07/06/2024, 12.43
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Russians' passion for America

by Stefano Caprio

In Moscow, one can frequently hear people ask: “Are you with Biden or Trump?”, not to so much for ideological or geopolitical reasons, but for a mysterious sense of attraction and repulsion towards the great enemy, which in many respects is perceived as a Big Brother.

One of the issues that fascinate Russians the most these days, beyond the facts of war or the ups and downs of the economy, are the elections in the United States.

Elections in France and Great Britain are interesting as well, as are negotiations to form the new European Commission; but, they fall within the purview of government propaganda and Russia’s “hybrid war", designed to shift the balance of power in the world in Russia's favour.

On the other hand, the question “Are you with Biden or Trump?" is very popular among Russians; not so much for ideological or geopolitical reasons, but for a mysterious sense of attraction and repulsion towards the great enemy, which in many respects is perceived as a Big Brother.

Russia has chosen to oppose the West dominated by the Anglo-Saksy, the Anglo-Saxons, a term that defines the rival camp, but which in various ways constitutes a mirror image of the "Russian world", which in its twists and turns between East and West is unable to separate its destinies from those of the United States.

Asia and China, Europe too, cannot in fact represent a real alternative, considering that Russian territory extends for more than a third of the Eurasian continent, and in one way or another is always considered the dominant part in both.

America is the only real alternative, separated by two oceans and bordering on the extreme tip of the globe, so much so that it is difficult to define the location of Alaska, a territory that belonged to the Russian Empire at some point, opposite Chukotka, and the endless expanses of the Arctic, disputed for a future with no more geographic divisions.

The “Anglo-Saxon” and Russian empires were born together at the dawn of the modern age, in the harmony between Ivan the Terrible and Elizabeth of England, the "virgin queen", after whom the first English colony, Virginia, was named.

Both proclaimed their definitive split from the Church of Rome, in the name of a moral and spiritual superiority that rose out of the schisms and compromises of faith and the politics of the European kingdoms.

The Anglican Church and the Russian Orthodox Church are basically neither Catholic, nor Protestant nor even Orthodox in the sense of dependence on other centres such as Rome and Byzantium, representing forms of union between religion and politics that are absolutely different and exclusive, in past centuries as well as today, under obviously very different conditions.

The fact remains that the King of Great Britain is still the head of the Church, and in the US system of absolute separation, the most committed religious movements can condition politics more than all the plots by European popes or cardinals; this is even more so in the latest incarnation of the communion between the Russian tsar and the Russian patriarch, in defiance of any dictate by the Byzantine communion, now officially rejected by Russians.

The American Wild West and its cowboys came after Russia’s Far East and its Cossacks, with the smaller Asian peoples playing the role of Native American tribes, both relying on arrows against firearms, as evinced in Russian paintings and American movies.

Russians and Americans represent the same solution found in multi-ethnic empires: rule by a dominant cultural, linguistic, economic, and religious group.

Yet their solutions are quite very different. The American Union leaves many powers to single states, while the Russian Federation does not allow any initiative independent of the Moscow centre.

If the Americans now show contrition for their colonial past, Russia basks in it as its great task of civilisation over its immense territory and the whole world, which the Americans have dominated for a century.

In more recent times, the great differences in political systems reflect different histories and geographies. Russia has never known competitive democracy under the tsars or the Soviets, and looks at American pluralism with a mixture of scorn and envy.

Russians have closely followed US elections since the 19th century. The great writer Leo Tolstoy expressed his interest in US affairs in articles and suggestions, meeting US politicians and candidates at his estate in Yasnaya Polyana. In the 20th century, Russians kept up with the exchanges between Stalin and Roosevelt, as well as Kennedy and Khrushchev.

A particularly important match was that between Ronald Reagan and Walter Mondale in 1984, in the waning years of the end of the Soviet empire, when Russians cheered for the democrat Mondale, whose victory was predicted by all Soviet television programs, expressing hope for a "progressive dialogue" that extolled American workers against "Reaganite hedonism" that promoted a degraded and immoral lifestyle.

