03/11/2023, 22.04
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Russia, the ‘stepmotherland’

by Stefano Caprio

In an incautious shift, Soviet women, once the vanguard of world feminism, have morphed into today’s “heroic mothers”, worthy of prizes awarded by Putin in the Kremlin. However, the myth of the mother has become a casualty of the war, that of the Russian woman who takes care of the whole family and all the people, taking on the burden of suffering and humiliation, like Solzhenitsyn's Matryona, soul of the entire village of the persecuted.

Celebrating International Women's Day on 8 March is very popular in the Russian and post-Soviet world, as the day marks an important moment in the history of the country, claimed almost exclusively by Russians since the heyday of the revolution.

On 8 March 1917 (23 February 1917 according to the Julian calendar then in use), the women of Russia’s old capital, Petrograd – the russified name of the original German Sankt Petersburg – rose up against the authorities to demand bread after years of war had reduced the population to utter destitution.

At that time, Tsar Nicholas II had moved to the front, sending all his armies against German forces in a vain attempt to beat the enemy; only cadets had been left in the capital to defend the seats of power, eventually overwhelmed by marching women.

Thus, the “February Revolution” broke out on the 23rd of that month, which became 8 March under the Bolsheviks who carried out their own “October Revolution” on the 25th according to the Julian calendar, 7 November in the Gregorian calendar.

Putting aside the odd dates, much pride is vested in the event even though the Americans have tried to sow confusion with their usual “malice”, as more than more Russians are coming to believe today, by rewriting the history of International Women's Day, seen as the product of the fight of the suffragettes or associated to other events in the history of the women’s movement.

In an incautious shift, Soviet women, once upon a time the vanguard of world feminism, have now become today’s "heroic mothers", from the elderly mothers who welcome their dead children who died in Ukraine defending the motherland to the younger women willing to bear many children for Mother Russia, ready to be sacrificed in future wars to preserve "traditional values”, all brought to the Kremlin to be rewarded by President Vladimir Putin.

The Mother of the people is in fact the underlying reason for the war with Ukraine, which pits the natural mother of all Russian cities, the Kyiv of ancient Rus', against the stepmother "of all subsequent Russias", the Moscow reborn after the Tatars.

Not surprisingly, after 8 March, Putin unleashed his hypersonic rockets against Ukraine, going beyond the gruelling "challenge of Bakhmut", the village considered crucial for the fate of the war, which everyone will forget as soon as its total destruction is complete.

In Bakhmut, the real battle is really between the Wagner Group and its mercenaries and the top brass in Russia’s Defence Ministry, over who really runs in Russia.

The great target remains the renegade mother, whom the Tatars razed to the ground in 1240 opening up room for Moscow to seize the entire family, thanks to the alliance and dealings with the Mongol Khans, whose current heir, the "Great Khan" Xi Jinping, seems to be on the cusp of realising the dream of his progenitor Genghis Khan (oceanic ruler), that of Asia dominating the whole world.

For Moscow's Russia, Kyiv should have never made a comeback in history, as it did only four centuries after the Tatar-Mongol invasion.

It is no accident that the rift between Russians and Ukrainians is precisely over the connection with the original root, which according to the former was preserved thanks to the rebirth that followed foreign invasions, while the latter claim that the fusion with the Tatars has a monstrous ethnopolitical mongrel.

“Scratch at the Russian and underneath you will see the Tatar,” Napoleon is supposed to have said as he looked on at the fire burning Moscow, just before he was forced to retreat to Paris with his tail between his legs.

Ivan the Terrible, the tsar who finally defeated the Mongols, did not wipe out his enemies; instead, he integrated them into the Russian administration and military, granting them substantial lands.

Even today, the Russian Federation includes two ethnically Tatar entities, the Republic of Tatarstan with Kazan as its capital (where Our Lady inspired Ivan’s victory) and the Republic of Bashkortostan (capital Ufa), two strong independence-minded regions, although not very friendly to each other, as were the  Mongol tribes that one  the time constituted the Golden Horde.

Tatars are scattered across Russia, a thorn in the side of “Sacred Crimea" retaken in 2014, the seat of the most obdurate khanate, which despite wars, deportations and persecutions, has not been completely wiped out, home to modern Tatars and their claims.

In addition to the Federation’s many ethnic groups, like those in the Caucasus, in Karelia and Asian Russia, the Tatars could again represent the real trigger for Russia’s dissolution.

