The flight of Russian philosophers
Exactly one hundred years ago more than 300 distinguished representatives of the scientific, literary and artistic intelligentsia were expelled from Soviet Russia to Germany.They saved Russian culture from erasure. Even today because of the "Ukrainian revolution" thousands of teachers, artists and scholars from various fields have fled the country. Will they be able to do the same?
Exactly one hundred years ago, in September-October 1922, more than 300 distinguished representatives of the scientific, literary and artistic intelligentsia were expelled from Soviet Russia to Germany by Lenin's personal disposition, as a gesture of liberality by the regime that intended to gain international recognition of the new state after the civil war. A recently deceased philosopher, Sergey Khoružij, who devoted his life to the reconstruction of Russia's cultural memory, called that event "the ship of philosophers," because indeed most of the expellees were forced to embark with only one suitcase, full of nostalgia and regret.
The Russian diaspora of the last century successfully saved Russian culture from complete Soviet erasure, and shared it with the West thirsty to explore the various dimensions of the soul, from East to West. The exiled philosophers created centers for research and dissemination of history and theology, such as the Saint-Serge Institute in Paris where leading exponents of existentialism, sofiology and neo-patristics such as Nikolai Berdjaev, Sergei Bulgakov, Georgii Florovsky and many others taught.
In 2022, as a result of the "Ukrainian revolution" that once again severed neo-imperial Russia's ties with Europe and the entire West, tens of thousands of representatives of the creative intelligentsia left the country on the new "philosophers' planes," at least until the borders coming out of the gloomy Putin isolation are totally barred. Teachers, painters, musicians, philosophers and scholars from various fields of science flee to the most accessible routes via Istanbul, Yerevan, Georgia, Estonia or Latvia. Will they be able to save Russian culture again, and entrust it to the international community so that it does not wither and remain lost? Will they be able to create new realities and associations in exile, involving the very many people who look at Russia as an indispensable part of the universal soul, and not just as the cursed realm of "ruscism"?
This was discussed on Radio Svoboda by two eminent representatives of the new Russian diaspora, jurist Elena Lukjanova and sociologist Sergey Erofeev, who have long been active in academic centers abroad, such as the "Free University" opened in the United States. They rightly point out that conditions are very different from a century ago, when "philosophers" were completely separated from the motherland, while today there are universal forms of communication, however much we try to limit and stifle them; so "one cannot call it in the full sense an emigration or exile, rather a relocation," as Lukjanova points out. Moreover, for a long time now "science has ceased to be purely national, it could not even exist, it would only be a propaganda simulacrum," as indeed appears in so many of today's proclamations about the "diversity" of the Russian soul.
In Putin's rhetoric, "sovereignty" is also insisted upon to define culture, and it has imposed in the Russian variant of Wikipedia a specific treatment of culture that is guarded from all foreign influence, expurgating it from any recent citations and relying only on texts published between the 1960s and 1990s. It is the "culture war" that accompanies the Ukrainian bombings, to justify events by distorting reality and its interpretations. Erofeev has offered a number of lectures on the "Russian catastrophe" in recent months, pointing out how the "regime," which sociologists call the "system," has established itself during these thirty post-Soviet years precisely through the progressive manipulation of culture.
In Putin's rhetoric, "sovereignty" is also insisted upon to define culture, and it has imposed in the Russian variant of Wikipedia a specific treatment of culture that is guarded from any foreign influence, expurgating it from any recent citations and relying only on texts published between the 1960s and 1990s. It is the "culture war" that accompanies the Ukrainian bombings, to justify events by distorting reality and its interpretations. Erofeev has offered a number of lectures on the "Russian catastrophe" in recent months, pointing out how the "regime," which sociologists call the "system," has established itself during these thirty post-Soviet years precisely through the progressive manipulation of culture.
The emigrants of a hundred years ago said "we are not in exile, we are on a mission," that of sharing the treasures of Russian tradition and art with the whole world. As Erofeev says, "one should thank Lenin for sending Pitirim Sorokin and Fedor Stepun abroad, not to mention all the others; even Putin's favorite philosopher, Ivan Il'in, was on that ship." The new diaspora actually began not in 2022, but in 2014, "the first wave of relocation," according to Lukjanova, after the patriotic euphoria of the annexation of Crimea, which already heralded the whole overhaul of Russian history and culture. Many did not accept the shame of that turn of events, which provoked a spiral of repression that is now almost absolute, and the approval of the new constitution in 2020 provoked the "second wave."
Russian intellectuals, or at least what is left of the glorious tradition of intelligentsia, do not bear the guilt of what is happening in Russia today, and this prevents them from conceiving of themselves as "missionaries" of Russia to the world. Soviet ideology could easily be branded as alien to tradition, while today precisely tradition is claimed in the "revised" version by power, confirming the semantic continuity of the terms tradition/tradition/tradition, which engages anyone who wants to express a common dimension of the spirit. The waves of the "philosopher's planes" have actually been going on since the early 2000s, after Putin's rise to power and the reconstitution of Orthodoxy as the State Church: gone are journalists, humanitarian activists, university professors, depending on the various persecutory measures that follow each year.
Russia's most prestigious universities, starting with the "Lomonosov Mgu" and the "Vyška School of Economics," with thousands of students ready to start a new academic year after the summer break, are now deserts entrusted to a few propagandists, because most of the real scholars and academics have left or resigned. Even the Orthodox Church's "Ss. Cyril and Methodius" Graduate School has been left without a real leader, after the ouster of Metropolitan Ilarion (Alfeev) who had established and supported it for more than a decade, putting the gloomy conservative Maksim Kozlov in his place. Putin himself decreed the non-existence of the science known as "politology" as "devoid of method," and the critique of political systems is now a thing of the past, a brief interlude in the history of Russian science, in which the method is imposed from above and does not allow deviations.
Erofeev explains that "throughout the post-Soviet years in the humanitarian and social spheres there flourished not only amateurism, but a real obscurantism, which now reigns unchallenged." After the long Soviet winter, however, the revival of Russian culture was a very sloppy phenomenon, and appropriation by the regime had an easy time, grossly exalting what had been removed from Soviet ideology. The most glaring aspect of this simplifying propaganda is precisely religious culture, which has emphatically taken up the sacred images of Orthodox saints and tsars, even to the point of recruiting icons into media warfare, as happened in recent days with Andrei Rublev's "Trinity."
The real rediscovery of culture, history and religion in Russia is a task for the future, when the neo-imperial instrumentalization will have somewhat exhausted itself. In a sense, the war in Ukraine has accelerated this process of overcoming, demonstrating the inconsistency of the new ideology: Ukraine, which had to be erased in the name of the sacred origins of Russian Christianity, has now finally become aware of its national, cultural and even religious identity. This proposes a completely opposite interpretation to the imperial one of Putin and Kirill: Ukraine represents a Russia capable of dialogue and integration with Europe and the West, which has always existed even east of the Dnepr, and makes Russia a forge of ever new and original images and syntheses of universal value for people on all continents.
Erofeev is convinced that "Putin has shortened the course of history, he cannot last much longer in imitation of Stalin and Brezhnev." The task of the new "philosophers," Russian and of any other nationality, is to grasp the meaning of time, without leaving culture and the treasures of the spirit in the hands of populists and dreamers of new empires, who destroy cities and human lives, but do not have the strength to destroy the soul. This is the mission that the present time imposes on each of us.
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