Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Decay of State Leading Russians to Create Their Own Society, Sometimes Resembling the Mafia and Sometimes the Sects, Russian Says

Paul Goble

Ottawa, November 11 – “Today’s Russian revolution” is taking the form not of a direct challenge to the state but rather of the departure of an increasing number of people “out from under the state,” a development that one analyst suggests means that Russian self-organization resembles that of sects rather than the more conventional forms of civil society.
In an article in “Novaya gazette” this week, Dmitry Bykov argues that historically, Russians have depended on the state for their self-definition but that the current state is not “a normal one” but rather “a parasitic growth concerned with its own well-being” rather than anything larger (
Because that is so, he suggests, the Russian people do not need the current Russian state and are expressing their attitude toward it not by coming out in open opposition to the powers that be and seeking to overthrow them but rather by creating their own arrangements that do not fall under the control of the powers that be.
“If the government hierarchs have no conception of the past, no clear idea about the present, and no convincing version of the future, then so much for that state,” he says Russians have decided. Instead, they will build it on their own, an approach that is revolutionary in far more radical ways than most observers assume.
Russian society, Bykov insists, “is organizing itself, establishing ties with its compatriots, helping old people, collecting money for medicine for the ill, working out new academic programs for children, and in general living an intensive live, not turning the slightest attention to the ideas of Kremlin propagandists and their followers.”
“Unfortunately,” Bykov continues, “humanity knows only two basic types of non-governmental popular activity – mafias and sects.” Both are bad, but each has specific features which affect the development of society and the state seeking to control it and direct its course in the future.
Indeed, he insists, the Internet is especially important in producing the sects because thanks to both Russian history and the behavior of the current Russian powers that be in dealing with the population, “nowhere in the world” is the blogosphere – or “Living journal,” as the Russians call it, playing such a role.
Despite claims to the contrary, Russians do not universally support the regime: they are neither “zombified,” as some think, or subject to the kind of repression that others assume. Instead, Bykov insists, they are increasingly indifferent to the state, prepared to go through the motions it requires but committed to doing their own thing independent of it.
For such people, the task is to “form an alternative state,” a process that “promises to last 20 to 30 years,” and to involve some people who combine “membership in state structures with informal positions in the alternative, self-underground hierarchy” in much the same way that those “occupying official positions under the Germans secretly helped the partisans.”
There are already many such people, Bykov suggests, adding that he “hopes” that the comparison with the 1940s will not offend because “the powers that be today function precisely as a soft occupation regime,” the kind of government which avoids “direct repressions” but deprives the population of “vertical mobility.”
(Mafia-style corruption, the second kind of social self-organization, he insists, is typically more closely associated with the state either from the outset or over time, but sects as a form of social organization are more typical, Bykov suggests, especially under Russian conditions and given access to the Internet as the chief form of social organization.)
He outlines five characteristics of “sect” style organization: a clearly expressed anti-government and anti-official position, “the conviction that the rest of the world is evil and that only the elect can save it, “the exultatation” of those within the charmed circle about their role, the lack of a clearly expressed political ideology, and the authoritarianism of the inner circle.
Such features are found throughout the Russian political spectrum, be they the Nashi activists or the scientologists or the human rights activists. And the existence of such characteristics makes the formation of a genuine civil society, capable of interacting with other parts and with the state, extremely difficult.
Consequently, Bykov says, in the coming decades, those Russians who “have thrown off the state yoke and gone into the net and other underground forms of existence” will display elements of the mafia (in economics) and the sect (“in the spiritual sphere”), a pattern that won’t be attractive but may allow the current Russian revolution to overcome the weight of the past.

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