11/26/2022, 10.45
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Russia after Putin

by Stefano Caprio

Whether they unconditionally support militant patriotism, are only hoping for the end of the nightmare, or timidly trying to oppose it by risking imprisonment in a lager and expulsion from all form of social life, all Russians look to the future with a sense of bewilderment and uncertainty, anger and guilt, frustration and the horror of emptiness.

As the war in Ukraine enters it's tenth month, the gamble of Putin and his ruling caste has not yielded the hoped-for result, that of the rebirth of the great Russia, called upon to astonish the world with its military might and moral superiority. Darkness and frost have descended not only on the streets of Kiev and Lviv, devastated by the Iranian bombs remedied by the Russians to fill their arsenals, but above all on the very hearts of the Russian people, forced to praise in public the Kremlin's follies, but now desperate for their own future.

From across the globe, starting with the papal see in Rome, there are calls for finding ways to stop the war tragedy and agree at least on some form of armistice, because the consequences of the war are becoming increasingly unbearable not only for the martyred Ukrainians, but for all the nations involved, from Europe to America and China. Yet the real question is not so much, or only, about the end of hostilities and bombing, but what will be next, at all latitudes, and especially in Russia.

Ukraine is undoubtedly the country that has suffered the greatest losses, but paradoxically it has also gained the most. It has lost the lives of so many people, soldiers and civilians, children and the elderly, lost its homes, electricity and heating, vast territories occupied and "annexed," forced to evacuate large numbers of its citizens in a mass exodus, from which it is not known how many and when they will return home, assuming they find it still standing.

At the same time it has gained at last, after so many centuries and so many failed attempts, the consciousness of being a nation, with its own ideals and heroes, its own symbol-cities and sentiments of courage in resistance and active defense of its lands, its interests, its people.

It has gained the support and solidarity of Europe, of which it is no longer just an unknown borderland, but the very heart of a continent that has always loved Russia with all its contradictions, and continues to long for it, but now sees Ukraine as the center around which to unite its many souls of east and west, north and south.

Ukraine knows it has a future, difficult and full of pitfalls, that it must rebuild itself relying on the support of the entire West and especially the United States, where the great Ukrainian diaspora took root in the long Soviet winter. It knows it is destined to maintain high armed vigilance, like a new Israel surrounded by enemies, and will always have to defend itself from the Russian bear roaring outside its door.

Neighboring countries such as Poland, Romania, Hungary, Moldova, Slovakia and the Baltics are now blood and life brothers, no longer fragments of a totalitarian "former world," but the eastern soul of a continent rich in history, culture and religious faith, as well as financial means and technological potential. With Ukraine's resistance, a new Eastern Europe was born, a border that stands out from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, facing the threats of barbaric Eurasia.

Russia, on the other hand, is facing the abyss of isolation and resentment, economic recession and political insignificance, and the contempt and perplexity of the rest of the world, including the "friends for eternity" countries such as great China, haughty Turkey and immense India, which pretend to stroke the rabid dog, keeping away from it as much as possible.

Whether those who unconditionally support militant patriotism or the many who only hope for the end of the nightmare, or timidly try to oppose it by risking being sent to a lager and expulsion from social life in every possible way, all Russians look to the future with a sense of bewilderment and uncertainty, anger and guilt, frustration and the horror of emptiness.

This is not the first time in its history that Russia has been faced with the loss of itself, and the need to cross an icy desert without seeing a way out. Rather, in the thousand years of its history, the succession of deaths and rebirths has been the dimension that all generations of Russians have had to face, much more than other regions of the world ravaged by conflicts and catastrophes, from the Mediterranean to the Middle East, from the northern wars to the colonial wars of the seas and oceans.

The two centuries of the medieval "Tatar yoke" prevented ancient Rus' from being a protagonist in the European renaissance after the end of the ancient empires, condemning it to a "civilizational backwardness" that in good part fed the inferiority complexes and resentments that still erupt in the blood of Russians today.

The seventeenth century of the "Torbids" disintegrated what had been attempted to build in the previous century, that of the dream of the "Third Rome." The seventy years of Soviet totalitarianism produced an effect similar to, if not greater than, Russia's many disappearances and "stagnations" of previous centuries.

It was precisely during the communist regime, which still largely marks the consciences of Russians, that the dynamic of death and resurrection was repeated again and again because of the impossibility of realizing the universal ideal of revolution and the new world of justice and peace.

The Leninist civil war resulted in the timid market economy, later stifled by the Stalinist 30-year period, which seemed to have achieved its hoped-for success through the victory of the patriotic war, and the great industrial transformation achieved through the enslavement of lager prisoners. It is no coincidence that Putinism is proposed as an imitation of Stalinism, both in its war-ideological fervor and in its universal and economic pretensions, accompanied by repressions increasingly similar to those of the Gulag Archipelago.

Stalin's death left not a paradise realized, but a hell of oppression to be freed from as soon as possible, as the contradictory "Khrushchevian thaw" tried to do, soon aborted to restore the immobility and neo-Stalinist dictatorship of the Brezhnevist two decades.

The war in Afghanistan forced Russia to search for itself again, in the clumsy attempts of Gorbachevian perestroika and pro-Western Elysian democracy, so unhappy as to produce a new totalitarianism, in the militant orthodoxy of Putin and Kirill.

The dioscuri of sovereignism of phantom "traditional values," the tsar and the patriarch, have effectively expelled themselves from history, and only their tragic masks survive in the hysterical bomb blasts over Ukraine, knowing that they no longer have any role to play in Russian and universal history.

Both Russian society and the Russian Church are wondering how it will be possible to replace them, possibly within the next few months, but even if it were several years from now, the de facto conditions would not change, only prolonging yet another stagnation.

To date, there are no real alternatives to President Putin and Patriarch Kirill in civil and church politics, which are inextricably linked in Russia. Opponents and dissidents are in lagers or in exile, and the many worthy personalities who make up this "internal and external diaspora" do not, for now, have the strength and ideas to propose an alternative.

The military, regional governors, ministers and the entire ruling class is aligned and submissive, out of conviction and necessity, to the wishes of the Kremlin bunker. And the most worrying factor is that the only ones moving into the future perspective are the most fanatical and belligerent spirits, such as Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov, or "Putin's cook" Evgenij Prigožin.

The very founder of the heinous Wagner Company, the mercenaries who reproduce in extreme form the brutality of the Soviet Spetsnaz, has in recent weeks decided to break the buck, and start a new formation that will be able to deal with the increasingly imminent post-Putin era. Prigožin is planning to create a "conservative patriotic movement," called in the press of the radikal-patrioty, intervening in public in increasingly explicit forms after years of hiding in the "kitchen" behind the scenes of power.

In purchased or requisitioned shopping malls it organizes conferences, exhibitions and study sessions in which it accuses the ruling elites of being too timid, cultivates the most extreme revanchism and a sense of revenge for military failures. Disavowals multiply from the Kremlin, stating that "Prigožin has no intention of forming a new party, but is dedicated to broad social projects," and even the Kprf communists assure that Prigožin's eventual party "is doomed to failure," formulas that only increase the sense of fear about what may actually happen.

Patriotic radicalism is nothing but an extreme form of populism, the dimension in which the policies of all countries in the world have run aground in recent decades, after the exhaustion of ideologies and the supposed "end of history." Instead, it is a matter of starting a new history, in Russia and beyond, seeking the courage to begin again with humility and openness to every instance, starting with that of peace, to find the sense of solidarity and concord, dialogue and reconstruction of worlds and souls.



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