Staunton, Sept. 20 – The Kremlin is creating “an explosive mixture” that is likely to last for at least two decades by handing out massive amounts of money to those who serve in its war in Ukraine and by convincing the population that Russians are engaged in “heroic” actions like those of their ancestors, Sergey Chernyshov says.
In an essay that originally appeared in Russian on the SibReal portal and that has been translated as “The Majority Never Had It So Good” in the Russian Post, the historian argues that this mixture explains why so many Russians especially outside the major cities support what Putin is doing and will continue to do so (sibreal.org/a/o-tom-chto-priobrel-i-chto-poteryal-iz-za-voyny-rossiyskiy-narod/32595656.html and russiapost.info/regions/majority).
Many Russian critics of Putin talk about all the things that Russians have lost because of his war in Ukraine, but in fact, Chernyshov says, they have not lost any of the things on such lists “because they had none of them to begin with.” Not having had anything “special to lose,” they have gained two important things, which have combined into an “explosive” mix.
First of all, many who have served in Ukraine have received enormous sums of money, far more than they could ever hope for in normal times. And second, with the encouragement of the regime, “they get to feel like they are part of something great. Just as our grandfathers defeated fascism, so too we are defeating Nazism in Ukraine.”
“At the same time,” he continues, Russians get to feel that “we are beating the gays, the Jews, the entire collective West, Freemasons, in short, everyone. Those who are older rejoice” at the revival of Soviet practices; and what is especially great for them is that “all these gains” have come without their having to make any particular effort or “even get up from the couch.”
The opposition has nothing to offer these people; and those who fail to “take this into account … might endlessly wonder why in the last elections, it was mainly the villages (and not the large cities) that voted for the governors appointed by the Kremlin and ‘the ruling party’ – even though it was precisely the village that suffered the most from mobilization.”
Intellectuals and others who oppose Putin “try not to remember this fact: the many hundreds of thousands of men and women who have already taken part in the current war and the process of ‘rebuilding the new territories’ have millions of children.” And “these millions of children believe that their fathers and mothers are now doing heroic things.”
“For public repentance,” Chernyshov continues, “we will have to wait until these children grow up and have their own children, so that these not yet born children can be told that their grandfathers committed undignified acts. For some reasons, it is easier to hear about grandfathers than fathers.”
And then, “by the end of the 2040s, it will be possible to talk to the people about the losses that Russian society actually suffered from the current war. [Then] at least some of htem will really listen,” especially because “by that time, teachers whose careers began under Brezhnev will finally stop teaching.”
“In the meantime,” the historian concludes, “the people are experiencing perhaps the best period in their lives. Sure, some of them from the war in zinc coffins; on the other hand, the whole street will be out for the funeral. How is that for reviving traditional values?”
Chernyshov makes this argument to call attention to what he says is the divide between villages and major cities; but to the extent the feelings he points to exist, they exist to a certain extent in both places. It isn’t so much that Russians in the cities are entirely immune to the influences he describes; they are simply less so because of their experiences.