Sunday, April 19, 2020

Coronavirus has Destroyed ‘Forever’ Russian Habit of Viewing Powers as Sacred, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 17 – In only a few weeks, Aleksandr Tsipko says, the coronavirus pandemic has destroyed “our Russian faith that the powers that be can do anything they want and that they are really all powerful over the country and this world,” a transformation of consciousness that gives hope that Russians will recover their good sense.

            The senior Moscow commentator says that because of the pandemic, all the things Russians were so exercised about only a few weeks ago appear petty and insignificant, as for example discussions about whether God should be mentioned in the Russian Constitution (

            “Today it is becoming clear that people in power are also mortals and that in fact absolute power is in the hands only of spontaneous developments which carry in themselves the unpredictable.” A virus can bring death not only to ordinary people but even to senior officials, as foreign experience has already shown.

            Sometime ago, Tsipko continues, “it seemed that everything which occurred at the summit of the political Olympus was almost intended by God. But now the mysticism of power has fallen away, and it has become clear that in fact if not each of us, then many can be transformed from ‘nothing’ to ‘everything.’”

            “In my view, there won’t be any revolution in Russia after the coronavirus leaves us,” he continues. “But the powers in Russia if they want to remain in place must consider more real life and think more about the present and not about what will remain after them in the future.”  And that will represent a more fundamental change than many revolutions have.

            “The epidemic is returning to us our instinct of self-preservation, and we are finally beginning to see ourselves and others with open eyes.  And consequently, the mists of Russian mysticism and the mists of ‘the Russian idea’ we have thought up and which always overwhelmed our good sense are disappearing.”

            “Suddenly,” Tsipko says, “we are discovering that ‘his majesty chance’ – the coronavirus epidemic – is destroying the world which the powers created and which seemed to us inviolate. It turns out that all the plans thought up at the top be they voting on amendments to the Constitution or inviting Western leaders to the May 9 parade can be easily destroyed.”

            “And it turns out that the higher leaders aren’t gods and that they are under the power of ‘his majesty chance’” just as much as anyone else. As a result, “the coronavirus is killing not only faith in our Russian specialness and exceptionalism … but returning to us the Christian idea of the moral equality of people and forcing us to be humble.”

            This is where the radical difference between the spiritual consequences of revolutions and those of spontaneous misfortunes like the coronavirus rests. Revolutions often encourage not humility but an exaggerated sense of one’s own importance.  But events like the pandemic show “the hopelessness of our self-confident civilization.”

            When it becomes obvious that everyone from top to bottom can be a victim of a faceless enemy, it also becomes obvious that we share this and should not view some as being divinely elected be the leader of a state or the state itself, the Moscow commentator continues. Indeed, it makes those notions absurd.

            But it is not only that these changes are happening in Russia now, Tsipko says. These changes are “already forever. After everything which has happened, already forever will pass into non-existence Russian mysticism and the Russian faith in the impossible as a result of which millions of innocent people died.”

            “I believe,” he says, “that all that forced us to transform power in Russia into a super-power, into power for life, will pass out of our national consciousness. There has never in fact been any basis for the sacralization of power in our country.” Worries about self-preservation force us to view the world differently.

            “Post-Crimea Russia in essence returned us to the USSR,” Tsipko argues. But the post-pandemic one will not be that but one that will focus on taking care of people now rather than celebrating the past and worrying about the future, an approach that so often has led to the sacrifice of the present.

            The real question now, the commentator says, is “whether the political elite of present- day Russian understands this.”

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