As promised, we’re going to press on with the conclusion of Lyttenburgh’s piece. So far the first part has racked up 4,404 hits and attracted 996 comments; not bad at all.
The premise that Russian liberals are fifth-columnists who are stubbornly committed to the destruction of the Russian Federation as we know it – ostensibly so they can build it anew with western help into a good global citizen that is as democratic as you can imagine – has understandably attracted some controversy. From my personal point of view, it is hard to reconcile their courting of Ukraine’s oligarchic, cluster-fuck government (including the corpulent and egotistical Saakashvili fan who currently occupies the governorship of Odessa) with any serious nation-building chops, and they come across much more like spoiled kids who are deliberately courting a reaction by behaving outrageously, always with one eye on the parent to gauge the effect of their posturing.
Whatever the case, it is difficult to argue away the fact that each of these individuals is far more popular in the English-speaking west than among their countrymen, and their support in Russia is limited mostly to single digits, although those supporters are among the most vociferous and self-promoting of Russians – this makes it easier for their supporters to imagine they are a great deal more influential than they actually are.
Anyway, lead us onward, Lyttenburgh.
Case in point: former editor of the eXile magazine, Mark Ames, still red-hot butthurt at Evul Putin for closing his rag way back in 2008. Here is his more-or-less balanced analysis of the Charlie Foxtrot that came to be known now as the “Post-Maidan Ukraine”, and it’s here that Mark Ames literally shits rainbows into his own mouth with this:
“The important thing to remember is this: Russia’s liberal intelligentsia and its big city yuppie class is small in numbers, outsized in influence and importance… and hated by the rest of Russia. And there’s a lot to hate: intelligentsia liberals and Moscow yuppies are elitist snobs on a scale that would turn anyone into a Bolshevik. They even named their go-to glossy “Snob”— and they meant it. It’s not just the new rich who are elitist snobs — liberal journalist-dissident Elena Tregubova’s memoir on press censorship interweaves her contempt for Putin with her Muscovite contempt for what she called “aborigines,” those provincial Russian multitudes who occupy the rest of Russia’s eleven time zones. Tregubova flaunted her contempt for Russia’s “aborigines,” whom she mocked for being too poor and uncivilized to tell the difference between processed orange juice and her beloved fresh-squeezed orange juice. I’m not making that up either.
Tregubova’s contempt is typical for the liberal intelligentsia. Stephen Cohen quoted well-known Russian liberal intellectuals blaming the misery and poverty of post-Soviet Russia on the Russian masses who suffered most: “the people are the main problem with our democracy” said one; another blamed the failures of free-market reforms on “a rot in the national gene pool.” Alfred Kokh, a Petersburg liberal fired by Yeltsin for taking bribes from banks while heading the privatization committee, openly relished the misery suffered by the Russian masses after the 1998 financial markets collapse forced millions into subsistence farming for survival:
“The long-suffering Russian masses are to blame for their own suffering…the Russian people are getting what they deserve.”
What this means politically is eleven time zones of untapped resentment, surrounding an island of wealth and liberal elitism — Moscow.
Most living Russians still remember the Soviet era, when wealth inequality was so minute it was measured in perks rather than yachts. That’s what the Russians mean when they tell pollsters they preferred the Soviet Union days and rue its collapse. Lazy hacks interpret those polls as proof that Russians are still evil empirelings, for the sheer evil joy of having a Warsaw Pact to boast about. Rather than the obvious: Russians lived longer and easier under Soviet rule, then started dying off by the millions as soon as capitalism was introduced, when poverty exploded and they found themselves in the most unequal country on earth.
To an outsider, these are all problems that need solutions. But to a political animal like Putin, this huge pool of human resentment and nostalgia is a potential power base: Russia’s Silent Majority [emphasis mine – Lyt]. Although Putin has thrown them plenty of bones over the years, the Kremlin never fashioned an entire politics around the Silent Majority, in part because it never had to. The thinking has been that no matter how desperate and resentful the Russian “aborigines” in the provinces get, they’ll never pose a serious threat to Kremlin power. Moscow’s liberals and its “manager class” were taken far more seriously as a class.
