Staunton, Nov. 30 – Vasily Zharkov, a Russian historian at the European University of the Humanities in Vilnius, says that “the main problem of mass political consciousness in Russia is not the much-ballyhooed ‘conservatism of the Russian people but its clearly expressed apolitical quality,” something that must be overcome if Russia is to have a democratic future.
“Political anomie arose in the 1990s following the destruction of values, norms and institutions of Soviet society,” Zharkov says. Then, “it deepened in the 2000s as a result of weariness of the population from the radical changes” earlier and the rise of consumerism (reforum.io/blog/2023/11/30/pochemu-sluchilas-depolitizacziya-rossijskogo-obshhestva-i-kak-eyo-preodolet/).
And it took a major step in that direction after the failure of protests in 2011-2012 convinced the overwhelming majority of Russians that they had no effective role in politics and therefore should ignore and/or defer to their rulers, exactly what Vladimir Putin hoped for and has promoted.
The Kremlin leader has been able to do so not only by using repression but by relying on neo-liberal ideas which have led many Russians to believe that they should focus only on their on personal concerns and not worry at all about the promotion of common values and above all on social justice.
And neither the regime nor the opposition have taken up social justice as a cause because of the risks that doing so would awaken what is the underlying values Russians have but have decided not to pursue in the current situation when such pursuit would be fraught with dangers, Zharkov says.
Indeed, he continues, “the Putin state has been doing everything possible in order to continue to block the demand of Russian society for social justice.” That has led to “a paradoxical situation” in which there is a strong sense among the population of the importance of social justice but no one to organize and focus it politically.
One consequence of that is that Russians express a desire for a strong hand which is less about a hope for the return of a Stalin in all his dimensions than to the creation of a system in which social justice however imposed will be a more central element in Russian political life, Zharkov argues.
Opposition parties now and a successor regime in the future should be focusing on advancing a leftist social agenda of social justice, he says, because only in that way will the population return to politics and Russia have a chance to move from a personalist dictatorship to a democratic regime.