Staunton, September 19 – At the end of January 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik revolution, Aleksandr Blok published his immortal poem, “The Scythians,” in which he declared that Russians were turning away from the West, celebrating cruelty and the cult of force, and prepared to defeat all comers in a kind of Gotterdammerung.
Now, in the time of Vladimir Putin, Moscow journalist Semen Novoprodsky argues that “neo-barbarianism” which was what Blok’s poem was all about is on its way to becoming Russia’s national idea, a development which presages no good either for Russia or for the world around her (gazeta.ru/comments/column/novoprudsky/10195931.shtml).
He argues that the Kremlin has shifted from using obscurantism as “an aid” to rule into “the essence of state policy, into a national idea of opposing everything that is contemporary.” And he points out that history shows that “it is impossible to control and dose out barbarianism: Sooner or later it will master those who use it” and undermine them, their country and its future.
That is because, Novorprudsky points out, “it is impossible to build any firm, and what is most important. effective contemporary state on pseudo-scientific or quasi-religious nonsense and a struggle against knowledge, human rights and creative freedom. Present-day technology and the full development of the nation goes hand in hand with freedom, not with the ties [the regime talks about] however spiritual they may be declared.
The occasion for these bitter observations is the reaction of Lev Gudkov after the Russian government declared his Levada Center to be “a foreign agent.” The sociologist noted that Russia was now at risk of being converted into “a reservation of a poor and aggressive population, comforting itself with illusions of national superiority and exceptionalism.”
Gudkov continued by observing that limiting the scholarly contacts of Russian scholars with foreigners means that there is “the prospect of the further maintenance of scientific backwardness and degradation,” something that unfortunately Russia has seen before both in imperial and Soviet times.
The reasons this happens are not far to seek but they are very dangerous. The Russian state is confident that “the more backward the people, the easier it will be to rule them and the simpler to convince them that all power is ‘from God,’ even if this isn’t a little father tsar but only a president.”
“When the state in the form of a specific set of bosses is the only true religion, those who are intelligent or express doubts are declared unreliable and blind faith is held to be more important, and what is more, more correct than any knowledge,” Novoprudsky argues. And that attitude at the top translates down to all levels of government and society.
With rare exceptions, the Russian powers that be have traditionally been sought to appoint those who are loyal rather than those who are smart; and they have made “the struggle with independent science and enlightenment … an important part of the official ideology and political practice.”
The last time things in this regard were as bad as now was at the end of Stalin’s rule when the Kremlin destroyed genetics, child psychology, ethno-psychology, and what had been very interesting Soviet urban studies, all because Stalin wanted to isolate the country from the world and ensure that everyone would subordinate himself to his rule and ideas.
“The current wave of state obscurantism,” Novoprudsky says, “began to rise ten years ago” with “the Pure Water” farce but it has now grown into a much greater threat to Russian society. “In the nuclear research university has been solemnly opened a chair in theology.” (One wonders, the journalist says, why there shouldn’t be a nuclear chair in seminaries.)
History now as in the past has been the first target of the regime’s moves toward neo-barbarianism, Novoprudsky says. “First was created a presidential commission for the struggle again falsification of history to the harm of Russia’s interests,” even though trying to prevent people around the world from publishing materials Moscow doesn’t like is unrealistic.
Then the regime began dictating how certain topics, from World War II to the events in Novorossiya, had to be treated in textbooks and permitting obscurantists from the church to force officials to ban cultural events like Wagnerian opera. And as this trend has continued, “quantity has passed into quality.”
“Step by step, it became possible” for the Kremlin “to name as human rights ombudsman a retired militia major general, as children’s ombudsman “the wife of a priest of the Russian Orthodox church with radical views, the education minister as an apologist for conservativism,” and a proponent of wildly unscientific views as head of the presidential administration.
It is now obvious or should be, Novoprudsky says, that “this struggle with scientific knowledge and basic humanitarian values of contemporary society is being carried out consciously and consistently” by the powers that be and that they are promoting what they are doing through the mass media, an indication that things are going to get even worse.
Today, “unfortunately, it is logical to expect the continuation of the attacks of obscurantism of all kinds on all fronts,” a development that is really dangerous for the health of the country,” the journalist says, noting that Stalin’s destruction of science still casts a shadow over Russia and that the atmosphere the Putin regime is creating will do the same.
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