04/13/2024, 12.53
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Political apathy grows among Russians amid wars and attacks

by Stefano Caprio

According to the head of the Levada Center, Russia's leading sociological research institute, “only 10 per cent of Russians are actively interested in politics, and the war involves a super-politicisation of a minority in the face of the depoliticisation of the masses.” Only 30 per cent of Russians are willing to trust people outside their ever-shrinking circle of relatives and friends.

In addition to the resurgence of intolerance towards Central Asian migrants in Russia, one of the consequences of the Krokus City Hall massacre by IS-Khorasan terrorists is the deepening sense of apathy and depression in the Russian population, caused by the loss of all hope in a future of normal relations with the rest of the world due to the war with Ukraine, and by the uncertainty of domestic coexistence, which is increasingly subjected to repression from above, and now attacks and dangers in places of social interaction, something brought home again, on 11 April, when the authorities stopped a Central Asian man from trying to blow up a synagogue in Moscow.

Russians reacted to the invasion of Ukraine that began on 24 February 2022 by withdrawing from politics, as if the issue concerned only the country’s “bosses” who evidently “have their reasons" for undertaking such a radical action.

At that time, after all, scepticism and indifference towards what was happening in the world and the country were already strongly fuelled by two years of COVID-19 pandemic, seen largely as a "world conspiracy" by some dark power, in America or Europe, to seize the minds of the most defenceless peoples. This persecution complex has remained deeply rooted in the soul of Russians, as well as of many other peoples.

Today, the "ostrich policy" is not only justified by the desire to preserve one's own private space, since war now has penetrated deeply into life and the world of information, with all the conditioning of state propaganda and universal condemnation.

The head of the Levada Center, Russia's main sociological research institute, Denis Volkov, explains in Meduza's Signal newsletter that “only 10 per cent of Russians are actively interested in politics, and the war involves a super-politicisation of a minority in the face of the depoliticisation of the masses.”

The Russian reaction to bad news in society and the world is – “Davay ne budem ob etom (давай не будем об этом), “Let's not talk about this” – a self-preservation mechanism to avoid repression, especially as a result of being grassed up by a snitch, who could be anyone around in one’s circles, since it is no longer possible to say: “I don't know anything about it" or "I don't understand anything about these things”  since tragic events are now there for all to see.

Indifference and refusal are also a consequence of social conflicts that date back to the Yeltsin years, when any sense of "mutual trust" that lingered on from Soviet times, at least in the older generations, was destroyed.

The politics of the "liberal world" has come to be seen as a “dirty thing", without ideologies or principles in which to identify, a tool in the hands of the powerful and the most unscrupulous oligarchs.

According to sociologists, post-Soviet Russians are less and less willing to trust even friends and acquaintances, and Putin's "vertical of power" was built on this: everyone should mind their own business, we will take care of public affairs for everyone, and it is better not to trust the rest of the world.

Mutual trust tends to increase in times of crisis, when people are afraid of not making it on their own and feel dependent on others, and so look for someone who is credible. If people turn inward, away from the world, and proclaim that all problems are solved "from above," the need to look around withers away more and more.

The leading theorist of the "sociology of everyday life", Polish Piotr Sztompka, explains that "only trust can allow us to get out of the frustration of not being able to cope with social problems", but all the surveys show that in the last 30 years only 30 per cent of Russians are willing to give trust to people outside their increasingly shrinking circle of relatives and friends.  And that percentage slipped further between 2018 and 2020, following the reform that raised the retirement age, weakening the feeling that people could rely on the material assistance of the state, not to mention the subsequent years of pandemic and war.

Public declarations of loyalty to the head of state, such as those of Putin's electoral plebiscite on 17 March, or those addressed to the army and the security services, appear to be a real smokescreen to hide the desire not to believe anyone, to avoid any kind of involvement or conflict in everyday life.

Better to rush to pay homage to the tsar, especially after tragedies like the death of the last dissident Alexei Navalny, before anyone picks on us.

