Staunton, January 2 – Ever more Russians and others suggest that Vladimir Putin has returned Russia to the kind of stagnation it experienced under Leonid Brezhnev, but, Dmitry Gubin argues, what he has done is much worse: Russia is not simply stagnating; it is degrading and slipping into the Third World even as Moscow talks about becoming the Third Rome.
In a commentary for the Rosbalt.ru news portal, the Moscow editor and commentator says that “Russia is losing its positions in the world” across the board, something that means and can be seen in the fact that its “culture is also rapidly degrading and becoming more primitive” (rosbalt.ru/blogs/2016/12/31/1580447.html).
Moreover, the degradation and simplification of culture now is much worse than even that which followed the 1917 revolution, Gubin says. Then, that process affected ordinary people alone, but now it affects everyone. “In the 1920s, an avant-garde existed; under Brezhnev, a counter-culture. Now, there is no avant-garde or counter-culture.”
There is not even the kind of high culture Russian intellectuals have long been so proud of. Some but not all of this loss reflects the consequences of the end of the Soviet system and the departure of many of the country’s best minds. But one can’t explain what is taking place simply by these losses or by “a paradigm of a new stagnation.”
Moscow television isn’t horrific so much because the regime has driven out all the interesting liberal commentators but because it no longer has any space for serious discussions of art and scholarship. Even under Brezhnev, figures like Kapita, Averintsev, and Likhachev appeared on television; now that is unimaginable.
One can’t this simply by suggesting that those active in these fields now are second-rate or by making references to stagnation, Gubin says. What is happening is the direct result of Kremlin’s policies which have driven Russian “into a new place: into the group of countries of the third world.”
“We no longer will struggle for a place on the pedestal of honor as was true during the times when the US and the USSR competed. We are not even a country of the second world, that is one which lags behind but has hopes of better, like the East European countries,” led by Poland.
“The Third World,” he continues, “consists of countries with decorative democracy, personalist rule, and hybrid systems. Here [Russia] occupies a slot at the very top, between Turkey … and Kazakhstan … Rwanda and Uganda are in this very same group but for the time being still much lower.”
Russia is no longer part of the first or the second world; and even “Putin long ago stopped promising to catch up with Portugal in terms of GDP per capita. In the world’s economy, we contribute less than does Korea” and the productivity of labor in Russia is only a quarter of what it is in the United States.
Indeed, Gubin says, “for the first time since Peter I, we have turned away from competing with the first world,” a clear sign of something much worse than mere stagnation although the current regime tries to confuse everyone with talk about “the uniqueness of the Russian path.” It isn’t unique at all but much like Turkey’s.
In Russia today, he argues, “the simplification, crudificaiton and primitivizaiton of culture is an inevitable process is the descent of the country into the third world, and this means that we do not have the stagnation which will disappear when a new Grobachev appears. There aren’t the mechanisms that used to exist, and the new one works in a different way.”
For any Russian, resistance to this process therefore must assume “different forms than those of earlier times. One must not, for example, retreat into internal emigration [because’ in self-isolation now, there is no counter-cultural base” on which to rely. That helps to explain why so many are simply leaving the country and going abroad to live and work.
“But if someone remains, he must understand: today one must not just turn off the television; one must turn on something else.” Perhaps the BBC, Mezzo or Arte.” No one should read “Izvesitya;” instead, “read The Guardian or TheDailyBeast.com on line.” The Internet makes that possible, and that makes learning other languages necessary for survival.
For a long time, Gubin says, he has listened to BBC Radio 3 “because it isn’t Mayak.” And recently he had an experience during a visit to Augsburg which highlighted just what has gone wrong in Russia. In that German city, in a shopping center, someone was playing classical music on a Bechstein. In today’s Russia, one can’t imagine any analogy.
“This too is the difference between the first world and the third.”