During the mass yuppie protests in Moscow, I remember one telling moment that gave some insight into the Kremlin’s new political strategy. Legions of pro-Putin youths started pouring into Moscow, and locals started warning of provocateurs come to start violence and invite a crackdown. But in one video I watched, a confrontation in Mayakovskaya Square between the Moscow yuppies and the pro-Putin youths, the Muscovites all started yelling and laughing realizing that the pro-Putin youths were from the despised provinces. You could tell by their clothes, their haircuts, their nervous out-of-place expressions on their faces. The rich Muscovites chased them away; the provincial Putin tools skulked back to their shitty buses, for the long journey back to their wretched provincial apartment blocks.
It’s hard to know when Putin decided to run a Nixon strategy and appeal to Red State Russia [emphasis mine – Lyt] but I’m pretty sure he was as shocked as anyone by the scale and rage in those first anti-Putin protests in December 2011.
Putin has chosen a new politics appealing to the Russian Silent Majority, and that means appealing to their resentments, heating up the culture wars between liberal Moscow and the slower, fearful masses in the rest of those eleven time zones. To exploit the huge differences between the Moscow liberals and yuppies opposed to Putin, and the rest of the country that resents them.
The Silent Majority has waited at least two decades for payback, and now it’s on, and it’s not pretty. It’s why Putin targeted Pussy Riot. We Westerners loved them; they were heroes to us, brave punk rock babes fighting the Man and getting jailed for being punk. In our world, that’s cool. But in Russia, Pussy Riot was completely despised by nearly everyone, across class and regional lines. One poll after they were jailed showed only 6 percent of Russians supported Pussy Riot; the poll could not find a single respondent who said they respected the jailed band members.
By exploiting Russian disgust for Pussy Riot and equating the opposition movement with Pussy Riot, Putin was able to conflate the liberal opposition with a decadent, alien art troupe whose purpose seemed to be to humiliate Russia and mock their culture. Nixon couldn’t have dreamed up a more perfect symbol of his opponents.
The Nixon Strategy also explains why, after all these years, Putin suddenly targeted Russia’s gays for a vicious culture war campaign. In the Russian Red States, the violent, cruel state-managed homophobia — in which a leading TV anchor told his audience that gays’ hearts and organs should be burned and buried deep underground — was red meat, an acknowledgment at last that Russia’s Silent Majority matters. And the more Moscow yuppies and Westerners berated Russia for attacking gays, the more the Silent Majority identified with the Kremlin.
America’s Silent Majority was crazy enough in the Nixon years: the Silent Majority cheered Nixon on when college students were gunned down on campuses; 80% of Americans sided with Lt. William Calley, the officer in charge of the My Lai massacre.”
While Mark Ames perfectly captures the disgusting attitude of the capricious and whiny adult-children who are the vanguard of the “westernized urbanites” of Russia and their alien nature compared to the rest of Russia, he, Mark Ames, long time resident of Russia, also caricatured and (what is more important) simplified the Russian people. Yes, he got some things right about 86% of Russians, but at the same time he got other things wrong, and also failed to mention yet other issues altogether. Like calling them “Russian people” with everything it entails. No, instead for him we are the “Red State Russia” and “The Silent Majority”.
But he didn’t dare – couldn’t dare – to admit, that the Majority is Silent no more. It was a Well Known Fact ™, perpetuated ad nauseum by practically everyone, that the Web will become a major weapon of the so-called “Russian liberals” and allied to its hipsteriat, kreakls, office hamsters and other mass consumers of the Western Values. The defeat of the Regime was just a date on your calendar, nothing to be worried about – after all, the majority of “Russians” encountered by Westerners in emigrant enclaves, on art and literature exhibitions, on bohemian parties and Euro-raves, in salons and conferences, in the Internet were saying that for the last 15 years. Maybe it’s better to say that it was the Western elites who felt the most “betrayed” by Putin’s “turn to populism”, than a bunch of now mostly forgotten white-ribboners? Because them, so-called “Non-systemic opposition” have heard the low grumbling of the Silent Majority for a long time, but chose to ignore it, while the Westerners, brought up on their own diet of stereotypes and confirmation bias, still can’t comprehend that there is such a thing as the Russian People, which dares to have a voice – they don’t have the same problem in their countries, spared from the dreaded Soviet-brought equality.
