Staunton, November 20 – When Deputy Transportation Minister Vladimir Tokaryev said this week that the number of passengers Russian railways had carried for long distance trips had declined between last year and this by 44 percent, many quickly passed over this as just another result of the coronavirus pandemic, Anatoly Nesmiyan says.
At one level, of course, that is true, the commentator who blogs under the name El Murid continues; but in another, it misses something extremely important. Because of declining incomes, ever fewer Russians had been travelling far from home for some time, a development with critical consequence for Russia (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=5FB686088252F).
For a country as large as the Russian Federation, he says, transportation connectivity is critical because it is a measure not only of the physical but the psychological integrity of the country. When people move from place to place, they make comparisons and see themselves as part of the larger whole. When they don’t, how they view themselves and the country changes.
“In the Middle Ages, an individual could live his entire life on a patch of land no bigger than 5 0 kilometers in diameter” and never go further. That not only limited his view of the world but meant that “any passing traveler and his stories were accepted completely uncritically because there was no basis for comparing them to reality.”
That is how stories about werewolves and vampires started. Travelers would tell of them and if anyone cast doubt because he hadn’t seen them, the visitor would simply point out that he or others further away had and therefore what he was reporting had to be accepted as true. When people began to travel further, such beliefs quickly faded.
Many have assumed, El Murid continues, that this process was irreversible. But they are wrong. Without travel, without the possibility of making comparisons with conditions at home and conditions elsewhere, many Russians find themselves in the position of medieval peasants but now the storyteller is the television, the Internet or the newspaper.
(Many ignore newspapers these days, the blogger says; but in distant places, access to the Internet is often limited; and newspapers thus continue to play an important role.)
Without travel, critical thinking declines, and those who don’t go beyond their immediate neighborhood as it were are easy prey for those who want to tell tales useful to themselves but not to others, confident that there is no critical thinking among their audiences and that they can deliver whatever message they want no matter how farfetched.
For that reason, if for no other, long-distance rail traffic needs to be restored as quickly as possible, although given the way the powers that be view information, they may be entirely happy to have Russians reduced to this neo-medieval condition.