Friday, July 24, 2020

Neither Putin Nor Moscow Liberals View Russian People as Proper Subject of History, Degtyanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – From Uvarov’s times to Surkov’s, neither the Russian state nor its opponents have viewed the Russian people as a subject of history but either as a support in the former case and a burden that a small group of people must bear to transform the country in the latter, Andrey Degtyanov says.

            And both the state and its liberal opponents are thus surprised whenever as now in the case of the people of  Khabarovsk, those at the center relegate to the status of a narodnost’ as in the case of Uvarov or “the deep people” in Surkov’s are always surprised when the real people refuse to play their assigned role, the regionalist says (

            Despite all the hype, Surkov really “did not think up anything new” in his discussion of the deep state. He simply updated Uvarov who also believed that the people were to be understood “exclusively as a group that was true to Traditional Values and Spiritual Bindings” as defined by their rulers but not by themselves, Degtyanov continues.

            From this statis perspective, the people inevitably had to follow Orthodoxy, although Uvarov originally referred to this more accurately albeit in French as “the state religion,” something that later took the form of “the building of socialism in a single country” or “the cult of ‘the Great Victory’ in World War II.”

            But the Russian state wasn’t the only player who thought he could define the people: Russian liberals did and do as well, viewing the people as inherently “anti-imperial, revolutionary-democratic, and anarchic” in its essence rather than seeing the Russian people as an actor who wants its own things and changes over time.

            As Dostoyevsky pointed out, “Russian liberalism is not an attack on the existing order of things but on the very essence of our things” and thus on Russia.” To which Degtyanov adds, “alas, anti-Russian liberalism (and other liberalism took shape in Russia) over the past 15 0 years has little changed.”

            There were, of course, efforts to adapt liberal ideology to Russian realities by figures like Witte, Struve, Guchkov and Stolypin, “but the liberal movement of the 1990s” rejected this and insisted that in Russia, “’democracy is the power of democrats!’” rather than a power based on the people largely because they viewed the Russian people as somehow not ready for rule.

            The Russian liberals saw their task much like European colonists who had to take up “the white man’s burden” to transform those they wanted to rule. Not surprisingly, “’the deep people’ responded to the progressive colonizers from liberalism in an expected way: either with indifference to their advanced idea of ill-concealed hatred to ‘the white sahibs.’” 

            The protests in Khabarovsk and the response of both the Kremlin and Russian liberals highlight this sad reality, the regionalist writer says. The Kremlin’s appointment of Degtyarov as Furgal’s successor in that Far Eastern city throws into high relief just how inadequate the view the Kremlin has of the Russian people.

            Before his latest elevation, what distinguished Degtyarov? “Ideas about renaming oblasts into gubernias and districts into uezds, replacing the current tricolor with the black-yellow-white ‘imperial flag, painting the walls and towers of the Moscow Kremlin white, declarations that Moscow must become a bastion in the looming battle with the Anti-Christ.”

            And his inability to garner more than two percent in the Moscow mayoral elections.

            It thus appears that the Kremlin is “sincerely convinced that the ‘deep’/’state-forming’ people lives in a world of such absurd ideas” and that those at the top of the power vertical cannot imagine that the people of Khabarovsk voted for Furgal not because he was a member of the LDPR but because he was their own and opposed to and by Moscow.

            But the continuing Khabarovsk protests should convince both the powers and the liberals that their respective visions of the Russian people are completely inadequate, Degtyanov says; and one can thus hope that the demonstrations there will lead to “the annulment of the ideological construction known as ‘Putin’s state’” or the narodnost in Uvarov’s trinity.


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