Staunton, April 13 – It is entirely understandable that the victims of aggression often view the authors of such crimes as including not just specific officials and institutions but the entire country supposedly behind them, Vadim Shtepa says. That happened with the victims of Nazism in the past; and it is happening in Ukraine now as well.
But it is a dangerous mistake not only because it may allow those really responsible to avoid being held accountable but also because it ignores that the population and its culture are seldom monolithic but instead contain elements that can help countries overcome the crimes of their leaders, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal says (rus.postimees.ee/7498682/kak-tolstoy-i-coy-ustroili-buchu reposted at region.expert/culture/).
Recently, Shtepa continues, the Ukrainian Apostrophe portal featured a collage which showed Russian cultural leaders in the uniforms of the Russian army that is invading Ukraine, suggesting that they were behind this action (apostrophe.ua/news/society/culture/2022-03-27/tolstoy-i-vyisotskiy-na-voyne-neobyichnyie-portretyi-rossiyskih-klassikov-stali-hitom-seti/264013).
Many Ukrainians accepted this implicit argument, but what is interesting is that Russians were divided. Most viewed this as a hyperbolic falsehood, but some accepted the idea that their culture as such and even its leading figures are to blame for what is taking place in Ukraine, the Russian regionalist argues.
But a moment’s reflection should dispel this notion and lead to an appreciation that “behind the accusation against ‘all Russians’ or even ‘all Russian culture’ for this war” are those directly responsible. At some future trial in the Hague, Putin and his team can be counted on to claim that “we aren’t guilty of anything; we only fulfilled the will of the Russian people.”
That danger is one of the reasons Hannah Arendt rejected the idea of collective guilt; but there is another compelling reason as well: Blaming an entire people for the crimes of their leaders means that short of their complete destruction, there is little chance for any positive development in their countries after a conflict ends.
Shtepa says that he and other Russian regionalists are convinced that behind what Putin is doing is not Russian culture as such but rather the imperial matrix that its rulers have imposed, a matrix that requires ever more aggression at home and abroad. Moreover, he says, he and they understand that within Russian culture are many opposed to that matrix.
Rather than tarring them with that brush, those positive elements of their thought should be highlighted not only to defeat the current imperialist aggression but also to provide the basis for the reformation of Russia, the only path forward to end the empire and allow Russia to become a more normal country.