02/25/2023, 20.59
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Escapist distractions amid Russia’s war

by Stefano Caprio

A bombastic language and lack of content have produced a soporific and deadly effect on ordinary Russians, prey to despair amid fears of another military call-up. Online, a surreal diatribe about gorgonzola describes, better than any other example, Russians’ desire “not get involved", to turn away from feelings of guilt and shake off the rhetoric of "traditional values".

The whole world is looking anxiously at Ukraine after the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion, hoping that there will be no second anniversary. More and more statements and appeals are heard from leading officials and institutions, from Pope Francis to the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire, voted by all except a few countries friendly to Russia, including Mali, proof of the success of the Wagner Group, which is doing better in Africa than in Ukraine.

India and China abstained, again. Proposals for universal peace have come from Beijing, saying that Ukraine must be protected, while not condemning Russia, since the war was instigated by the United States.

G7 leaders met remotely with the West’s newest hero, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a modern icon for freedom and democracy, against whom the increasingly bedevilled Putin lashes out from the Russian Senate and Moscow’s Luzniki stadium.

It seems obvious now that peace negotiations between the two great enemies won’t happen, in a grotesque remake of the confrontation between Churchill and Hitler.

If anything, it is Biden and Xi Jinping who might strike a deal, like Roosevelt and Stalin did, to inaugurate a new cold war in the third millennium, perhaps again in Yalta in Crimea, where East and West reached “armed neutrality”.

Putin's proclamations take on horrifying echoes, with Soviet-era folk songs rewritten with lugubrious and devilish verses, like the postcards of the "European dance of death" in memory of the end of the First World War, which Russian trenches in Ukraine now resemble.

To his 100,000 drunken supporters, brought together by generous tips at -15 Celsius, Putin gave the mystical visions of “Our Father", whose prayers turn the crowd into a true fatherland and family, not like the "gender fluid" god of the Anglicans, whose liturgies turn men into depraved paedophiles.

Patriarch Kirill blessed the president on Defender of the Fatherland Day, the new name for Red Army Day, which in Soviet times marked "triumph of the male" on 23 February, before state feminism on 8 March.

According to the head of the patriotic Orthodox believers, “The great feat of our predecessors, who at the cost of common efforts and great sacrifices defended the country’s right to life, freedom and independence, is covered with unfading glory and forever imprinted in the annals of the nation’s history. Every year on 23 February, we honour the memory of those who, setting an example of courage and bravery, valour and heroism, forged victory in the rear and at the front; we pay tribute to the soldiers who dedicated their lives to serving the motherland.”

Now all people have to do is wait for Putin's army to finally reach Kyiv like Marshal Zhukov’s troops did in Berlin in 1945. But the supreme leader’s promises fell far short from this, limiting himself to whining about America's spitefulness, unleashing the anger Prigozhin, the “cook” who in order to show his superiority over every Russian general lashes out with his mercenaries against a yet another miserable Ukrainian village, lost in the mud of the tributaries of the Don.

Putin spoke for hours without arousing any real emotion. Only the iron will of photographers and cameramen were the yawns of the officials chained to the seats of the Federal Council, starting with Patriarch Kirill, concealed from the public.

Putin's greatest threat was to ban Western inspectors from Russia’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, perhaps to spare them from seeing the shame of their poor maintenance.

A bombastic language and the emptiness of content have produced a soporific and deadly effect on ordinary Russians, prey to despair for the parade of caskets coming from Ukraine (mostly with the bodies of soldiers from Russia’s Asian possessions and the Caucasus), filled with fear over a second call-up, anxious over the difficulty of finding other escape routes, amid the inevitable economic crisis poorly averted by Putin’s empty promises of an autarkic revival of trade and industry.

Boredom and depression cause most Russians to live like zombies, preferring to politically bury their heads in the sand, pretending that what is happening does not concern them, looking for sacred and profane distractions so as not to get involved in the endless nightmare.

Orthodox Lent is coming soon, and the faithful are making the much-loved bliny, eaten with sour cream, caviar and raw fish, washed down with vodka, before the formal beginning of the Great Fast.

The Catholic variant is the ponchiki, traditional Polish pancakes, sweeter and more graceful than the indigestible Russian crepes.

And so, in the days of the hysterical celebration of the patriotic war, the most popular meme drawing the attention of the Russian population is the "gorgonzola war".

Twitter users went wild over the drama sparked by the clash between the popular journalist Alena Donetskaya and publicist Nikolay Solodnikov on the latter's YouTube channel.

Titled “Beauty and Shame”, the duet was centred on the appropriateness of putting the fragrant cheese with mould on pancakes. Solodnikov dared even trying gorgonzola with the exotic passion fruit, to Alena's outrage.

“You can't mix the two, gorgonzola kills everything alive, even the aroma of passion fruit ... At most, you can add fresh Gruyere!”

For many viewers, there is no need to get all worked up over this stuff, since most people “won’t be able to taste it” anyway.

It is the war and the deaths that is causing scandal therefore, but the snobbery of "culinary escapism”. Other viewers noted the addresses of shops where, despite all the sanctions of the world, "one can buy both gorgonzola and passion fruit, at reasonable prices.”

Alena and Nikolay argued in an elegant living room, smoking one cigarette after another, their dispute interspersed with classical piano pieces, exalting the escape from reality, from blood and frost, from barbaric songs and sacrilegious stadium blessings.

The Gorgonzola war describes, better than any other example, Russians’ desire “not to get involved”, turning away from feelings of guilt in order to shake off the rhetoric of "traditional values", replacing them with flavours that are foreign to all morals and cultures.

Another iconic scene, which aroused widespread laughter on the net, is the work of Samara municipal councillor Mikhail Abdalkin, who posted a video of himself watching Putin's speech to the Senate from a computer with overcooked noodles hanging from his ears (in Russian "pour noodles in the ears", lapša na uši, means "pulling the wool over the eyes"), saying that he "agrees on everything. It's a really good speech."

Local communists were not amused, and called for his dismissal and arrest for "defamation and treason of the state".

If the Ukrainians have discovered the heroism of the resistance, Russians have reacted with the farce of indifference, which more than anything else attests to the ineffectiveness of Putin's aggression, bound to be shut out between a glass and a frying pan in the kitchen, or in the living room, by a people increasingly cynical and far from their “spiritual guides”.

In Soviet times, dissent took two forms, a public one well known in the West, that of writers and poets, like Sinyavsky and Solzhenitsyn, who recited anti-Soviet poems in Moscow squares, or denounced the crimes of Stalinist concentration camps in great novels.

The other variety was political and liberal, dissent by people like Ginzburg and Sakharov, who called for the end to totalitarianism, while their heirs, the few who still have the courage to speak out publicly, are nowadays once more condemned and repressed.

But there was also a silent and inner dissent, which was based on the non-resistance (nieprotivlenčestvo) preached in the 19th century by the great writer Leo Tolstoy.

The rejection of the dictatorship was not expressed with sensational actions aimed at the "free world", which were almost despised, considered a quest for fame and success, destined for the consumption of those who do not know and do not understand Russia.

It was the dissent of university professors, who devoted themselves to the study of literature or physics, seeking a truth greater than ideologies; it was also the dissent of ordinary people, employees and housewives, aware of their subjugation by the fanaticism of the powerful, but reluctant to grant satisfaction both to their jailers and to the alleged liberators, bearers of equally vain and bombastic slogans and ideologies.

This is the deepest Russia, lethargically surviving amid the enmity of the world, waiting for a new life.


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