Friday, April 22, 2022

The Russian dilemma

In Foreign Affairs ANDREI KOLESNIKOV explains the damage Putin's war has done to Russia's image of itself:
To Russians, the term “fascism” has long served as a convenient label for almost anything bad. During Soviet times it was common to say that “fascists” and “revanchists” have “raised their heads” in various parts of the world, from the United States to Germany. At times, an even harsher term, “Nazis,” was used. With characteristic lack of irony, Soviet propaganda first used the term in reference to Israel: after the Six-Day War in 1967, when the USSR broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, the Israelis were written off as Nazis. For Putin, the specter of Nazis has provided a way to indoctrinate the nation, to insist that Ukraine has no right to exist. Putin needs the history of World War II to legitimize his regime, but Russians have yet to realize that in doing so he has also destroyed the foundations of the post-Soviet state. Everything was built on the defeat of fascism in the Great Patriotic War, as Russians call World War II. Yet in the eyes of Ukrainians—and much of the rest of the world—Russians themselves are now behaving like fascists. Russians can hardly draw on their country’s experience fighting Hitler to justify their own brutal militarism. On the contrary, they are making themselves in the very image of the Germans in the wake of World War II. This is what Putin has done: Russia is no longer on the winning side of the Great Patriotic War; it is no longer on the right side of history.

Deep down, Russians are beginning to understand that escape may be impossible

The bulk of the Russian population doesn’t realize this. And of course, this year, during Victory Day celebrations on May 9—one of Russia’s most important state holidays, commemorating the end of World War II—Putin will no doubt equate the Soviet victory in 1945 with his own triumph over the powers of reason. By May 9, Putin will have to find the words to describe the specific parameters of the new victory in Ukraine. And they must be convincing enough to make the triumph resemble 1945. But many Russians already seem to view what Russia is doing now as equivalent to the defeat of Hitler: the letter Z, the symbol of the special operation, is often portrayed as a curved St. George’s ribbon, the symbol of victory over fascism.

In reality, however, most people feel trapped: the West is more hostile toward them than ever, but there is nothing left for them in Russia. They support Putin as the supreme commander of their fabled army, but deep down they are beginning to understand that the president has led them to a place from which escape may be impossible. For Russians, it is an age-old feeling. As far back as 1863, the brilliant revolutionary thinker Alexander Herzen identified the tension: “The Russian’s position is becoming interminably difficult,” he wrote from Italy. “He feels more and more foreign in the West, while his hatred for what is being done at home grows deeper and deeper.” Then, as now, the hatred is secret rather than overt. And Russians cannot admit it to themselves.


No comments:

Post a Comment