Staunton, November 5 – “The chief curse of Russia,” Moscow psychoanalyst Elena Kadyrov says, “is the archaic imperial consciousness of its population,” something the revolutions in 1917 and 1991 did nothing to end and that is symbolized by the classical Russian toy, the matryoshka doll.
That consciousness, Kadyrova continues, has its origins in the Mongol-Tatar yoke; that is, “the collective consciousness of the Horde was simply transformed into the present-day form of Russian imperial consciousness, the essence of which is collective subjectiveness” (newizv.ru/news/society/05-11-2019/imperskaya-matreshka-stala-natsionalnym-proklyatiem).
To be sure, she says, there have always been people who had a individual consciousness of being subjects, but in contrast to Europe and America, where such people have long dominated the seen, in Russia, they have been small in number, marginalized and repressed because of the threat their approach represents to the other.
The most obvious distinguishing feature of Russian imperial consciousness, Kadyrova argues, is its desire to seize and swallow up the territories of others. “But this I only the tip of the iceberg” and is not by itself uniquely Russian. But what is Russian is that this is the only way of action when the population is entirely subordinate to the powers.
The matryoshka doll represents “an extremely interesting analogy to collective subjectveness,” Kadyrova says. These dolls have a variety of elements and exist in two states, the assembled and the disassembled. “All the elements of the system must meet three conditions: they must have the same form, they must be strictly hierarchical and what is most important, they must be empty inside” so as to accommodate the smaller pieces.
“The only individuality which is allowed is the outside colors and even it should correspond to the general design ideology,” the psychoanalyst says.
When it is disassembled, “a matryoshka looks like a collection of separate small parts quite sympathetic and varied. But their autonomy is deceptive” because they must meet the three limitations just outlined and because “the life of the parts loses meaning and sense outside of the system.”
The largest doll in the set is “the only one who is in contact with the external world without an intermedia; the rest look at this world through its eyes – in our case through the screens of their televisions,” Kadyrova continues. And that has an important consequence with a precise analogy to the real world:
“The deeper inside the matryoshka and the smaller its size and correspondingly the lower its status, the more distorted is the signal which it receives and the worse is heard its ‘voice’ [because] the hierarchy in this system is harsh indeed.”
“In our analogy,” Kadyrova says, “the largest matryoshka is the body of the empire (its land) and its collective brain is personified in the form of the power of the leader or tsar. The largest matryoshka thus combines maternal and paternal aspects.” That explains its strength and why when the matryoshka is disassembled, the parts strive to put it back together.
This desire overwhelms all other links people have and helps to explain why Russian history has been so cyclical. “Such is the tough life of the imperial model.” People want to return to subordination and as a result they do not grow. Indeed, she argues, “this is a closed system in which development is impossible.”
But for Russia, the psychoanalyst continues, that is not a problem because Russia has a “different task – to preserve itself as a Matryoshka … the only desired social form of life for the population of this country.”
A matryoshka is a harsh construction” because any variations in its parts threaten the integrity of the whole. That’s why liberal ideas have had all times in Russia elicited hatred and why the bearers of these ideas are either destroyed or cast out as threatening the system.” And the system falling apart is the most horrific possibility for Russians.
When the USSR disintegrated, “millions of little matryoshkas found themselves in the midst of the chaos of life … and did not know what to do.” And it is far from clear what would have happened had what had happened before not recurred – the reassembly of the matryoshkas in their accustomed hierarchy.
The only real hope for the future is that at some point the smaller matryoshka dolls will turn out to be more vital and self-standing than the larger ones; but that hasn’t been true up to now, Kadyrova concludes.