Staunton, September 27 – A dangerous mechanism has emerged in Russia, one that unlike much else in that country, is as reliable as clockwork, according to the editors of “Nezavisimaya gazeta.” It involves the rise of “aggressive social groups” who act on their own to impose their version of a desired moral order.
That carries with it enormous risks. On the one hand, it undermines the role of the state as the guarantor of the rights and freedoms of its citizens. And on the other, it opens the way to a situation in which various social groups may come into conflict because the particular moral orders they wish to impose are in conflict – and the state is not acting to control the situation.
In a lead article today, the editors say that these groups effectively operate without hesitation as substitutes for the state, sometimes as allies of those in power who are only too happy to see others do their dirty work for them but at other times in ways that call into question who is really in charge of the situation (ng.ru/editorial/2016-09-27/2_red.html).
This “mechanism,” in which someone does something others don’t like and then aggressive groups use their clout either to get the government to act on their behalf or, failing that, act on their own to impose their will is something that Russian groups have taken from the West.
“Precisely there, aggressive church groups of conservatives have worked out in detail the algorithm which domestic champions of Christian-great power ethnic are now making use of,” the paper says, noting that “fundamentalists in the West have blockaded art galleries, blocked access to abortion clinics, and threatened theaters where are shown ‘immoral’ pictures.”
Russian moralizers, “who justify their aggression with patriotic feelings willingly copy Western Protestant practices of direct action” sometimes against the same targets but sometimes against others. That is what has happened this week with the Sturgis photography exhibit in Moscow, and it can be expected to be repeated when a film about Nicholas II’s affairs with Matilda Ksheshinskaya is released. Indeed, the coming protests likely will be larger.
“The struggle for public morality, which extends into the political realm, has a long history in the West, and there have been developed mechanisms for the reaction of state institutions to such actions,” the editors say. If the state decides the attacks are unjustified, it will protect those the aggressive groups attack rather than allow such groups to gain their way.
In Russia, however, “forcible actions of such groups are becoming the occasion for the complete and final closure of art protects.” Yana Lantratova, the responsible secretary of the Presidential Human Rights Council, has come out in favor of that, even calling for its legalization, implying the state should support the crowds rather than the rights of artists.
That points to a disturbing trend, the paper continues, with the state failing to do its job and allowing such groups to “brutally” enforce their will, often with government subsidies and ties to the Russian Orthodox Church but without the responsibility that governments at least in principle should have to show.
The “Nezavisimaya gazeta” editorial points to something important: Many things are being translated from the West into Russian life, but they are being translated only in part. And both the origins of these tactics and the ways in which Russians are modifying them need to be carefully watched.