And here Mark Ames, in his attempt to “dumb down” the narrative to make it more “digestible” for his intended audience, despite him living for more than a decade in Russia, despite all his venomous jibes targeting these westernized “intellectuals”, proves, that he is in fact one of them – he, indeed, shudders “from a sense of disgust and horror” upon looking at Russian people, whom he probably had never seen in huge, vociferous numbers beyond the blessed boundary of MKAD. This affliction suffered by one of the most knowledgeable and less Russophobic western journalists can’t be helped. Something probably as vast as class differences separates him and others like him from admitting, comprehending, and then accepting some basic facts about Russia and its people. The textbook example of that is know to every Russian 10th grader, who for a change, decides to read “War and Peace” and Lev Tolstoy’s attitude to prince Andrei and what ultimately sealed his fate in the eyes of the author.
And just to illustrate the commonality of such patronizing/disgusted attitude towards the “commoners” of the former Soviet Union, here I have a “Blast from the Past” type of article. I remember reading articles just like that in the mid-00s, with only one difference – they were published in English-language papers in Moscow and talked about local expats “adventures” in the “Wild Russia”. You know – the time when Ames and his paper were still at large, the halcyon days of unrestricted freedom. Now, it seems, we have “Expats Trash-Talk II: The Electric Boogaloo”, a cheap remake set in Ukrainian decoration.
Our hero is nothing particularly noticeable – just another Anglo-Saxon expat on a big adventure in the Wild, Wild East. He freely (and with barely suppressed pride) confides to his readers that since moving to Kiev about a year ago he “had little contact with the Soviet mindset aside from taxi drivers, cleaning ladies, and cashiers at the supermarket”, instead preferring the society of kreakls, hipsters and, especially, programmers who want as one to emigrate away from their beloved and now (once again!) Free and Independent country. But for Mr. Louzonis there is nothing bad in such a “brain drain”. Yet even he asks in the end:
“Will we one day witness a complete hollowing out of Ukraine’s young and talented class and be left with passive-aggressive Homo Sovieticus and his oligarchic overlords like something out of a bad zombie movie? No…that movie is already playing next door in the Land of the Wounded Bear and even Ukrainian Homo Sovieticus isn’t clamoring for a sequel.”
Any decent human being would’ve been disgusted at how this self-described geek lumps together a vast majority of the people, populating the country of his current residence, and then compares them to zombies. Also, it’s hard not to see parallels between this foreigner’s de-humanizing of enormous number of people, whom he simply doesn’t like and finds little in common with; like Lyudmila Ulitskaya’s description of her own people, which I mentioned in the beginning.
As I said before – the Silent Majority is Silent no more. It wasn’t actually Silent in the first place. Just because some so-called journalists (pardon for the word “journalists”) decided to ignore it, or to misreport it doesn’t make it any less real. The outlook of ordinary Russians, of the Russian people, didn’t change all that much for the last 20-25 years of basking in the rays of economic freedom and new opportunity to say the Soviet Union was a Mordor on Earth.
Russians for a long time, even before Putin, viewed NATO’s expansion negatively, supported closer ties with the Slavic republics of the former USSR, wanted Crimea reunited with the rest of Russia, etc…etc…Russians, robbed overnight by cynical “reformers” of Yeltsin, who just shrugged and explained millions dying as “people who couldn’t fit into the market economy” (© Anatoliy Chubais – still alive and kicking) voiced their anger and disillusionment in every possible way. Most importantly – they voiced it during the elections, voting overwhelmingly for anybody but Yeltsin and his (and not his) “democrats”, so that Good Ol’ Boris had to rig the elections to stay in power.
And Putin understood that early on – practically since he achieved the presidency. He played a trick that for the most part eluded the narrative of most pundits both in Russia and abroad. He began with creating his own party from an amorphous idea-less mass, inherited from Yeltsin. And then he… no, he didn’t start with lining up all responsible for the disastrous 90s along the wall and having them shot. He didn’t even exile them to the dreaded gulags (as, without doubt, a lot of Russians still want to deal with them). He coopted the ideas and voting base from his most dangerous opponents – the Communists. Because they, despite the deep-rooted in the so-called Russian liberal and Western conscience trope, are not just a “Party of Babushkas and Stalinists”. People voting for them vote first of all against the horrors of rabid capitalism and for the social rights guaranteed to everyone. The same has been done to the nationalist/patriotic voter base, which has been also co-opted into Putin’s loyal and expanding base. If the opinions of these large groups of people were so unimportant, would then Putin try to attract them to his side?
