Monday, May 11, 2020

Putin’s Victory Cult Less Complex, Interesting and Humane than Soviet Version, Degtyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 9 – Because of the pandemic, the celebration of Victory Day this year was far less extravagant and bombastic than in the past; but even in its reduced form, it was less complicated, interesting and humane than the Soviet version, Andrey Degtyanov says, a degradation that will ultimately lead to its disintegration and collapse.

            Since 2000, the political technologists of the Putin regime have created “from the ruins of Soviet symbols and attributes an ideological chimera” which is less about actual events than about attempting to create, in a cargo cult fashion, something that will bring those in power justification for anything they do, the regionalist says (

                Indeed, Degtyanov says, understanding the five fundamental ways in which the Putin victory cult departs from its Brezhnev predecessor is a necessary precondition for overcoming what the current occupant of the Kremlin has done to make a travesty of what was a true day of memory with all the inevitable complexities that involves.

            First of all, the Soviet original was profoundly internationalist and cooperative rather than narrowly Russian nationalist and one that emphasizes the clash of civilizations as does the Putin remake.

Second, and related to the first, the Brezhnev era cult presented May 9 “as the symbolic date of the end of a universal catastrophe,” one that harmed not only the peoples of the USSR but peoples everywhere.  Sadly, Degtyanov says, it is difficult to find anything of that kind in the Putin version.

Third, the Brezhnev version presented “the results of the war not just as a continuation of confrontation with ‘reactionary imperialism’ but rather with a orientation toward cooperation with ‘progressive forces’” abroad, not just foreign communist parties but others prepared to cooperate to avoid a repetition of the war. Putin’s slogan that “we can do it again” was absent.

Fourth, the Brezhnevite version made the victory “an achievement not only of the Communist Party but of all the Soviet people” in its multiplicity.  The Putin version reduces it to the victory of the Soviet state and more precisely into that of the Kremlin and reduces to a minimum the local features of the war that the Brezhnev version played up.

And fifth, Degtyanov continues, the Soviet cult victory was “a combination of the local memories of specific population points with the all-union ideology” because many who had fought were still living. The Putin one in contrast is synthetic and hollow, creating all-Russian messages but not allowing for life to surface.

This “neo-imperial cult of Victory” which was arose in the first years of Putin’s rein and took shape in the last decade “is a cult of instant patriotism.” Like in the old commercial, “just add water. Just wear a ribbon. Just put on the back window the slogan ‘we can repeat this’ … Just show superficial loyalty to the Kremlin bosses.”

As a result, he says, Victory Day in the major cities has been transformed “into a bestial militaristic carnival with children dressed in Red Army uniforms, baby carriages in the form of tanks, and staged storming of a plywood Reichstag.”  That would have been unthinkable in Brezhnev’s time.

The pandemic prevented this from taking place in its full form this year, Degtyanov says; and simple human memories are undermining it with the passing of time especially in villages and towns outside of Moscow where the humanity and sacrifices of the war are still recalled by many.

These local memories with all their complexity and variety “give an answer to the question: for what did our grandfathers fight?”  Just as soldiers fight not for some grand design but for their comrades, so too people in the USSR fought in the war not for Stalin’s purposes but for their own. Brezhnev’s holiday allowed people to remember that; Putin’s doesn’t.

But when Putin’s TV propagandists lose their strength, Russians and others can recover these local feelings which are tied to families and friends and places and thus recover Victory for themselves, rather than allow it to remain where it is now, a victory not of the people but of the Kremlin.

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