I had collected so much on the current war that I decided to blog it separately.
Resisting Western cultural hegemony
Danilevsky concluded with words that continue to resonate today among Russian conservatives who want to resist the forces of globalism and what they see as Western cultural hegemony:
The danger consists not of the political domination of a single state, but of the cultural domination of one cultural-historical type … The issue is not whether there will be a universal state, either a republic or a monarchy, but whether one civilization, one culture, will dominate, since this would deprive humanity of one of the necessary conditions for success and perfection—the element of diversity.
Paul Robinson, Russian Conservatism, Kindle page 82.
The collective mind of Russia, insofar as there is such a thing, likely matters at present less than the mind of Putin. Were it not so, Putin wouldn’t have smashed civil society at all critical or even inquisitive voices (see below).
But Russian conservatives have at centuries of discomfort with the West. Many of them were educated in the West, and they acknowledge and admire its accomplishments, but they want to keep it arm’s length. They want Russia to be Russian.
I have not yet read about Russian liberals.
Putin and Pushkin
“You have Putin’s Russia and Pushkin’s Russia,” Krielaars observed. To blame a whole culture, past and present, for a current political action implies that everything about that culture contributed to that action. If Germany succumbed to the Nazis, don’t listen to Beethoven; because of Mussolini, cancel Dante and Raphael; if you reject American actions in Vietnam, the Middle East, or anywhere else, no more Thoreau or Emily Dickinson. Could there be a better way to encourage national hatred than to treat a whole culture and its history as a unified whole, carrying, as if genetically, a hideous quality?
When I visited Soviet-dominated Poland in 1970, people understandably resented Russian rule. Ill-disposed to the forced consumption of Russian culture, some responded, as oppressed people often do, with the sort of blind hatred that prepares victims to be oppressors as soon as the tables are turned. As a character in Dostoevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov observes, “it can be very pleasant to take offense.” One Pole I met proclaimed proudly: “I even hate Russian trees!” “You have something against birches?” I asked incredulously. But the more absurd his pronouncements were, the more righteous he felt.
Russian expert Michel Krielaars via Gary Saul Morson
- The International Court of Justice ruled 13-2 in favour of Ukraine, concluding that Russia’s allegations that Ukraine was committing genocide against Russian speakers in Donetsk and Luhansk were false. The ruling strips away the legal pretext that Mr Putin used for the invasion. The two dissenting judges were, unsurprisingly, from China and Russia.
- In a menacing television appearance Mr Putin warned Russians to be aware of “fifth columnists”, urging them to “spit out like a midge that has flown into their mouths” those traitors whose minds had been captured by the West. The West’s ultimate aim, he said, was the destruction of Russia. Russian prima ballerina Olga Smirnova was clearly unpersuaded. Having been publicly critical of the war she quit the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow to join the Dutch National Ballet. She is the most famous Russian star to quit the country over the war.
The world in brief | The Economist, 3/17/22.
Allegations of Ukrainian genocide in Donetsk and Luhansk (eastern Ukrainian regions oriented strongly toward Russia rather than the West) seemed, apart from the possible hyperbole of “genocide,” plausible to me. I’m relieved that Russia was as bereft of evidence as was Trump in his grousing about the 2020 Election.
As for the claim that “[t]he West’s ultimate aim [is] the destruction of Russia,” there’s too much to it for me to summarily dismiss it.
We have made Russia our bête noire for my entire lifetime, with a brief pause around 1990 when we fancied we might turn it into a Western liberal democracy. But as it turns out, there’s a whole lot of historic and abiding Russian conservative resistance to liberal democracy, and since it’s always helpful for a regime to have an iconic enemy, we acquiesced in Russia remaining the Other.
Add to that widespread western Christian ambivalence about Orthodox Christianity (insofar as the West is aware of it at all) and the history of Russian Orthodox collaboration with successive illiberal regimes and — Why, yes! Now that you mention it we would find it reassuring if Russia as we know it were destroyed, by us, by it’s own overreach, or from internal forces.
Putin knows it, but his very knowing it, we fancy, means it’s false.
How might the Ukraine war scramble world Christianity?
Veteran Religion Beat reporter Richard Ostling does an outstanding, objective job in Beyond the Orthodox questions: How might the Ukraine war scramble world Christianity?. It’s heavily but not exclusively focused on potential scrambling in Christian Orthodoxy. Lots of links, too.
