Thursday, September 8, 2022

Russian Intellectuals Must Stop Advising the State and Focus Instead on Saving Their National Culture, Zorin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 11 -- One of the greatest tragedies Russians have experienced is that they have gotten used to catastrophes and, as a result, ceased to view them as catastrophes, Andrey Zorin says. And within that is the obsession Russian intellectuals have with trying to tell the state what to do rather than concentrating on their primary task, saving Russian culture.

            “One of the chief problems of Russia may be formulated in the following way,” the Russian scholar at Oxford University says. “Culture without the state or the state without culture.” And that has taken the form of “an historical problem – the inability of culture and the state to work together” (

            In the Russian case, Zorin continues, “the state does not understand anything that the culture feels and culture does not love or understand the state.” That is the diagnosis but it is a disease that is unlikely to be resolved by psychotherapy. Instead, what is needed is a divorce with each going its own way.

            “On the territory of historical Russia,” he says, “the best one can do is to strive to allow segments of social structures that survive will be able when there appears such an opportunity to opportunity without moving from where they live to come together for the de-territorialization and a Russia outside of the state. That is the Russian utopia” – “a real ‘Russian world.’”

            At present, that term is “hopelessly compromised” because it presupposes that “the Russia world has some center and that people who have been separated from this center need to unite around it.” That gives the state the whip hand and leaves culture in a position from which it will be hard to recover.

            The time has come to think “about how, considering the realities of the 21st century it is possible to build a de-territorialized Russia without the obligatory ‘next year in Moscw,’ without the messianic eschatology, and without the thought that we will sometime return and if not us then our children or grandchildren.”

            In today’s world, “no center is needed at all. Instead, there should be “segments in Moscow, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg, villages in Kaluga, Shanghai, Armenia, Argentina and so on and on.” This may not work but unless Russians try to do this, there is no chance that it will take place.

            It is all very interesting, Zorin says, to talk about how power should be organized, whether Russia should be a presidentialist republic or something else and federal or centralized, “but those are not at all the problems that we will face in reality” as bearers of Russian culture. And that needs to be remembered.

            “One of the fundamental mistakes” of Russian intellectuals has been “the assumption that their task is to come up with a brilliant strategy that the state can then implement.” But that hasn’t worked. Instead, it has left intellectuals isolated and not taking care of what is their chief responsibility, the survival and development of Russian culture, a culture that is under attack and at risk.

            “The likelihood that Russian culture will disappear is very high,” he continues, because “all cultures eventually die. It is just a matter of time; but when we treat a patient … we know that he will sometime die but we treat him not so that he will become immortal but that he will continue to live with us awhile longer.”

            That is the situation we find ourselves in now: “we want [Russian culture] to live longer” so that we can be part of it and speak with understanding with our children and grandchildren. To that end, Zorin says that he “would like to separate culture in the broadest sense from the state in order to understand how to live with it because masochism is unproductive.”

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