Staunton, February 23 – Many of yesterday’s liberals are in the wake of the annexation of Crimea supporters of Vladimir Putin’s “’patriotic’ rhetoric” about reversing the collapse of the USSR, but most of those believe that they can do so without sacrificing any of the benefits they had received from that and the developments that have followed.
Such people, Vadim Shtepa writes, “are ever less interested in the situation within the country” and feel that “when a war is going on, it is possible to forget about corruption” or any other domestic problems).
They have accepted, the Russian regionalist writer says, ideas that might be labeled “a hybrid ideology.” Just as Putin has launched “a hybrid war,” he says, so too has the Kremlin leader advanced “a hybrid ideology,” one in which “there are no ‘rightists’ or leftists,’” or any reason for a multi-party system.
For those who accept this, Shtepa continues, it is enough to be “simply ‘for Russia,’ despite the fact that it involves “an incredible synthesis of former contradictions ranging from clerical messianism to Soviet patriotism” and combines hatred for America with the childish refrain “’Why can they do something and we can’t?’”
This “hybrid ideology” also combines rhetoric about being “peace-loving’ with a total militarization of mass consciousness,” the portrayal of Ukraine as an enemy and also one of “’the fraternal peoples,’” and opposition to a return to the Cold War with threats to reduce the West to “radioactive rubble.”
Nothing like this was on display “even in Brezhnev’s times,” Shtepa points out. Instead, such an internally inconsistent ideology could arise “only in post-modern Russia where everyone is already accustomed to the combination of the imperial shield and the Soviet hymn,” in a country accustomed to view itself simultaneously as a victim and a victor.
That meme arose already in 2011, he continues, with the caricature portrayal of the “vatnik,” the Russian who wears a padded coat. But its absurdity was highlighted by the fact that such people “easily used the Internet and contemporary electronic gadgets” while being hostile to the West for its supposedly eternal “’conspiracies against Russia.’”
Future historians, Shtepa suggests, are going to find it difficult to “explain how it could happen that a country and government in which only recently there was much talk about ‘modernization’ and the elimination of visas with Europe…suddenly in a matter of a few months rapidly descended into such archaism and hatred.”
“Of course,” he says, “the key role in this metamorphosis belongs to massive television propaganda,” something far in excess of even what was offered in Soviet times. But despite that it remains a mystery “why in ‘the Internet era,’ whose arrival sociologists assessed so optimistically expecting the rise of ‘a creative class,’ TV turned out to be an Orwellian ‘telescreen’”
Many of this new class “accepted the hybrid ideology and began to push it,” even though they didn’t accept all of its most extreme manifestations. But large numbers of Russians simply dispensed with any belief in democracy or Western institutions and became propagandists of “’the Russian world’” and sang the praises of imperial power and its victories.
One explanation that these future historians may find useful is the historical law that “victors frequent borrow parts from those they have defeated.” That helps to explain the Decembrists in 1825, and now, given the centrality of World War II in the new ideology, Moscow is borrowing the militant stance of the Nazis it defeated.
Indeed, Shtepa says, “not in any other country has the defeat of Nazism been reflected in such a stormy growth of its own aggressiveness.” Part of this shift began in the fat years, he continues, when oil prices were high and when Russians began to think that they always would be and that that would be enough to allow Russia to become a super power again.
That time allowed some to think as Putin does that the collapse of the Soviet Union was not the result of its own failures but of outside efforts and to conclude that all the other post-Soviet states were somehow illegitimate and fated to be reabsorbed by Russia. Talk about “’the former Ukraine’” is emblematic of this, Shtepa says.
But because of the internal division of this hybrid ideology and because of the fact that reality will eventually overwhelm what is shown on Moscow television, “this hybrid will not last long,” he argues. And Russians will eventually recognize that “it is impossible to support an imperial policy and at the same time achieve any positive changes within the country”