Monday, January 4, 2016

Is Kyzyl ‘Ours’? The Ironies of a Virtual Russia Empire with Virtual Enemies

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 4 – No one ever says Kyzyl or any other city or region in the Russian Federation is “ours” and deserving of our attention, Dmitry Gudkov says, because the logic of “the virtual empire” that Vladimir Putin has created not only means that Russians are faced with a ever-changing list of “virtual enemies” but also that they neglect what is already theirs.

            In an article in “Moskovsky komsomolets,” the opposition politician and commentator says that many Russians do not know or have much concern for real places in their real country. They don’t know where Kyzyl is – or in many cases, whether it is a city or something else (

            That constitutes what he calls “the irony of empire” given that Kyzyll and the Tyvan Republic of which it is the capital is a real place and larger than Bulgaria, Hungary, Portugal, Austria, the United Arab Emirates, or other places, like Crimea, that Russians do focus on and talk about whether they are “ours” or not.

            For the record, he points out, Crimea occupies 28,000 square kilometers, but Tyva is six times larger with 168,000.  Nonetheless, few Russians could point to where it is on a map of their own country although few could not point to where Crimea is.

            Russians “precisely know … that Russia is our powerful state and no less our great country, but as for details about it, those are quite cloudy,” he writes.  If tomorrow Kyzyl and Tyva disappeared from the map, Moscow wouldn’t react. On the other hand, the television woud continue to talk about Crimea.

            “Alas,” Gudkov continues, “the logic of a virtual empire is constructed differently. That which is already part of it isn’t interesting.” The only question anyone cares about is “what’s next?”  And that is because it “can exist only by expanding and swallowing up ever new space” and not necessarily real space but virtual space as presented on television.

            Such “a virtual empire has virtual enemies and therefore they can be changed with such ease, transforming one into the other and changing names and masks.” Yesterday, Russians focused on Banderites in Ukraine; today on ISIS, and tomorrow, perhaps Turkish janissaries or someone else.

            “It is well know that Russia always was friendly with Oceana. That is, forgive me, always its enemy. No, again always its friend. And further according to the text left to us by the great [George] Orwell.”

            Gudkov says that his wish for the new year is that Russians will leave the “virtual” empire in the past and focus on their country, “our real Kyzyl, and also Lipetsk, Gorno-Altayshk, Birobidzhan, Ukhta, Smolensk, Nizhny Novgorod, Mozhaysk, and the multitude of other real cities whose fate no one except us is involved with.”

            What Russians have benefitted from the pursuit of virtual empire in Syria? Wouldn’t real Russian cities and towns be better off with the money being spend on bombs falling into the desert? And wouldn’t Russians be better off being proud and taking care of their own real places rather than worrying always about others beyond their real borders?

            “Of course, the virtual empire is useful for its rulers, the very same people who when there is any attempt to talk about the real problems of the country shout louder than all the rest ‘Catch the thief!’” as a way of not doing anything real for the real Russia which very much needs help from them and ordinary Russians as well.

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