Staunton, Mar. 1 – Until the last few years, many of Russia’s intellectuals living in its major cities believed that as repressive as Vladimir Putin has been in many respects, he would allow them to keep their small relatively free space so that he could point to its existence when the West criticized him for his attacks on democracy, Konstantin Eggert says.
But more recent events have shown that this was a “foolish illusion,” the Deutsche Welle commentator says; and that as the Kremlin leader tightened the screws, he would eventually move against the intellectuals as well forcing them into silence or in many cases into emigration (dw.com/ru/kommentarij-kak-umerla-nasa-rossia/a-64843080).
In defense of this illusions – and Eggert admits he has been part of that effort – Russian intellectuals had to act as if Surkov and other representatives of the Putin regime were just people with different views rather than enemies who wanted to destroy everything Russian intellectuals hold dear.
That belief became increasingly unsustainable after Putin came back to the presidency and his Anschluss of Ukraine’s Crimea; and his expanded invasion of Ukraine a year ago means that everyone much reject it as completely without any foundation and prepare for the worst, Eggert says.
It is not so much that Putin has changed as that Russian society has changed. It is no longer willing to go into the streets to demonstrate but instead is prepared to tolerate whatever the regime wants. Most Rusisans are now “indifferent” to the regime. They don’t support Putin’s war but they have “made a choice not to interfere.” And the regime has pocketed this.
Putin bears primary responsibility for this, but Russian intellectuals bear some of it and must acknowledge that sad fact, the Deutsche Welle commentator says. They must begin speaking out abroad and at home against Putin’s war and for Ukraine rather than mostly keeping their heads down.
The only reasonable way forward is to struggle against the regime. That won’t be easy and it won’t be without victims. But unless Russia’s intellectuals give up their illusions about Putin and about the society he has created, they will find themselves more isolated and with less freedom than ever before.