurities and are purified in the vicarious atonement of sacrifice.”[7]The posture of moral superiority, however, paves a dangerous path toward blaming and demonizing those who have a different view.

On his part, Makarevich has the following to say, “The government has decided to check the people of my country, all of us, to check us for lice. And the authorities can rejoice, since I don’t think they expected this level of success. … As if a quarter-century ago had not even happened, where we were given a chance at least to feel like free, independently thinking people. And with what speed everything returned to the Soviet empire – with all the ‘unanimously approve,’ [and] ‘angrily condemn’”![8] Certainly, by allowing such bywords as “patriotism” and “national traitors” to control our world, we allow ourselves to be deceived and, thus, we limit the palette of our public life to only black and white and some variations of gray.

My hope is that, at this point of its historic development, the Russian society as a whole would not sink to a la Stalin phobic state of mind, once again. Too often political states focus on illusion which, whether inadvertently or as a result of a deliberate attempt to use the illusion as a strategy of representation, obscures the true picture, thus contributing to the conditioning of the fable “imposed not just by culture but by a specific cultural moment.”[9] An application of critical reflection on the development of any society on a national stage as well as on a field of the international politics is a must, so that we are able to see the validity of the national self-identity not only in its dominant solipsism, but as an inherent part of a dynamic network, which affects the whole. After all, “progress, modernity’s master idea, seems less compelling when it appears that it may be progress into the abyss.”[10]

 


[1] A.I. Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1973)

[2] Zygmunt Bauman, In Search of Politics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999)

[3] http://voiceofrussia.com/2014_02_28/Anonymous-operations-expose-Ukrainian-Bandera-nazis-9458/

[4] Decca Aitkenhead, quoted in Z. Bauman, In Search of Politics.

[5] Jacques Ellul, The Political Illusion. Translated from the French by Konrad Kellen (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967)

[6] Joshua Yaffa, “Putin’s New War On ‘Traitors,’” http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/newsdesk/2014/03/putin-new-hunt-for-internal-enemies.html

[7] Joseph R. Gusfield, The Culture of Public Problems: Drinking-Driving and the Symbolic Order (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981)

[8] http://maidantranslations.com/2014/03/11/andrey-makarevich-checking-for-lice/

[9] Suzanne Clark, Cold Warriors: Manliness on Trial in the Rhetoric of the West (Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2000)

[10] Robert N., Bellah, et al. Habits of the heart: individualism and commitment in American life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985)

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