No hate speech except against the hateful people
The Russian government moved to designate Meta as an “extremist organisation”, after reports that the parent company of Facebook and Instagram would allow Ukrainians to call for violence against Russian soldiers on its sites. Meta said there was no change to its policies on hate speech “as far as the Russian people are concerned”. The row does raise questions about Meta’s role in selecting just when it thinks support for violence is suitable across its platforms.
Putin’s crackdown on his own people
For whatever reason these stories really brought home to me the enormity of Putin’s deceit and suppression.
Dissidents flee Russia
“The plane from Moscow to Yerevan was packed with people I knew,” he recalled. “Lots of young people — the future of Russia is leaving.”
“Collective blame is an easy way to channel rage,” Maria Stepanova, a prominent Russian poet, told me. But the impulse to punish Russians on the basis of national identity is a misguided one. Ms. Stepanova told me that many emigrants are driven by a feeling of pure moral indignation, a sense that emigration is the only remaining avenue for political protest. “They simply don’t want to breathe the air here,” she said. “They want to cut all ties with their country.… They’re willing to risk ruining their lives out of this feeling of disgust.”
Sophie Pinkham, Putin’s War in Ukraine Is Forcing Russian Dissidents to Flee. That title is underinclusive: intellectuals and potential conscriptees are fleeing, too. It was predicted and now it’s happening.
Remaining dissidents are like vermin
The idea behind the hounding of prominent figures in the arts is to reject Western influence as alien. One of the most public faces of this campaign is Margarita Simonyan, the boss of the state-run RT television station. As she said in one of her recent talk shows, “We must all consolidate, grip our will in our fists, establish exceptional order in education, culture and information, and rid the country of truants, idiots and traitors.” In a speech on March 16th, Vladimir Putin said such people would be “spat out”.
The Economist, Russian propagandists turn on pro-Western “traitors”
Crushing Russian civil society
Wow. Strong opener:
Within the first days of the war, the Russian government smashed to pieces whatever remained of Russian civil society—including independent media, human rights organizations, and anybody who could still speak truth to power and to their fellow citizens. As the Kremlin adopted a new draconian speech law and cracked down on organization after organization—initiating or completing bogus legal procedures against them, shutting down their websites, and sending goons to physically harass them—the people staffing those organizations picked up and left the country. Within only about 72 hours, the entire institutional fabric of Russia’s civil society, painstakingly woven out of the post-Soviet institutional wasteland, was irreparably torn to shreds.
Izabella Tabarovsky, Russia’s New Exiles.
Of all the stories I’ve seen on the new emigration of Russians, this (fairly long, but no paywall) was the most potent. The life of Russia intellectual, potential conscriptee, journalistic and dissident exiles is spartan and very hard; fleeing Russia didn’t “make it all better.”
When The Tablet is good, it’s very, very good.
I’ve tended to buy the John Mearsheimer argument that we forced Putin’s hand (expanding NATO eastward threatened Russia — the idea is far from being a Mearsheimer exclusive), and this blog’s recent posts have almost certainly reflected that.
I’m no longer convinced of that. Ann Applebaum on Andrew Sullivan’s podcast was surprisingly persuasive, as have been a few others.
The most persuasive argument against the “pushing NATO too far” theory, to my mind, is that we always have nuclear-capable submarines close to Russia (as they have close to us). Although “NATO is purely defensive,” standing alone, wasn’t very persuasive, “NATO, which claims to be purely defensive, is a trivial threat to Russia compared to the U.S. and it’s submarines” packs a punch. Tell me why that’s wrong.
But the most persuasive observation is what Putin is doing within his own borders, and the stupid propaganda behind which he shields himself.
I’m still not sure what Putin is up to, but it should be born in mind that Putin’s intent is not Russia-at-large’s intent — else he wouldn’t crush truthful reporting, arrest protestors, ban civil society mediating structures and so forth.
That this war might bring down Putin is an outcome fervently to be hoped and prayed for, but we dare not directly promote it, and we should not be under any illusions that his fall would lead quickly to a liberal Western democratic Russia. There’s too much history and sentiment to the contrary. Russia and the West may learn to live together, but I don’t look for homogeneity.
Caveat: I have never repudiated my conscientious objection to war, so don’t think for one second that I’m some kind of military expert.
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