Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Putin Talking about Past Because a Society Focused on History is Easier to Rule, ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 23 – Vladimir Putin says he is preparing an essay on foreign relations before World War II, a move that will keep Russians talking about the past, thereby helping the Kremlin because a society focused on the past is easier to rule than one more attentive to the present and future, according to the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta. 

            Indeed, they suggest in a lead article today, “the first half of 2020 could pass in discussions about the past. Battles for interpretation will continue.” And the current conflict with the West will be firmly rooted in the past, shoring up the image of the country as a besieged fortress and boosting the Kremlin’s standing (ng.ru/editorial/2019-12-23/2_7759_editorial.html).

            “Disputes about history in this sense help the powers that be,” the editors continue. “They allow for conflicts to be shifted from one here and now with all the contradictions inevitably involved into a symbolic one, the sphere of interpretations which have become part of national identity.”

            In many respects, Nezavisimaya gazeta says, “Russian society in many respects is a contemporary one. But the archaic substrate in its mentality is significant and strong.” But it doesn’t always emerge without the encouragement of the powers that be or attacks by others. If their image of the past is challenged, Russians view this as a threat to their present and future.

            Moreover, the editors say, “a society oriented toward the past is easier to rule.” The past is more about the state than the society and when people think about it, they think about and are more inclined to support the state and its leaders than might otherwise be the case.

            “In history, an individual living in such a society sees not the biographies of people entering into conflict with power and suffering from it but the state itself which commits errors but not crimes and the actions of which very often can be justified.” And because that is so, the people are less inclined to think about its current shortcomings and their own problems.

             In Russia, the ruling elite can easily shift the attention of society to the past, to “unneeded wars when [the rulers] could not themselves say anything definite about the future. Precisely this is what is taking place now in Russia,” Nezavisimaya gazeta say. 

            “The powers that be can designate economic arrangements five to six years ahead. But they have no image of the future. They do not say how they want to see society, how in an ideal world should be distributed functions between government and social institutions and to what extent the market should be regulated.” 

            The authorities “want to feel themselves secure here and now and for the foreseeable future. They support precisely the same vision of the world in society. In Russia, it is much easier to imagine a parliament arguing about “the Munich deal’ than voters deciding on projects of the future.” 

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