This has made a comeback in Russia under Putin, who claims to defend “traditional values”, more in line with Trump’s than decrepit Biden’s, despite the main of doubts and uncertainties about Donald.

The only US elections that did not arouse much passion among Russians took place in 1992 and 1996 when Bill Clinton won; at that time, post-Soviet Russia was caught up in the vortex of its own nascent democracy.

In first term in office, Boris Yeltsin did not face off any major rival, of any orientation, except in late 1993, when the president of democratic Russia decided to settle some issues with the Congress of People’s Deputies (Parliament) by bombing its headquarters, Government House (informally known as the White House) on the banks of the Moskva River.

The only real political match took place in 1996, when Yeltsin ran for re-election against Gennady Zyuganov, general secretary of the Communist Party, resurrected after its post-Soviet penance, and openly supported by the Orthodox Church.

This was perhaps the only time that two different worldviews faced off in Russia, pitting the "Slavophile" communists against the "Westernising" democrats, a topic much discussed in the salons of Russia’s intelligentsia in the 19th century.

It is no coincidence that the Americans did everything possible to support the by-then declining Yeltsin, who failed to follow up on the victory, and ended up instead delivering the country into the arms of a Vladimir Putin who put a stop to Russia’s brief adventure with democracy.

Since then, Russians are left with a bit of nostalgia for the 1990s, as well as with Soviet times.

If from Stalin to Brezhnev, US politics were viewed through Cold War eyes, with Americans seen as children always undecided between one side and the other (that is when the sarcastic term Amerikosy appeared), today the fiery diatribes on Russian television during the "democratic" years survive in the collective memory, a leftover from a time when the absence of absolute power allowed brawls and insults for all to see.

Today Russians can only take part in fake elections for the perpetual tsar, while back then, the "intrigues" of Russian politics made things much more interesting and unpredictable even though Russians could not stomach them for long.

Russians basically miss the emotions associated with a fair match, whose results cannot be manipulated too much, especially now that they can only be distant spectators to elections in other countries or international sporting events from which they are excluded, able only to cheer at most for Georgia or Slovakia at the UEFA Euro 2024, and now Turkey in the knockout phase.

Another factor that both attracts and irks Russians is their envy for the superpower status if the United States, whose elections draw the attention of the entire world, while those of Eurasian empires have no appeal anywhere.

There is no comparison even with Europe’s fragile democracies, where the showdown between Starmer and Sunak or Macron and Le Pen are no match in terms of interest , even if the latter's Rassemblement National is the political party with the most Putin's "foreign agents" in the world.

Russians detest Americans’ sense of entitlement, and only hope to see the United States unravel and the dollar plummet on world markets, which they blame for all the evils of the world; and precisely for this reason, they cannot remain indifferent to what is happening in the United States or their leaders.

A lot is being said about what the attitude of the next US president towards Russia, and Russians are cheering for the most hateful to justify their own irresistible resentment, inevitably ending up praising the one that is apparently most favourable to them.

It was truly grotesque when Donald Trump's victory was announced in the Russian parliament (Duma) in November 2016, and all its members wildly joined in a unanimous ovation.

The most exalted propagandists roamed the streets of Moscow waving the American flag, and in January 2021, when Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Russians ideally joined them, fulfilling one of the most recurring fantasies in world politics.

When the Americans withdrew from Afghanistan in August 2021, the Russians decided that the time had come to take control of the global stage, until the invasion of Ukraine.

Today those feelings return, with the addition that the age of the two candidates for the US presidency add up to 160 years, making the 71-year-old Tsar Putin appear to be the true face of the world's future.

Putin was quick to say: "The fact that Mr. Trump as a presidential candidate is saying that he is ready and wants to stop the war in Ukraine, we take that quite seriously.”

This choice of camp will not necessarily convince all Russians to be for Trump, although very few are Biden supporters – the important thing is to convince everyone that the victory will still be in Russia’s interest, bringing America into the “Russian world”.


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“L’Asia: ecco il nostro comune compito per il terzo millennio!” - Giovanni Paolo II, da “Alzatevi, andiamo”