Staunton, April 16 – At a Liberal Mission roundtable, Moscow social commentator Igor Klyamkin said that the impulses behind anti-cosmopolitan campaign of the late 1940s haven’t disappeared because “the Russian authorities up to now are not in a position to secure the political unity of society without appeals to the anti-Westernism traditional to it.”
It is of course “difficult to compare the postwar struggle with cosmopolitarnism under patriotic slogans” with any other event in Russian history, he said at the time and has now posted again on Facebook to ensure it gains a wider audience. The excesses of the Stalinist effort are simply too great (facebook.com/igor.klymakin/posts/2148289898624793).
But there have been many times in Russian history when leaders, seeking to solidify their rule, have whipped up anti-Western sentiments, Klyamkin says. “And what of our day? Already during perestroika we heard from Dugin and those close to him that Western culture in all its manifestations was unacceptable for Russia because it is destructive for the country.”
At that time, such views were marginal; “but time passed and we have heard something similar from the powers that be” who insist that “the deficit of patriotism must be filled,” that “traditional values, spiritual ties, and humanitarian security must be secured by the criminal code,” and that “foreign agents” must be fought.
“I recall Putin’s meeting with our official human rights defenders Lukin and Fedorov. They tried to convince the president that he should not return to such terminology which recalls the totalitarian past. But [Putin] wouldn’t give up the term ‘foreign agents.’ For him, such terminology is important.”
According to Klyamkin, “it is important” for the state to be able to insist that the population work to defend itself against “agents of the State Department” and “the fifth column of the West.” In short, Putin feels the same impulses that drove “the struggle with cosmopolitanism” 70 years ago.
Participants in the Liberal Mission discussion pointed out that this is not and cannot manifest itself in the same way as it did in 1949. They are of course correct, Klyamkin says. But he says that he cannot fail to point out that what is happening now needs to be compared with the habits of the 21st century and not those of the middle of the 20th.
To be sure, today, no one is threatened with ten years in prison for praising American democracy or American technology as happened at the end of Stalin’s rule. But hostility to the West in general and the United States in particular is growing and it is growing with official support.
Others in the conversation noted that “the struggle with cosmopolitanism became one of the consequences of the cold war. But even now we are experiencing something like a new cold war,” one that the Kremlin is promoting in order to “legitimate” itself and “consolidate” society around it by means of anti-Westernism once again.
This echo of the past raises the questions: do Russian leaders always have to use anti-Westernism to build their authority with the population? And is there any way to legitimate them without their doing so? Unfortunately, the most obvious answers to these questions are far from encouraging at least in the short term.
At present, Klyamkin concludes, “Russian authorities are still not in a position to secure the political unity of society without an appeal to the anti-Westernism traditional to it.” And what is still more worrisome, the majority of the population responds to such appeals remarkably positively, apparently not seeing on offer any other basis for consolidation.
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