Thursday, May 14, 2020

‘Putin, Stuck in the 1970s, Acts as If Everyone Else is There as Well,’ Shavshukova Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 12 – “The present Russian elite isn’t Russian,” Natalya Shavshukova says. “It is Soviet” given that the majority of those at the top “including the leadership of the largest opposition parties,” were in the CPSU and Komsomol. They are “elderly Soviet people, not dissidents” and “it would be strange if they weren’t nostalgic for the past.

            Shavshukova, a Moscow commentator who sparked a firestorm by her comments about the Putin regime earlier this year, says that once one understands that, almost everything that these people do makes sense, including Vladimir Putin’s obsession with reassembling the USSR (

            But what he is doing is having exactly the opposite effect to what he intends, she continues. Instead of attracting the former republics to Moscow, it is ensuring their permanent alienation. To put it in lapidary ways, Putin is “’that force which wishes evil but eternally does good.’” 

            That is, he has been able to mobilize against himself and his country “everyone, including his former allies. He,” more than anyone else, “has inflicted a powerful strike against possible processes of integration within the post-Soviet space,” the Moscow writer says.

            The Kremlin leader “in general does feel the times.” Instead, he is trapped in his thinking as if it were still the end of the 1970s, and he actually believes that everyone else in the region is there as well. That explains the continuities in his propaganda and their failures: Groundhog Days work only for so long.

            Especially in this case because since the end of the USSR, a new generation has grown up “for whom the USSR is something like the Roman Empire” and who even believe that empires in general are no longer possible, Shavshukova says.

            She says that her notoriety in Moscow reflects the fact that under current conditions “it is sufficient to call black black in order to become a hero,” given that the Kremlin and its supporters have become used to calling black white and otherwise ignoring the realities around them.

            Shavshukova says that many do not understand the nature of television under Putin. It isn’t true that there is no freedom of speech. “Propaganda is organized more cleverly than that.” It needs “heroes and anti-heroes,” and consequently, it unwittingly opens the door for people to speak the truths the regime doesn’t want out – but hopes to show defeated on screen.

            Such propaganda, however, has “an Achilles heel.” It “doesn’t believe in sincerity or patriotism but only in babbling,” and that will be its downfall, especially if what it is babbling about is increasingly at odds with what the rising generation sees around it.

            In other comments, she says that it is a mistake to think that the Russian Federation is somehow about to repeat the fate of the Soviet Union. The USSR collapsed because of oil prices, the position of the west, the striving for independence by the union republics, and an ethical rejection of the values of the communist system.

            For the time being at least, Shavshukova says, the current system is stable. The reserve fund can keep the government afloat for some time and ensure that it can pay its defenders and supporters. 

            But a more important difference is that in contrast to Soviet times, “the West doesn’t see in Putin a horrible dictator and even has come to terms with his aggression against Ukraine, although publicly no one recognizes this.” Russia unlike the USSR is an important source of raw materials and an important market for Western goods.

            In that situation, the West isn’t going to support radical change because “capital prefers stability under Putin to any pan-human considerations.”

            There are indeed separatist tendencies in Russia today, “but they are not so sympathetic to the majority of Russians.” When Moscow ordered the shooting in Vilnius, a half million Russians came out in Moscow. “Then the national movements were the synonym of everything progressive and democratic.”

            “But for the present-day Muscovite, there is no life beyond the ring road.” And as a result, “sympathy for Buryatia or Chechnya will be less than fit was or Lithuania or Estonia” 30 years ago. And while many Russians have ethical objections to Putin’s regime, they have little solidarity in expressing that, another major difference from 1991 and now.

            “The revolution of the past was based on the ideals of the Enlightenment – freedom, equality and the end of status-based privileges. The revolution of 1991 alas did not become the revolution of the majority. We returned via a vicious circle to authoritarian modernization.” And there is little chance this will change unless society changes first.
            According to Shavshukova, “we face a most complex task – the integration of society. We must overcome in ourselves the myth about ‘the bad people.’ We must complete the process which was begun in February 1917 and then tragically broken off for a century.” We must find a way to talk to one another and cooperate.

            Russians must accept diversity, and if they do, then the country has a future quite different from its present. If they don’t, then Russia and Russians will be condemned to repeat the cycle they have gone through so many times, revolutions followed by repressions that throw the country backwards.

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