Staunton, January 14 – A return to “traditional values” is being promoted by the Russian leadership to reinforce public support, and demanded by some Russians for a variety of reasons; but in fact, such values “tested by time over many centuries which are now being propagandized in Russia simply don’t exist, according to Tatyana Shcherbina, a Russian poetess and essayist.
In this, Russia is hardly exceptional: there are no “traditional values” defined in that way in France, Germany, or any other country. Instead, she argues, what exists is “national character which manifests itself in various ways and various circumstances and in everyday customs.”
That reality becomes more obvious if one looks at the case of other countries. “Today’s ‘European values’,” for example, have been promoted since the 18th century but they have been applied consistently for “all of a half a century, and it is not the case that they will remain what they are now forever.”
In 2006, she notes, there was an Internet forum on the question: “What are Russian [ethnic or otherwise] values?” The two most popular answers were the public bath and support for a great power status for the country. The other participants “answered that they didn’t know or simply went along.”
Very few traditions routinely invoked are that old: the British monarchy and the Muslim haj to Mecca being among the few that do exist. “Russian traditions, besides the bath and great power interest are much younger.” And many would be appalled if they knew the realities of the “traditions” that they say they want to bring back.
In the 17th century, Russian women were said by travelers to be more interested in work and more honest than men. But in the same century, Shcherbina notes, girls were given in marriage at 12, and when Peter I tried to raise the marriage age to 17, he was blocked by the Holy Synod which lowered his proposed age to 13.
“Today,” the Russian poetess says, “this would be called pedophilia, but not a tradition.”
Among the most stable Russian traditions are serfdom, including its Soviet variant, autocracy, “frequent wars (fratricidal, conquest, defensive, and civil), the miserly low value of ‘the little man’ (and each can become him), and the instability of property relations.” No one is really interested in returning to these “traditions.”
The underlying Russian “value” – laziness of Oblomovism – is about the lack of motivation: nothing one does is certain to work and so there is little incentive to try and a great deal of interest in simply sitting and reflecting “about the fate of the world” and questions like “to be or not to be.”
Sometimes the need to do something can be satisfied by vodka and drugs which help people to withdraw from reality, she says. But Shcherbina adds that it is important to recognize what this laziness really represents. “It is also a modus vivendi which allows one to preserve his or her honor and dignity” without having to expend much energy.
There is another Russian traditional characteristic, she continues, and that involves the penetration of the values of prisons into the lives of those not in them. When a high enough percentage of people are in or have passed through prison, it undermines respect for law as an institution.
It might seem that Orthodoxy is “the core Russian tradition,” but many of the things about it are anything but old. In the Russian Empire, just as in most Orthodox countries, people celebrated Christmas on December 25. Only after Stalin restored the Church did the Russian Orthodox begin to market it on January 7.
So it is with many traditions that are proclaimed as being eternal, and that provides the key to understanding why some people promote them: “Today’s propaganda of ‘traditionalism’ has a specific goal,” and that is to promote the idea that the powers that be are eternal as well – or alternatively to allow people to avoid having to face the present and the future on their own.