Staunton, December 16 – Russians who survived the Soviet experiment suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in that they have learned that someone else will make decisions and take action and that they are free from any responsibility and can sit and curse the conditions under which they live, Boris Akimov says.
The Russian farmer who also writes commentaries for Moscow’s Vzglyad says that the Soviet state encouraged by violence and example Russians to assume that they were free to be irresponsible because someone else would make all the decisions and the people could simply wait until that happened (vz.ru/opinions/2020/12/16/1075845.html).
Russians were not like that before 1917, Akimov says, pointing to the remarkable growth in rural activism at the time of the zemtsvos, rural self-administration bodies that today few associate with responsibility for what took place on this or that territory or village but that in fact is precisely what they were about.
At the end of tsarist times, “a few conscious citizens did take responsibility on themselves” and even collected money from the population in order to build schools, hospitals, roads and collect trash. “They didn’t wait for the tsarist government to send them these things … they acted, and they did so independently.”
And in this way, Akimov says, “they took power into their own hands.” What the zemtsvos accomplished was truly amazing. In 1913, almost two million Russian children were instructed in zemstvo schools. And during the last 50 years of tsarism, the zemtsvos build 12,627 libraries.
Zemtsvo doctors, “celebrated by Bulgakov and other writers at the start of the 20th century,” were “the symbol of new local responsibility,” Akimov says. One of his ancestors was among their number and he remembers family stories about the fact that that doctor was “considered the main hero of the locality” in which he worked.
“By 1910, there were 3012 zemtsvo doctors,” and “almost 40 percent” of all medical personnel in Russia “worked in the organs of zemstvo medicine.” Obviously, not all Russians took part. Many even then were prepared to wait for others to act. But far more did than do now given the PTSD so many suffer.
Akimov argues that “civil society is a society of those who are ready to take responsibility on themselves, a society of those who are ready to act rather than waiting for others to do so.” And a society full of people who first ask themselves and then others “Who here is the power?” and then confidently answer “We are!”
Power, the farmer-commentator says, “is in the first instance responsibility or in any case it should be.” In 19th century Russia, those who worked in the zemstvo movement became “the real power. They made history” by acting on their own rather than waiting for others to act. He says that it is possible that as they recover from PTSD, they will be able to do so again.
In a village near where he lives,
there recently occurred “a small peaceful revolution.” A group of citizens
cleaned up the trash on their own rather than waiting for the powers that be to
do so. In another village, citizens went ahead and built a road, again without
waiting for those in charge. And in still a third, they have been working to set
up a school.
In such a situation, Akimov concludes, it is finally possible to ask again “Who here is the power?” and to hope that by taking responsibility, these Russians will transform not only the world around them but themselves as well.