Sunday, July 20, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Reaction to Dystopian Novel Highlights Continuing Fears of Russia’s Disintegration

Paul Goble

Vienna, July 20 – A dystopian novel positing the disintegration of the Russian Federation over the next several decades has sparked reactions in the Russian blogosphere that suggest many residents of that country still fear such an outcome, however much the Kremlin and its supporters discount that possibility.
Fedor Krasheninnikov, the Yekaterinburg author of “After Russia” -- the complete text of which is available at -- told the “Polar Star” portal that the thousands of reactions to his book posted online show that “the possibility of the disintegration of Russia disturbs many” (
Most Russian novels about the future, he says, fall into one of two categories, neither of which is designed to make Russians reflect about the problems facing their country. On the one hand, Krasheninnikov said, there are novels which describe the abyss Russia has fallen into and lead residents to conclude that they have no option but to support the regime in power.
And on the other, there are many novels which describe the current situation in the darkest terms but suggest an ultimately victorious future when despite all their current problems Russians “will defeat everyone and then lie down to sleep” and when “an impoverished America will capitulate before an Orthodox Russian force.”
But the Internet novelist continues, he has little interest in such “distant” futures and a great deal more about “our present and about what awaits us in the next few decades.” And thus he wrote “After Russia” to encourage people to reflect on what is going on now and what may take place next.
Most of the time, of course, relatively few people choose to think about such disturbing outcomes, he notes, and consequently it is the task of writers like himself to pose questions in such a way that far more people will be forced to think about them and thus make decisions and take steps to promote the kind of future they would like to see.
Krasheninnikov says that he is satisfied that his novel, whatever its literary shortcomings, has done that because besides the suggestions of some Russian nationalists that he is an “enemy of Russia,” there have been many thoughtful discussions by readers as to what the current situation is like and consequently what the future is likely to hold.
“From the outside,” he suggests, Russia today “creates a very optimistic impression, but alas this is propaganda.” The country suffers from “a mass of problems,” all of which arise from the following sad reality: “Contemporary Russia,” the novelist stresses, “is a country with an indifferent population and a cynical ruling group.”
The population is indifferent because of inflation, low pay, growing prices, and the like. And because that is so, “if someone in Ukraine thinks that a clutch of Internet activists who promise to send tanks and planes to the Crimea represents anyone beyond themselves then I can only sympathize” with such people.”
“I myself at one time came from Kazakhstan” and know all too well that “people in Russia simply do not know anything about how Russians in the countries of the CIS live.” And what is more and what is worse, people in Russia “do not especially want to know anything about that” because often Russians there live better than Russians in Russia itself.
But “the chief problem” is existence of an ideologically bankrupt and totally compromised elite. “The Russian Federation does not have any ideology” at all. “The ruling circles are connected flesh and blood with the CPSU and the KGB” and constantly strive to stress their “continuity” with the past, including the tsarist period.
That creates a problem, Krasheninnikov says, because it is far from clear what kind of an ideology can simultaneously embrace as “heroes both Dzerzhinsky and Nicholas II, the torturers and the victims?” And without an ideology to guide the state in dealing with the population or the world, Moscow constantly changes course to meet the personal needs of the elite.
The Moscow elite now, he argues, “in fact is unconcerned about the fate of Russian people in Ukraine. For it is important only that [the Ukrainians] play for gas completely and in a timely fashion. If the government of Ukraine will do so, then this elite will lose any interest in the fate of Russians there” – and all comments about “the return of Crimea will stop.
Especially instructive in this regard, Krasheninnikov argued, is the situation that has arisen as a result of “the gas conflict with Belarus.” That country, “traditionally said to be the best friend of Russia,” suddenly over the course of “a few days” of a dispute about prices was transformed into “a symbol of black ingratitude” and Luskashenko into a tyrant.
As soon as the Belarusian president “agreed to pay up [for the gas at more or less the price that the Russian government required], however, then “Belarus again became the most fraternal country” for Moscow’s elite. “That’s an ideology for you,” the Russian novelist says. “That’s a foreign policy!”
Unfortunately, Krasheninnikov suggests, this narrowly selfish approach to Russia’s interests by its so-called elite is not limited to Ukraine or Belarus. It informs all of Russia’s foreign policies in recent years, policies which he suggests have left Moscow “without any serious allies.”
Russians should understand what that can lead to, the author of “After Russia” continues. “In the history of Russia there has already been a moment when the ‘wise’ foreign policy of national leader Nicholas I led [the] country to complete isolation and defeat in the Crimean War.”
“What is taking place now? An indecent and never-ending fight with Ukraine, a tragi-comic standoff with diminutive Georgia, a spitting match with Estonia. What is the sense of any of that?” the novelist asks. “How does this make Russia great if it never goes beyond words and never will go beyond them?”
“For everyone knows that the so-called elite of present-day Russia keeps its money in Europe and however much our leaders threaten Europe with a fist to win support from [Russian] voters, at the end of the day, they will do what is needed because their wallets are always closer to them” than the Russian people or anything else.
And that in turn will only contribute to a further divide between the Russian people and those in power in Moscow, Krasheninnikov concludes, thus undercutting not only the Kremlin’s ability to deal with the rest of the world but also its capacity even to maintain the territorial integrity of the country in the future.

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