Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Russians Back Putin’s War because Their Cultural Code Remains that of Peasants Focused Exclusively on Survival, Olshevsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Nov. 29 – Russians say they support Putin’s war in Ukraine not because they believe in it but rather because their psychology remains that of peasants who are focused only on survival rather than living and who don’t worry about or take responsibility for anything except what affects themselves directly, Aleksey Roshchin says.

            According to the Russian commentator, this peasant attitude, sometimes referred to as “’peasant self-awareness’” is “a euphemism for ‘the psychology of survival.’ The peasant world consists of those who do not live but survive and with varying degrees of success” whether they remain on the land or move to the cities (

            Indeed, despite massive urbanization over the last century, Russians continue to feel threats to their existence and that is why in their attitudes to many things, including Putin’s war in Ukraine, they act as peasants would act, worrying about developments only if they directly affect them and enjoying the suffering of others if that suggests they re powerful.

            Roshchin draws these conclusions from an article about Vasily Shukshin, a Russian ruralist writer of a half century ago who celebrated peasant life, by Vadim Olshevsky, a Russian mathematician at the University of Connecticut, which has just appeared online at

            Olshevsky says that the heroes of Shukshin’s pesant world would react to Putin’s war as spectators, without any sense of responsibility and would have been upset only if “there aren’t enough socks for the soldiers or enough machineguns.” Mobilization appears likely to change that but it soon passed without much reaction, and so there will be more.

            Russians with such peasant attitudes wouldn’t care about the failure of the Kremlin to specify and keep specific war goals but they would enjoy attacks on the Ukrainians because these attacks aren’t directed at them but at others to whom they can thus feel superior to, Olshevsky concludes.

            In citing this essay, Roshchin also mentions Maksim Gorky who hated the peasantry because of its “cruelty, heartlessness, lack of interest in anything beyond themselves, pettiness and stupidity … qualities the peasants have carried through the century almost unchanged” as recent events have shown.

            None of this is the fault of the Russians as peasant, the commentator argues. “It isn’t some ‘genetic predisposition.’” It is simply the way in which people who have to focus on their own survival all the time act. Such “’survivors’ can’t afford a broad outlook and real empathy;” they are themselves too threatened for such things.

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