Post-Soviet Muscovy’s end-of-the-world
The great tune of Putin's propaganda, expressed in an increasingly radical and apocalyptic terms, echoes the latest statements by Iranian ayatollahs against charges of oppression of women and people: “We have our culture and our values, and no one can impose another way of life on us.”
Meduza's newsletter Signal (сигнал) contains a juicy anecdote from 1989, when Ayatollah Khomeini sent a handwritten letter to Soviet Secretary General Mikhail Gorbachev, his only written document addressed to a foreign leader.
Iran’s supreme leader expressed concern that the collapse of the ideological influence of communism, which led to the fall of the Berlin Wall, could weaken the solidity of the Eastern bloc that opposed the moral decadence of the West.
Khomeini assured Gorbachev that this value vacuum could be filled by Islam, through a strong relationship between Iran and the Soviet Union, and recommended reading the medieval philosopher Abu Ali bin Sīnā (Avicenna) as a way to convert to the Muslim faith. The last Soviet leader thanked the Iranian leader for the advice, but was careful not to follow it.
Thirty years after the end of the USSR, on the centenary of its foundation (30 December 1922), Khomeini’s shadow is back hovering over the future of Russia, now at war to defend traditional values against a world dominated by the evil Anglo-Saxons.
This is not mass conversion to Shia Islam, although Kadyrov's proclamations about Russian "jihad" in Ukraine seem to confer a Islamic poise to Putin's policy of aggression. No! It is about restoring the archetypally Soviet ideological attitude that split the world into factions in order to give meaning to its very existence.
One of Putin's main advisers, Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, gave a long interview to Argumenty i Fakty magazine. In it he reiterated the arguments repeatedly expressed by the Kremlin boss and Patriarch Kirill, on the metaphysical struggle in which Russia is called to sacrifice itself for the good of the whole world.
In his opinion, “in the West, our country has not place in the world, a mob of powerful people around the world are hostile to Russia because we have great resources, a boundless territory, intelligent and self-sufficient people who love their country, its traditions and history”.
Powerful Russophobes are identified as “corporations" that propose to "impose the system of global exploitation", subjecting the new "Third World" to the domination of the "golden billion" of the great Western economies.
The project that Patrushev slams inevitably needs the weakening of Russia, which must "be dismembered, erasing the Russian language and the Russian world", even using "disruptive technologies" capable of shattering the internal unity of each adversary to "divide them into small countries, so that Russia goes back to being only Muscovy".
The latter refers to the period when Moscow claimed the legacy of Kyiv as "mother of all Russian cities", after the ancient capital was destroyed by the Tatar invasion.
From the fifteen-century grand dukes, who prospered thanks to trade under Mongol protection, Muscovy’s greatness was embodied in the first tsars and patriarchs, distinguishing itself from western "Ruthenia", today's Ukraine as the Russians see it, then subjugated to Poland and popish influence.
Even today, for Secretary Patrushev, a possible successor to Putin, “this whole story with Ukraine was planned in Washington, to divide the greatness of the one Russian people ... Millions of people have been forbidden to speak their native language, forcing them to forget their roots.”
The war in Ukraine is thus not a conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, but an aggression by NATO and all Western forces against Russia, using the Ukrainians as an “expendable human fodder”.
This is the great tune of Putin's propaganda, expressed in increasingly radical and apocalyptic terms, similar to the recent statements by Iran’s ayatollahs when accused of oppressing women and their own people: “We have our culture and our values, and no one can impose another way of life on us”.
Yet Patrushev's interviewers react with unease. “You present us with a very gloomy picture, almost as if the end of humanity is just around the corner”; the ideologue reassures them that "the potential of human kind has not yet been exhausted".
Russia wants to propose a "different culture in the use of resources, which knows how to preserve and protect natural and intangible treasures". This is why financial independence and technological sovereignty are needed, "reviving a true cult of scientists, engineers, workers".
Young people must learn "to be inspired by the ideals of creative work for the good of the Fatherland, and not waste time with electronic games in the offices of Western companies".
Taking up expressions typically used by the Orthodox patriarch, the secretary notes that "the Russian man is not capable of hating, his nature is made to unite; only Westerners are full of hatred against their opponents, from Vietnam to Afghanistan and Russia”.
The man of today's Muscovy thus goes back to the traits that characterised life in the Soviet Union, namely solidarity and the rejection of consumerism, the involvement of all in the creation of a perfect society, the communist utopia experienced as a moral elevation and example for all, up to the great policy of "friendship among peoples”.
Many of the initiatives the Kremlin undertook this year, 2022, the "war revival”, are grotesquely reminiscent of the attempt to reconstruct the atmosphere of Soviet times, such as the restoration of the university course on the "Foundations of Russian Statehood", in fact a rehash of the old course in “Scientific Communism".
In every school, these notions are spoon fed in small doses in the "Conversations on the important things", as they were once upon once a time in the mandatory course on atheism, which was actually a patriotic religion, today re-morphed into Orthodoxy.
This is tantamount to a post-communist and post-atheist Soviet mindset, in which what matters is Russia's role as a world leader, a geopolitical legacy more than an economic-ideological one.
Support for this nostalgic thread is shared by half of the Russian population, which grew up in Soviet times, as several recent polls suggest.
In 2020, a survey by the Levada Center found that as many as 75 per cent of Russians believe that the Soviet era was the “greatest time” in the country’s history, although less than a third express a desire to restore the old regime.
Putin's radicalism, in its orthodox-sovereignist and militant variety, is an attempt to reconcile nostalgia for the past with fears of the present.
It is mainly men, seniors and rural residents who support the regime's arguments, but often young people are also fascinated by speeches about how "once it was better", as they see nothing attractive in the future.
Nostalgia is the refuge engendered by resentment, and this applies not only to Russia, but to many people in every country in today’s world.
This way, repressions, genocides, wars, and tragedies of the past can be forgotten; the identity crisis finds a resolution in the face of increasingly destabilising social and technological processes, providing a shelter in a world of controllable, colourful and mythological fantasy.
It is not a world in which people truly believe; more than anything else, it is a façade behind which to hide; probably the first to disbelieve in the idealisation of post-Soviet Russia are Putin and Patrushev.
As one of Russia's sharpest writers, Dmitry Bykov, observes in Business Online, "there is a desperate attempt by the archaic world to cling to life, according to Tyutchev’s formula: “up to our ankles in blood, we're fighting corpses resurrected for fresh funerals.”
The first half of the twenty-first century will thus be a "long divorce from the practices of the past; from radical and nostalgic governments, there will be a long war in various dimensions".
Last but not elast, a "biological revolution" will be needed, a complete refoundation of Russia, Bykov argues, a "new revelation of the incarnate Christ."
If Russians have always loved to express themselves using eschatological categories, we cannot forget that the Gospel itself says: “for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end” (Mt 24:6).
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