Staunton, January 12 – The Soviet Union’s role in defeating Hitler in what Russians refer to as the Great Patriotic War has always been a central element of Russian national pride, but under Vladimir Putin, it has taken on the form of a religious cult, one that is helping to push the country from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, according to Igor Eidman.
In an essay on Kasparov.ru, the Moscow commentator says that the hysterical reaction of the Russian authorities and state-controlled media to statements by the Ukrainian prime minister in Germany “recall the reaction of the Islamists to ‘insults against the Prophet Mohammed.”
Eidman says that “the cult of victory in the Great Patriotic War” – or its Russian initials VOV for “Velikaya Otechestvennaya Voinya” – long ago began to acquire the character of a new religion,” and its most fanatic followers remind one of the Islamists. Using that analogy, the commentator says, it may be time to call them “VOVists” or “VOVans.”
The core “dogma” of VOVism, he says, is this: “’We saved the entire world: the vile Jews, the stupid Yankees, the treacherous British, and the sneaky Yukes [Ukrainians], although in fact it would have been better not to save them. And now all of them owe us. Those who doubt that,’” the dogma continues, “‘are ungrateful fascists.’”
The VOVans don’t reflect upon the fact that other countries fought against the Nazis, that they would ultimately have won even if Russia had not become involved – as happened in World War I after Russia withdrew from that conflict – and that Russia itself had a complicated history in the war, having been at one point allied to Hitler.
In this, of course, the VOVans are like the followers of other faiths: they believe because it is absurd. “Like the Islamists,” Eidman writes, “the VOVans try to impose their cult on the entire world and they accuse those who cast doubt on their dogmas of blasphemy and try to punish them.”
“The real veterans of the Great Patriotic War receive very little from this cult,” he continues. “They live worse than their defeated former opponents in Germany and the government spend incomparably less on them” than it does on “pompous” ceremonies to celebrate itself and its leaders.
The “chief VOVan of Russia,” of course, is Vladimir Putin, Eidman says [“Vovan” is an informal diminutive version of the name Vladimir.] “The servants of the VOV cult are his bureaucrats and propaganda service. And the main sacred symbol of the VOV religion is ‘the St. George ribbon.’”
But the VOVans are different from the Islamists in one important way: Most Islamists appear to be “sincere fanatics” who believe what they say. VOVans in contrast are most con men who seek “to strengthen their power and privileges with the help of this cult.”
These people put out this “VOV opium for the people” in order that the population will remain supportive of the regime and won’t complain. Such officials are “absolutely cynical: they do not believe in what they say and they serve those gods which seem to them at any given moment the most profitable.”
According to Eidman, many of these VOVan propagandists would have behaved very badly had they been alive at the time of the Great Patriotic War. Many of them “at the very first sing of danger would have run to surrender to the Germans” and put their skills at work by writing “little articles in the style of ‘Beat the Jew-Bolshevik.”
Russians like everyone else should remember the war, but “the religion of victory in the VOV is gradually acquiring the character of a totalitarian cult imposed on society, an important part of the chauvinist state ideology which is being formed.” Indeed, he says, “all this VOV hysteria is evidence that the state in Russia is becoming ever more ideologized and moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism.”