Monday, November 16, 2015

Russian Authoritarianism from Below Responds to and Supports That from Above, Mitrofanov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 16 –  “The rise of authoritarianism in Russia always involves the coming together of two streams, one from above and one from below,” Sergey Mitrofanov says; “and all those who try to change something [in such a country] must understand that” rather than placing the blame on one side or the other.

            In “Yezhednevny zhurnal” today, the Russian commentator begins by noting that when Russians marked the Day of National Unity earlier this month, they made no reference to the downing of the jetliner over the Sinai, even though that tragedy had taken place only four days earlier and might have been expected to be on their minds (

            The “simplest explanation” for this, he suggests, is that no one told them to do so given that the Kremlin was still “feverishly calculating the consequences” of linking or not linking that event to Syria, a process that is still very much going on. Without direction of this kind, most Russians simply would not have responded in public.

            Another explanation, Mitrofanov says, is “the steady lowering of the value of human life in the Russian Federation.” In August 1991, the death of three was “a symbol of victory and freedom.” In 2000, the death of 118 became “a symbol of the indifference of the authorities” to soldiers. Now, 224 deaths provoke only discussions about not being able to travel to Egypt.

            And this absence of public expression of grief contrasts with the hysteria over the caricatures in “Charlie Hebdo,” even though it is certain that few Russians had ever seen that journal. What they had seen and heard was official permission and even encouragement to be angry.

            The shooting down of the airplane over Sinai, however, is instructive in another way: Tour firms quickly calculated how much they would lose as a result, but no one asked why there were such losses or who could cover them.  Instead, it was somehow assumed that the regime would take care of everything. 

            “This is a strange kind of capitalism when a private sector and its clients demonstrate their complete vassal-like dependence on the authorities,” Mitrokhin says. And still no one asks “why Russia is again encircled by enemies, for ISIS is only a small detachment of Evil. The main enemy is” instead an incomprehensible and universal EVIL.”

            At the same time, the Russian people continue to show their “growing love for the president” in ways that far exceed what the Kremlin could have planned, be it a crowd that comes together in the shape of his face or a special portrait of Putin so that “even the blind can be aware of his visage.”

            It is in such things, the absence of horror after the shooting down of the plane over the Sinai and public displays of such things that “we approach the main secret of Russian existence,” the penchant of Russians to ignore what should not be ignored and to celebrate unquestionably that which should be questioned.

            At the end of Soviet times, “one good philosopher, Aleksandr Akhiezer, who did not live to the complete and final triumph of his philosophical conception of social inversion wrote that the same thing was true in 1937 when the nation actively destroyed itself although it could have resisted.” 

            Unfortunately, then and now, no one in authority gave them direction, and so they did not and do not ask questions or resist, Mitrofanov says.  And as a result, their own authoritarian predispositions come together with the authoritarian pretensions of their rulers to build an authoritarian regime it will be very hard to root out.

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