Sunday, April 24, 2016

Russians Will Stop Supporting Putin Only When They See His Weakness, Yakovenko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 24 – Given the longstanding servility of the Russian people, Vladimir Putin can be deprived of popular support only by showing how weak he in fact is, according to commentator, something that requires the opposition within Russia to unite and the West to reduce to a minimum any contacts with him.

            In Chicago’s Russian-émigré newspaper, “Seven Days,” Yakovenko begins by observing that those who filed denunciations in Stalin’s time and those who asked questions of Putin during his last open line program fell into the same three categories (

            Some in both cases turned to the authorities to advance their own interests. Some asked what could only be described as disinterested and unselfish questions. And some – and Yakovenko suggests this was especially the case with those asking questions of Putin – were driven by servility, by a desire to please those above them.

            That may surprise some because “there is a great temptation to distinguish servility ‘from fear’ of the times of Stalinism and those of the current Putin servility, when without being servile one could live and no one would be at risk of being shot or imprisoned.”  But people forget that “Stalinist servility was maintained not by fear alone.”

            As the Harvard Project documented with its interviews with Russian DPs after World War II, even former Soviet citizens who were now beyond the reach of Stalin’s forces of coercion nonetheless “in their overwhelming majority remained within the framework of the culture of servility with its cult of the leader and slavish humbling of themselves before it.”

            Yakovenko suggests that the reason for this is to be found in the concept of ur-servility, one he develops on the basis of an analogy with ur-fascism as described by Umberto Eco. And he then argues is “a trans-era phenomenon of Russian life and Russian daily life and political culture.”

            That ur-servility is very much “an attribute of Russian culture” and that it remains a “vital” element within it is shown by the fact that “a significant portion of the emigres who left the USSR in the 1980s and Russia in the 1990s and live today in the countries of Europe and the US are devoted supporters of Putin, support all his adventures, including the theft of Crimea, the war against Ukraine and the mass murder of citizens of Syria.”

            Moreover, he continues, “a significant part of the Russian community of Israel consists of Putin adepts and supporters of his policies and the system he has established,” even if they have been in that country for decades and even if that is against their own interests as Israelis given that Putin is supporting enemies of the Jewish state.

            One can say the same thing about many Russian emigres in Europe and the United States, Yakovenko says. They are largely beyond the reach of Putin’s security organs, and thus they manifest what can only be called “servility without fear or reproach.” How long it will take to overcome such ur-servility will determine Russia’s fate.

            “Émigré ur-servile Putinism is something absolutely irrational and directed against the interests of its bearers,” who “just like the Putinists in Israel are destroying their own home” by continuing to follow its dictates, Yakovenko says.

            He continues by observing that “the opposite side of ur-servility always is doublethink. These are two parts of a single political and daily-life culture.” The difference between Soviet times and now is that in the USSR, there was an ideology and that meant people could play by the system’s rules in public and then go home, tell anecdotes and listen to foreign radios.

            “In Putin’s Russia,” however, Yakovenko argues, “there is no ideology and doublethink means in the main the difference between real and declared behavior,” as when the Russian elite denounces the West but sends its children to school there.

            What is in common between the two is that the servile Russian “recognizes not the truth of ideas but the truth of force.”  And that means that he can’t be led to change his mind by being given new information; he will become different only if he decides that the person he had taken his lead from no longer is powerful but instead fundamentally weak.

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