Friday, October 26, 2018

Kremlin Views Russians' Growing Indifference as Green Light for More Repression, Ponomaryev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 26 – The Putin regime views the growing indifference of the Russian population to what it has been doing as a green light for the powers that be to become increasingly repressive, human rights activist Lev Ponomaryev says, raising the possibility that the country is indeed on its way to a repetition of 1937.

            In an essay in Nezavisimaya gazeta, the longtime head of the For Human Rights movement says that during his career he has noted that “the will of people to resist” what the government is doing has been “falling,” with ever more people fatalistically assuming that “a new 1937” is on its way (

                Such popular attitudes, Ponomaryev continues, make that outcome ever more likely because just as in the 1920s, the regime is moving step by step to tighten the screws and views the population’s acceptance passive or not as an indication that it can continue to do what it is doing and add to it.

            He stresses that Russia has not yet returned to the conditions of 1937 but notes that one can easily see moves in that direction in various trumped up cases the government has brought, the convictions it has secured, and the punishments it has imposed – and especially in the fact that these actions of the regime have not sparked outrage and resistance by the population.

            Future historians will be able to specify when the new 1937 arrived, Ponomaryov says, “but now we can say why it is coming – as a result of the indifference of the society” and the failure of all but a microscopic number of activists to protest, the number of which is constantly falling because they are being attacked as “foreign agents.” 

            Russians today appear to have forgotten, he continues, that the original 1937 would not have been possible had the Soviet regime not been able to secure at least the passive acceptance of the population in the years leading up to that national tragedy. If people had resisted, the regime would have crushed them but might have slowed or stopped the march to disaster.

            But the regime then and again now uses not just its punitive powers but its propaganda to promote the notion that anyone who is upset with what the regime is doing is a social isolate “without any support from the population.” In fact, many would support a more heroic resistance even if they themselves wouldn’t take part in it, at least at first, Ponomaryev argues. 

                “It is obvious,” he says, “that today there much greater freedom than there was in the 1930s.” But then as now, there is little willingness to resist in order to ensure those freedoms will not be lost. A few Russians are are doing so; but most are passively waiting – and their passivity is being read now as then as an indication that the powers that be can do what they want.

                Indeed, Ponomaryev continues, there is an increasingly widespread sense that a new 1937 is coming and that there is nothing Russians can do about it. “People are not going into the streets although there are hundreds of reasons to do so.  And there is the feeling that a collective Stockholm syndrome is at work.”

            The Kremlin is counting on that just as Stalin did; its denizens need to be disabused of the idea – and that will only happen if Russians begin to protest against what the regime is doing and resist its most odious actions. If that doesn’t happen, then the feeling that a new 1937 is approaching will be confirmed, to the detriment of all.

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