But what those Western Russophobes got unintentionally right about the vast majority of Russians is the correct application of the term “Red State Russia” to describe Russia beyond the 2 capitals area. Only here “Red” stands for something different. In May, Communist Party of Russia officials in Lipetsk erected a new Stalin bust. In July, the village of Khoroshevo opened a museum devoted to his time spent there during the Great Patriotic War. And in December, Communist activists in the city of Penza not only managed to relocate a bust of Stalin to central square – they also opened a “Stalin Center”, a clear antithesis to the state-sanctioned “Yeltsin Center”, opened in Yekaterinburg also this year, with the attendance of the top officials of Russia. None of this was mandated from above – and in some cases there was opposition not only from the local “oppositionists”, but also the authorities as well.
Another way in which Russian people made their voice heard – a huge volunteer work, which began since the opening of the Ukrainian Civil War in Donbass. There are organizations, all across Russia, who collect money, warm clothing, foodstuff, medicine and other supplies to the people of the Peoples Republics currently suffering from the war and its fallout. These are truly grassroots movements, not ordered from the Kremlin, but homegrown. And, yes, there were also genuine Russian volunteers who went to fight for their own people and ideas in Donbass – like Igor Pykhalov, historian and writer from St. Petersburg, who in August 2014 volunteered to fight on behalf of Lugansk People Republic. These people are very much real and Russians know about them – but their existence violated the pristine narrative of the Western Independent Media, who already decided for themselves (and their audience) that “Russia invaded Ukraine” and “supplies the separatists with weapons”, scoffing at the idea of people becoming fighters for a cause.
Finally, Russians; common Russians, for the most part, supported Ramzan Kadyrov in his polemic against the “non-systemic opposition”. When the website of radio “Ekho Mosckvy” decided to conduct a poll, asking their audience whether they think that nonsystemic opposition indeed are “Enemies of the People”, even on their own turf using their own “administrative resources”, handshakables from the “Ekho” lost – 62% of 64 472 voters said that YES, yes, they think so. Different journalists supported Ramzan Kadyrov – because he, a Chechen, was brave enough to challenge the whole world by saying something that the majority of Russians wanted to say since early 90’s: not only in the vast expanse of the Russian Internet (RuNet), but also “live”.
Yes, needless to say, RuNet didn’t become a Last Frontier for the so-called Russian liberals, where they can affect the Masses and expose them to the truth. If anything, the Russian segment of the global Web is as multifaceted and complicated as the country itself. Here, people can really get a plethora of opinions from all possible sectors and points of view – which is wrong, from a liberal-fascist POV. For the people (sorry for the word “people”, applied to them), who proved to be much more totalitarian than the ones they seem to oppose, everything not registered as Their Opinion falls under the category of Propaganda (state-sponsored, of course). For them, nihilistic cosmopolitan fans of Pussy Riot, Charlie Hebdo and scrotum-nailing “artist” Pavlenskiy, equally disgusting, are both LJ communities about an imaginary USSR in 2061 and “webgalleries ” devoted to Slavic Paganism and Fantasy.
Little by little, even the Westerners previously loathe to admit it are starting to understand – no, you can’t attribute every single pro-Russian commenter to the “Troll Army” category, and then dismiss them as dupes, sellouts, useful idiots and agents of the FSB. It doesn’t mean that the most Free of the Presses of the Free World won’t protect itself with mass repressions against web-undesirables “pushing proRussian narrative”. Who are, to the shock and dismay of many, just Russian people who’ve finally found a Voice. And, boy, do they have a lot of things to say!
We are told that one of the most ancient and powerful feelings known to humanity is Fear. Exposed to it, a person – unwittingly, instinctively – either runs, fights, or whimpers helplessly. Self-appointed ruling and cultural elites (and their Russian epigones) indeed, are incapable of seeing humans in the People of their and other nations. What they see actually takes the form of a wild, unpredictable and ruthless beast – a tiger, made out of multitudes. Immediately, all those elitists regress into fearful cavemen – and they either run away from this danger, or attack it with all their passion, or just collapse into a heap of incoherence, sometimes mistaken for a “deep, exhaustive analysis” by their fellow cavemen, who still think that the tiger is a creature from myth.
These cavemen got too used to a sleeping tiger in their midst. All too often across the unraveling at its seams of our Globalized World, this is no longer the case. They, these new Elite, regressed so far that they seemed to forget what it really means to be one – when dealing with an awakened tiger you don’t run, you don’t fight and don’t fall on your knees. Hate to this beast will get you only so far. If you are truly those who you claim to be, you ride the tiger.