Sunday, December 8, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Tyutchev’s Ideas Help Explain Putin’s Latest Moves

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 8 – Fyodor Tyutchev, a  19th century poet, diplomat and censor beloved by many Russians and Russophiles for his witticisms, may be far more relevant to an understanding of the ideas and emotions animating current Russian President Vladimir Putin than other thinkers who are often suggested as candidates for that role.

            That is suggested by a new article by Yekaterina Oaro on the portal analyzing seven of Tyutchev’s fundamental notions. The article’s appearance was timed to coincide with the commemoration of the 210th anniversary of the tsarist poet and official’s birth (

            First of all, Oaro says, Tyutchev conceived of Russia as a Noah’s ark, a place in which the values of Christianity could be saved even as they were being destroyed by revolutionary catastrophes elsewhere.

            Second, she says, Tyutchev believed that Russia embodied “the world counter-revolution.”  In the Europe of his times, the poet believed, there were only two effective forces – revolution and Russia.”  For one of them to survive, the other had to perish, and consequently, he believed, their struggle would determine “the entire political and religious future of humanity.”

            Third, for Tyutchev, Rus’ was Christian.  The Russian people were Christian not just because Prince Vladimir accepted baptism but because they have always been prepared for “self-denial and self-sacrifice” and because Russians have always been profoundly aware of their special role in protecting and advancing their nation and their faith.

            Fourth, Tyutchev believed that “Russia is the home of all Slavs.” He as a convinced pan-Slavist and argued that since the majority of residents of Austro-Hungary were Slavs, “Austria must become Slavic.” The real question for the Austrian Slavs was whether they “would remain as Slavs and become Russians or be transformed into Germans by remaining Austrians.”

            Fifth, Tyutchev believed that Russia properly has three capitals -- Moscow, St. Petersburg and Constantinople – and that it must work unceasingly to recover the third one from the Turks.

            Sixth, according to Oaro, Tyutchev believed that Russia was “the ideal place for an ideal power.”  And because that is so, he thought that Russians “with joy” would be prepared to hand over the power of censorship to the state so that the authorities would take on themselves the administration of public consciousness and the direction of public thought.

            And seventh, in articulating these ideas, Tyutchev acknowledged both in word and deed that they might not always be achievable.  History shows that Russians have not always lived up to them, and Tyutchev himself not only was “exclusively a European” but for 14 years carried on an extramarital affair with a much younger woman and had three children by her.

            On the one hand, Tyutchev’s ideas were not atypical of those of many tsarist officials in the mid-19th century. But both because they were more cleverly expressed and because they capture an important stream of Russian thought, they continue to reverberate in Russian thought to this day.

            Certainly, they are among those affecting the Kremlin leader given how easy it is to point to current policies and behaviors that correspond to all seven of them. Consequently, a poet best known for his line that Russia “cannot be measured by an ordinary yardstick but can only be believed” clearly merits more notice for his impact on Putin than he has received so far.

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