Under Putin, ‘Russians Don’t Exist, Only “Sovs,”’ Shumyatsky Says

April 6, 2014

Staunton, April 5 – Given the nature of Vladimir Putin’s regime and reflecting the Kremlin leader’s own understanding, “Russians do not exist,” émigré writer Boris Shumyatsky says. Instead, “people from the former Soviet Union are united [by] their experience of life under a dictatorship.”

In a comment to Die Zeit this week, the writer argues that one should not equate “the term ‘Russian’ with the people of the Russian Federation” because under Putin, “there are no real citizens there” who can “exert influence on those who take the decisions” and thus “’Russians’ don’t exist as subjects of political or social life”.

“The local population does not have access to honest elections,” he continued; instead, “the Putin system exists and acts on its own independently of what citizens think about it.” In short, “as has happened many times in Russian history, the state has liquidated the citizens as a subject of politics.”

Consequently, it isn’t possible to say “what the Russian in fact wants” from it, Shumyatsky says. Certainly, sociological surveys and polls do not provide a measure of Russian public opinion because that is something which “no longer exists.”

“For Vladimir Putin who is conducting a war in the name of Russians, this is in no way about ethnic membership, language or origin.” Instead, “Putin is seeking people who are comfortable under the conditions of a dictatorship or who pine for those … Everyone who is nostalgic about the Soviet Union are for [Putin] good Russians.”

Shumyatsky then suggests that those in Germany who suffer from nostalgia for the east are, “from this point of view, also Putin Russians.” It also follows by Putin’s logic, he says, that “anyone who participates in a demonstration in Russia,” anyone who organizes a trade union, and anyone who seeks to defend himself against Putin’s capitalism is “not a good Russian.”

The Russian today under Putin is “a sov,” the writer continues. Thus, “when Putin says ‘Russian,’ he has ‘a sov’ in mind, a Soviet man who lived through the greatest catastrophe of the past century.”

Shumatsky said he was especially unhappy with Germans and others in the West who do not understand this. “For some, Putin is a counterweight to an unsympathetic US … Through the prism of anti-imperialism, Putinist militarism doesn’t look so serious,” to such people who believe that unless one is a militarist superpower, one can’t stand up to Washington.

At the other extreme of Putin apologists in the West, he says, are those who dream of “Putin’s ‘conservative revolution’” and think that perhaps the Russian leader will be in a position to restore Prussia. They see him as the incarnation of “the strong hand” who can also stand up to Brussels.

“The big country in the East,” Shumyatsky continues, “is thus given the role of a place where Germans can manifest there dislike of free market democracy and the boring features of a legal state. To these romantics, Russia seems a fabulous country” which won’t bow to others, and in addition, it has a leader who “even speaks German.”

But those on the left who support Putin are especially dangerous, the Russian émigré writer says. “Their love for Russia bears almost a demonstratively fascist-like character.”