Vienna, April 15 – Since the end of Soviet times, the Russian government “has lost its monopoly on fear,” according to a Moscow commentator, thus dramatically changing the relationship between itself and a Russian population and relationships within that population because fears the people have are ever more often “exclusively private.”
In a comment on the Gazeta.ru portal today, Vladimir Tsybulsky describes what he says is a dramatic shift. In the past, Russians told pollsters that their greatest fears were “foreign threats and social upheavals,” fears that the regime in Soviet time both promoted and played up to produce the simulacrum of unity (www.gazeta.ru/comments/2010/04/15_a_3351856.shtml).
Now, however, the Moscow writer says, Russians focus on “private” fears such as problems with their children, the loss of work, illness and things of that kind, a development that he suggests helps to explain the pattern of demonstrations that Russians have engaged in and also the problems the government now has in trying to mobilize the population for anything.
For two decades, Tsybulsky goes on, the government has not “supported, cultivated, trained or imposed “a total system of fear in the patient and quiescence masses.” And as a result, an increasing number of people do not fear it as they did earlier and instead focus on their own “private” fears.
To an ever greater extent, in fact, “fear has become an exclusively private business.” Getting an apartment or dacha can be hard. “It is terrible to lose work” or not pay one’s bills. If something goes wrong with a child, that can be “a horror.” Moreover, “God forbid one should have to deal with a militiaman, a tax inspector or a communal services worker.”
One place where fear is cultivated now, however, is in the workplace, Tsybulsky says. But “the state has lost its monopoly on fear And this cannot but be an occasion for concern,” both to citizens who are used to acting out of fear and to “those who consider themselves a state” who are used to exploiting fear in order to rule.
Not surprisingly, the Moscow writer continues, some in the latter group “are trying to recover this monopoly for themselves,” while others are waiting to see what will come of that. Perhaps nothing will, but it is the view of some that “the mass which is called ‘the population’ will be administered not by bread alone but only by fear.”
And if fear is privatized, then the state loses its ability to act, at least in the ways that it has before. That is why so many of those among the powers that be are so interested in using television as a means of restoring a kind of fear by highlighting the kind of threats “which only a governor can defend against.”
But that can put those who see themselves as rulers in a difficult position: If they do not intend to defend anyone, especially since many of the threats they posit in their messages are exaggerated, “the moment of truth” for the governors arrives when “in fear, television viewers turn to them with
For years, Tsybulsky notes, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) has tracked Russian fears. For a long time, the United States led the list. “This was an indisputable generational fear. In their youth, our grandfathers and grand mothers were frightened of that country.”
More recently, in support of such fears have come “orange Ukraine, tiny Estonia and microscopic Georgia,” with the population expressing fears according to “the intensity of propaganda” at any particular point, but regardless of the efforts of the powers that be, Russians have much greater fears of losing their jobs or not having enough money.
“The system in general worked,” Tsybulsky continues.” But it was, like everything produced by the Russian state not very effective and needed updating.” The state could no longer count on unifying people with fear alone, but it could not yet take the kind of steps that would unite people with it for other reasons.
Russians may feel compelled “to unite for a time” to address immediate needs, but in most cases, “each prefers to be afraid on his own.” Even after the metro explosions and all the reporting on that, “citizens lived just as they had, with the only difference being that they won’t sit down in a subway car in which there is a woman with a black scarf.”
As a result of this privatization of fear, Russians are less in awe of the state and its leaders than they were and less amenable to the kind of government that they have often been subjected to in the past, but they are also less able much of the time to combine for more general purposes, including protests against the state itself.