Staunton, July 14 – The continuing unwillingness of a majority of Russians to get vaccinated against the coronavirus and save their own lives and the lives of others calls attention to some fundamental problems with the spiritual health of Russians, according to Moscow scholar Aleksandr Tsipko.
Russians are so proud that they are not the West, he says; but they fail to recognize that whatever shortcomings the West suffers from, its peoples are far more willing to take responsibility for the health and welfare of their own people and get vaccinated (mk.ru/social/2021/07/15/masshtab-koronavirusa-v-rossii-pokazal-dukhovnoe-nezdorove-nacii.html).
The Russian philosopher Ivan Ilin once observed, Tsipko continues, that “in fact, there are no greater individualists than the Russians. And he has turned out to be right.” Resistance to vaccines reflects “not just fatalism but also a deficit of a national feeling of responsibility for the fate of one’s nation.”
The misfortune of Russians, he continues, “lies in the fact that we have too little of what lies at the foundation of European civilization, too little rationalism, the sense of reality, the ability to calculation the consequences of one’s decisions, and little instinct for self-preservation or legal consciousness.”
And what is the greatest lack of all, one that the pandemic has thrown into high relief, is that unlike Europeans, Russians do not have a clear understanding of the value of their own lives.” Because that is so, Tsipko argues, it is long past time for Russians to stop celebrating how much better they are than the peoples of the West.
“The thesis, ‘Russia is not the West,’ has always been present in our Russian social thought,” either because we are ahead of it or because we feel we have to isolate ourselves from it when as now we are so far behind.”
Gogol understood this perfectly when he wrote that “we are not the West because we are afraid to look at the ground under our feet. Instead, we always are averting our eyes and doing nothing in order to remove from our lives the causes of our misfortunes,” a stance that only gives rise to more of them.
It is shocking, Tsipko suggests, how “all these characteristics of Russian national consciousness are today interfering with the struggle against the pandemic.” Other nations may fight about many things, but when they are under a threat like this one, they come together. Russians clearly don’t.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, it might have seemed appropriate for Russians to reflect upon how it came to be that they created the most inhumane system in history, one that killed millions of their own. But they soon turned away from such questions, in large measure because Russian liberals still believed 1917 was not a tragedy but a great revolution.
As a result, reflections on the defects of the Russian national character that allowed Bolshevism to flourish and that in important ways shaped it soon disappeared from public discourse. But the pandemic gives them another chance, to begin a conference about what it keeping Russians from flourishing in the present-day globalized world.
It is certainly time, Tsipko concludes, “to say that our Russian ‘perhaps’ and belief that ‘what I want, I will take’ doesn’t make us look better but on the contrary gives rise to distrust in us as to an unpredictable nation” with whom it is impossible to make common cause.