The truth is that mutual distrust is now the rule in Russian social life, which is visible from the hypocritical consensus at home and the similarly impossible agreement among Russians abroad, who never managed to create a firm opposition, unlike the Belarusians.

The ideological solidarity of the Soviet era was replaced by the mirage of personal success in the age of the oligarchs, to be resurrected by the autocracy of the supreme oligarch in the new millennium.

Even within the Orthodox Church, patriarchal dictatorship has been imposed, against the backdrop of a tradition that ought to be predominantly "conciliar," but the theological sobornost (собо́рность, spiritual community) has been replaced by a political-ideological version embodied by the figure of Vladimir-Kirill Gundyaev, the ecclesiastical alter ego of Tsar Vladimir V.

The recent order, Nakaz (Наказ), proclaiming a holy war, has been touted as religious dogma, even though it is yet another show of ideological delirium that should have nothing to do with the Church, even though it was presented by the patriarch in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, in the shadow of the Kremlin.

The apotheosis of apathy is demonstrated by the enthusiastic fiction of "traditional moral and religious values", which everyone celebrates and no one practises, from the "natural" family to the defence of unborn life, up to children’s education, who are supposed to be taught from kindergarten to launch assault drones against the enemy.

The phoney patriotic collectivism actually results in the most cynical and radical individualism, much more so than the digital narcissism of Western societies. Almost no one goes to church in Russia, except when eggs and Kulich, the Easter bread, are blessed in the courtyard, an apotropaic (protective) gesture analogous to that of going to the polling station to vote for Putin.

Another prominent sociologist, Grigory Judin, defines Russian society as a "people on demand". Once everyone was communist, then Orthodox; pacifists, then warmongers, depending on what is imposed from above, homophobic and traditionalist in a country where the most popular entertainment is sexy bars and night shows of all kinds, which today the police demonstratively close (one in a hundred) to exalt the "patriotic conversion" of the people.

“Let's not talk about this", that is, let us not talk about the war and mobilisation, which must be left only to the Chernota (чернота), the “blacks”, as Russians call the Caucasians, who are associated with the Asiaty (азиаты), the Asians, the smaller peoples of Siberia, the criminals, and even the politicians accused of corruption and other crimes, who spend a few weeks at the front in Ukraine to repair their virginity.

With the war came the sanctions, which were supposed to drive the Russian economy into the ground; instead, it continues to hold, and if the French wines are no longer available, Russians can drink those from Georgia; instead of holidaying in the Maremma or the Côte d'Azur, they can travel to Antalya or Bali.

Of course, the economic indicators clearly show that Russia is heading towards a new zastoy (застoй) or era of economic stagnation like under Brezhnev; what Putin hails as "the fifth largest economy in the world and the first in Europe" has not actually grown for a decade, and the outlook is far from rosy, with the loss of Western markets and abnormal spending to continue war in all directions.

People will just have to make do, as they did under Brezhnev when there was never any shortage of salami and vodka, but it will not be easy for people now accustomed to unbridled luxury, especially in Moscow and St Petersburg, big cities now living in terror of Tajik attackers.

Cuts in social spending are being felt more and more, amid the lingering frost in unheated flats at the tail end of winter, and the floods from undefended river banks in the remote Urals, blamed on the evil Kazakhs accused of not coordinating the discharge of water more effectively, another good reason to organise as soon as possible a new “special military operation” to restore order among the vassals of Central Asia.

An Italian singer-songwriter who died prematurely, Francesco Puccioni aka Mike Francis, released his first album in 1984, Let's Not Talk About It, in the disco-funky genre, achieving some success in the Soviet Union, where the whole country could watch taped episodes of the San Remo Festival, with Italian singers building a huge fan following, some of whom still tread the stages of Putin's Russia.

In Italy, “Let's not talk about it" back then reflected a desire to forget the years of political violence (Years of Lead, Anni di piombo) and start enjoying life again, while in Russia, it embodied the budding desire to do away with the totalitarian system, which, sadly, has made a comeback.

In a world that is falling apart, where wars are multiplying, and even water is pouring down like a new global flood, in Russia and in many other places in the world, it is better not to talk about this.


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