Tuesday, November 15, 2022

‘Putin Believes He Can Defeat West Because He Believes in Gumilyev’s Theories,’ Pertsev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 14 – The late ethnographer Lev Gumilyev has had a powerful influence on Vladimir Putin’s thinking because Gumilyev’s ideas on the rise and fall of nations and the need to avoid mixing them have convinced the Kremlin leader that he and Russia can defeat the West, according to Meduza commentator Andrey Pertsev.

            Putin has long cited Gumilyev and his ideas with approval – see, for example, kremlin.ru/events/president/news/17118, rg.ru/2021/02/14/putin-zaiavil-o-beskonechnom-geneticheskom-kode-rossii.html and vedomosti.ru/politics/articles/2017/09/01/731987-putin-reaktore – Pertsev points out (meduza.io/feature/2022/11/14/kazhetsya-putin-i-pravda-dumaet-chto-mozhet-pobedit-zapad-pochemu).

            The son of poetess Anna Akhmatova and tsarist officer Nikolay Gumilyev who was shot by the Soviets in 1920, Lev Gumilyev (1912-1992) was arrested and confined to the GULAG three times. After emerging from the camps in 1956, he developed his controversial theories of the role of passion in the rise and fall of nations.

            Convinced that each nation experiences birth, a rise, and then decay over a 1200 to 1500 year cycle and that those at their peak are invested with the greatest amount of passion and thus can win out over others who may appear more powerful, Gumilyev attracted followers at the end of Soviet times because he argued Europe and the West were dying while Russia was still rising.

            That gained him many followers as the Soviet Union fell apart, something that Gumilyev very publicly opposed, as did his suggestion that any mixing of nations or the imposition of one nation’s values on another would produce degenerate “chimera” nations, a view that many of his critics saw as racist and isolationist.

            These ideas became especially popular among Russian elites in the 1990s, Pertsev says, because its members saw in Gumilyev a reason for hope at a time when Russia had suffered what Putin himself was to characterize as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the twentieth century.

            Putin was and is attracted to Gumilyev’s ideas but is not really familiar with his works, those who have had close contact with him say. Instead, he has been offered quotations from Gumilyev much like Soviet leaders were given quotations from Lenin, as a kind of unquestioned truth that could be used in public presentations.

            In the last several years, Putin’s references to Gumilyev appear to have decreased while those to the more direct and hardline ideologue Aleksandr Dugin have increased, but Putin’s attachment to Gumilyev’s ideas remains just as strong as ever – and Pertsev’s survey is a useful introduction to the thinker for those as yet unfamiliar with him.

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