The Ukrainians too can hardly claim "East Slavic purity", even though much of their territories remained safe from the Mongol devastation under the protection of Lithuania and Poland.

Ukraine’s own identity was resoundingly asserted in the 17th century thanks to the Cossacks, heirs to the Asiatic nomads at least as much as to the Turkic merchants and wandering warriors of the Polish realm.

Moscow and Kyiv are also at odds with each other over the Cossack legacy. The revolt against the kings of Vilna and Krakow led most of the nomadic fighters to turn to the Russian tsar, who sent them to the remotest lands, perhaps to annex Asia to Russia, giving rise to an endless series of revolts, from Stepan (Stenka) Razin to Yemelyan Pugachev, which have profoundly marked Russian history from the 18th century onward.

After all, Yevgeny Prigozhin’s powerful Wagner Group does nothing but mention the deeds of Cossack mercenaries, and Putin's "cook" seems to rise to the glory of the ataman who revolted against all power, to save the whole people.

No doubt, Kyiv’s renaissance means a massive “western invasion” into the Russian world, not only in military terms, but more properly cultural and ideological – indeed, even religious and theological.

The disputed capital, which the Russians retook in 1682, was the seat of the prestigious Academy of Metropolitan Petro Mohyla, who introduced Jesuit scholasticism, giving the Orthodox tradition itself systematic content, becoming the "mother of all Russian schools", even of the University of Moscow founded in 1752 by the genius of Mikhail Lomonosov, a Russian Leonardo and Galileo who studied at the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy.

As Russian historian and political scientist Sergey Medvedev explains, a “year of war for Russia has meant the death of the founding myths” of Russian identity, and bombing Kyiv offers the most paradoxical image of destroying Rus’ to save Russia.

The “great Russian culture” is collapsing amid the most grotesque of humanitarian catastrophes, to the point that one may even be ashamed to read Pushkin and Dostoevsky.

But also collapsing is Russia’s claim to having the “second military in the world”, now seen as a pitiful collection of brigands, sadistic rapists and mobiki, cannon fodder relentlessly slaughtered in the meat grinder a few kilometres from the Donbass, once the land of the Cossacks, now a vast wasteland.

The myth of a rebellious “revolutionary Russia” is gone in a bleak show of terrified submission, resigned to death as destiny and cowardice that runs much deeper than in Stalin's time.

Above all, the victim of war is precisely the myth of the mother, of the Russian woman who takes care of the whole family and all the people, taking on the burden of suffering and humiliation, like Solzhenitsyn's Matryona, soul of the entire village of the persecuted.

The myth of the mother is even older than the theory of "traditional moral and spiritual values", indeed it constitutes its oldest root.

Oleg the Wise, the Varangian prince, called Kyiv the "mother of all Russian cities" as early as AD 862, a century before Vladimir the Great’s Christian baptism. He also defeated his kinsmen, Askold and Dir, who had seized Kyi’s crossing, named after a Varangian merchant who built a bridge over the Dnieper River, providing the raison d’être for a hitherto borderless state to exist.

Thus was born the borderland, the "u krayna", around the river, a maternal womb for what the Varangians called the gard (gorod in proto-Slavic, i.e. city) in the middle of the expanse which they named Garðaríki, the "land of cities", replaced eventually by the mythical Rus’ by the Byzantines, who feared them as barbaric reddish-haired Rhos.

Oleg the Wise referred his mother's honour to the pagan myth of the "Damp Mother Earth", the Mokosh that mingled Scandinavian religiosity with Iranian and Turanian beliefs, then mixed them with Christianity in what has always been called the dvoeverie, Russians’ pagan and Christian "double belief”.

The Russian icons of Mary necessarily represent the Mother of God embracing the Child Jesus, so it is no surprise that after Raphael painted Our Lady in the Sistine Chapel, Russians saw it as one of the foremost examples of Western heresy and degradation, whereby Our Lady, instead of hiding herself in her son’s gaze, looks into the eyes of the viewer, imposing her irrepressible femininity.

The Renaissance masterpiece is in Dresden, a German city that has proved fatal to Russians, where Putin himself worked as a KGB officer, witnessing live the collapse of the Soviet empire.

Perhaps even then, scandalised by the audacity of Western women, the future new tsar thought that his destiny was to find his now lost Mother Russia.


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