Staunton, June 23 – Four times in the last 100 years, Russians have been deprived of a useable past and thus reduced to the status of children who accept anything new without asking questions, Fedor Biryukov says; but in order to avoid a new tragedy, they must grow up and make new demands on themselves and their government.
In an article entitled “The Fires of an Extinguished Empire,” the Moscow commentator says that the erection of a plaque honoring Marshal Mannerheim in St. Petersburg despite his efforts against Russia and cooperation with Hitler is the latest symptom of this problem and this need (svpressa.ru/blogs/article/151137/).
There are no winners in this story, Biryukov suggests, and there is no one to be judged. All that can be said is that with this case, “the gap between state and society has still more increased. Could it be otherwise today?” The commentator says that in his opinion, there is no reason to believe that it could.
“Under normal circumstances, a people respects and loves its past” and uses it as “a foundation” strong or weak as the case may be to build a future. But when the common understanding of history is changed to often as has been the case in Russia, “problems begin;” and unless they are addressed, they only get worse.
“Post-Soviet Russia has not been able to achieve its own identity,” at least in part because those in power cannot decide what the country is and because the citizenry have been subject to so many revisions about the past, after 1917, after 1956, after 1991, and after 2000 that they do not know either.
The latest cases of the leadership being uncertain about what Russia is concern the Mannerheim statue and Vladimir Putin’s acknowledgement that the US is “the only superpower,” acts that call into question for many Russians their sacrifices past and present and cast doubt on what it means to be a Russian today.
Recently, Russians marked the Day of Russia, but polls showed that 77 percent of Russians had difficulty saying why this holiday occurred “precisely on June 12,” the anniversary of Russia’s declaration of sovereignty. “This is obvious civic infantilism,” the Svobodnaya pressa writer says.
It turns out that just as children are always pleased to have the opportunity to celebrate something, adult Russians are glad to have another day off, regardless of why. “It turns out that Russians are like children, doesn’t it?” Biryukov suggests.
“During the 20th century,” he argues, Russians were reduced to such a child-like status three times, and then in 2000, “with the coming to power of Vladimir Putin, the country was made younger in the same way for the fourth time in a little less than 100 years.”
As a result, “the entire history” of each “’new Russia’” has occurred “in the regime of a masquerade” at least for the majority, with most prepared to try on ill-fitting costumes from the past in the hopes that there will be “a genuine dawn” for them given that each of the leaders who have carried out these changes have declared that the past has been left behind.
The again-newly-young Russian people is typically inspired by each new departure only to discover as in the case of the monument to Mannerheim that the past hasn’t been left behind and thus to expectantly ask themselves like children “what will happen next?” But Biryukov says, there are reasons to believe that this pattern can’t continue forever.
The powers that be, he argues, must fully accept the truth of what they say: “’Russia is no longer an empire.’” And then they must realize that this means it is “a nation state, a poly-ethnic one to be sure but a nation” state all the same and that “our people are a nation and not simply a population from which to collect taxes, count in censuses or have participate in elections.”
“A nation,” Biryukov continues, “not only should have obligations but also rights and privileges. The powers that be in Russia must finally learn to work like republic ones” and develop ties with “the Russian political nation” that take its opinions into account and even defer too them.
At the same time, he argues, “it is time for the people to change its views on those in power. To silently support in public and curse in the kitchen is not a proper role for young people. Rather it recalls the way the elderly do things.” And not taking part in elections is equally the response of the elderly rather than the young
If these two things don’t happen, Biryukov writes in conclusion, then “the ‘imperial mark’” will remain in Russia as “a reality close to an empire, but not in the style of Byzantine flourishing” as some expect “but rather in the spirit of Rome’s decline and fall.” And that in turn will lead to another wave of barbarity and the imposition of a new infantilism on Russians.
But “such ‘eternal youth’” won’t have the results some expect, he says. Instead, it “will lead either to an old peoples’ home or directly to the cemetery.”