Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Russia has Failed to Change Course on the Cultural Front Since Confrontation with West Began, Babkin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 7 – To the surprise of many, the delight of some and the anger of others, Russian popular culture hasn’t changed much since February 24 when Vladimir Putin launched his expanded invasion of Ukraine. Emblematic of this is the fact that the blockbuster novel of the summer was Summers in a Pioneer Scarf which had an openly gay subtext.

            One of those who is unhappy that not much has changed but hopes that more will in the future, is Konstantin Babkin, an industrialist, Putin loyalist and member of the traditionalist “Time Forward” arts festival jury. In an interview with the Nakanune news agency, he lays out his concerns and his hopes for more radical change soon (

            The break with the West had “a painful effect on us” given that the West stopped supplying us with “clothes and films” and that was compounded by the failure of the Russian government to promote Russian national ideas in culture but instead continue to put out pale copies of what the West was no longer supplying.

            Some in the culture ministry undoubtedly felt that that was the best way to keep the Russian people entertained, but that was a mistake, Babkin argues. On the one hand, the authorities had a chance to make a turn to Russian national themes because so many who had been pushing Western ones had left. That meant there were openings for new talent.

            And on the other hand, the culture ministry did not understand that Moscow must not only entertain its population but educate it. Russia is at war with the West, and the cultural front is suffering because the country’s culture ministry doesn’t seem to recognize that fact and act accordingly.

            Instead, it is behaving in much the same way the country’s current economic leadership is, seeking not to strike out on its own in favor of Russian models and ideas but rather continue to copy whatever the West did and is still doing, giving the West a victory on the cultural front it does not deserve, the businessman-cultural critic says.

            “If we seriously analyze modern mass culture,” Babkin continues, “we see that Russia is a dying society living on other peoples’ values and imitating them. As a result, unless something chances, this is a society which has no future.” Producing our own simulacra of Pepsi Cola and jeans is not a solution; it is an admission of defeat.

            According to the critic, if Russia does not wake up soon, it will discover that “we have lost the country” because “we ourselves have weakened our culture.” In that event, “we will continue to degrade, with a declining population and an economy lagging behind other countries.”

            What that means is this: “the defense of culture is a question of survival.” There is hope because so many noxious people have left, but not enough new people have taken their place; and “without state support … competing with Hollywood is going to be not just difficult but impossible.”

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