Monday, January 13, 2020

New Film’s Popularity Shows Today’s Russian ‘Serfs’ Ready to Revolt against ‘New Nobility,’ Aksyonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 10 – Klim Shipenko’s dark comedy “The Slave” has set box office records in Russia, Sergey Aksyonov of Svobodnaya pressa says, because the sympathies of viewers for the Russian serf who revolts against his masters flow from the current situation of most people in Russia today.

            “The gap between ‘the elite’ and the rest of the population,” he suggests, “is becoming  ever more intolerable;” and this movie allows Russians to think about it in ways that may simultaneously allow them to let off steam in non-violent ways and focus their anger at those who are oppressing them now (

            The film’s message was perhaps unintentionally magnified by Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s decision to hand out money on the Manezh Square on January 5. He referred to “children, invalids? Who else? Orphans, serfs, slaves,” words that immediately attracted attention and are going to be the subject of a Duma ethics hearing next week. 

            KPRF deputies are furious at the LDPR leader’s words, but his defenders say that he simply described “the true relationship of the feudal strata off-shore oligarchic vertical” to Russians and that was useful.  Zhirinovsky’s words and actions were repeated by others, including by a wealthy Chechen in Volgograd ho handed out money as well.

            One way or another, Aksyonov continues, “it is obvious that in Russian society two hemispheres have formed: ‘the elite,’ ‘the new nobility’ which includes politicians and bureaucrats, including  part of the opposition and regional barons and part of business, and everyone else, ‘the slaves’ and ‘the serfs.’”

            “The former have power and control property; the latter serve them.” Consequently, it is no surprise that the majority of the latter aren’t happy about the current arrangements and would like to have things changed.

            According to the commentator, this situation has intensified in recent years because now the children of the elite are trying to succeed their parents, something that suggests Russia is really moving in a neo-feudal direction and that those on the bottom have no hope of rising anywhere at all.

            “The Slave” isn’t the only Russian film with a message, Aksyonov says. The authorities have backed another, “The Union of Salvation” about the Decembrists. Its “moral” is “simple” – any revolt will end in failure, exactly the view that those on top in Russia today hope those on the bottom will continue to have.

            Dmitry Agranovsky, a lawyer and human rights activist, says that there are plenty of reasons for the masses to hate the elites, but he argues that “we do not have the traditions of resistance that exist for example in the West. We are accustomed to think that ‘the people and party are united.’ But for a long time, they haven’t been.”

            “Sublimation of these feelings gives rise to the popularity of such films as ‘The Slave,’” he says. People want to believe that those on top can be removed and those below can despite everything rise to the top.

            Social psychologist Aleksey Roshchin agrees, although he suggests that it is overstating the case to argue that Russia now has a strata-divided society. It takes “centuries” for such a society to come into existence.  But clearly people feel injustice, and watching a film like “The Slave” is one way to deal with unarticulated anger.

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