Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Window on Eurasia: Russians See Themselves as Both ‘the Greatest and the Most Oppressed of Nations,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Staunton, May 31 – Russians “at one and the same time feel themselves to be the greatest and the most oppressed nation on earth,” a situation that a Moscow commentator says reflects their “uncritical approach to themselves, the powers, and state propaganda” and that is the continuing source of many of their country’s most intractable problems.

In an essay in today’s “Gazeta,” Boris Tumanov explores the origins and the consequences of these “two unchanged and mutually exclusive leitmotifs” of Russian thought and suggests that even “the dialectic” will not help most people to understand why Russians feel the way they do (www.gazeta.ru/comments/2011/05/31_a_3633993.shtml).

“On the one hand,” he begins, the situation in which Russians find themselves in post-Soviet Russia, a country in which they form the overwhelming majority of the population and find themselves subordinate to “Russian state traditions including the mania for geopolitical greatness” allows them to view themselves “without irony” as the “state forming” nation.

And consequently, “when Russians are told in this situation that ‘Russia has risen from its knees,’ Russians for completely understandable reasons conceive this as being exclusively their due.” They ascribe “in a natural way” to “the current powers and to Vladimir Putin personally” the fact that they have begun “to live better and more happily.”

Any effort to cast doubt on this “idyl” or to point up “existing shortcomings” which any objective individual would have to acknowledge Russia, like any other country, has, Tumanov suggests, is considered by Russians to be the work of “born Russophobe who are working in the service of the enemies of Russia.”

But this belief that Russians are “the greatest of nations, the Moscow commentator says, “organically coexists with equally categorical assertions” by the Russians themselves that “Russians are the most oppressed nation in Russia, that Russians are dying out with their birthrate falling and morality growing, with Russians becoming impoverished” and so on.

Unfortunately, while believing these things to be true, most Russians do not have any understanding of whom they should address complaints about these things and “who is the guilty party of all these misfortunes,” even though they should recognize that such responsibility falls “above all on those people who administer” Russia.

That is not something Russians want to do because of their feeling that they are the greatest of nations and that their leaders are the best, and it is not something that intermediate leaders want to do because they recognize that there is little they can do about most of these problems.

But periodically, one or another politician, especially in the run up to elections, suggests that the issue should be addressed. Now that has happened again, Tumanov says, pointing to the proposal from Communist Duma deputy Vladimir Fedotkin to hold a parliamentary discussioin on “the conditions of life and fate of the Russian people.”

Such hearings, of course, Tumanov argues, “will become in fact a recognition of the fact that ten years of ‘stability, flowering, and getting up from one’s knees’ have led the Russian people to such a condition that it is time to reflect about its further fate and immediately improve the conditions of its life.”

The absurdity of this situation will be obvious because “our deputies will be forced to acknowledge the impoverished situation in which Russians, that is in essence, the overwhelming majority of the population are situated,” but they will find it almost impossible to take any real steps.

That is because “the people’s representatives and above all the United Russia party leaders even under torture will not agree to recognize their direct responsibility for the current misfortunes of the Russians and will always be looking for someone else on whom they can place all the blame.”

What is thus likely to happen? Tumanov suggests that there will be declarations about the Russians “as the state forming people” and possibly other “privileges for Russians,” although these too will remain “on paper” lest they spark a new “inter-ethnic catastrophe” among the country’s various ethnic groups.

Even the discussion promises to worsen ethnic relations, Tumanov says, even though the Russians themselves “will remain satisfied for the next two or three years” and then all this “will begin again,” with no end in sight all the more so because many Russians will be all too inclined to see the non-Russians as their oppressors, just as they did in Soviet times.

One of Russia’s greatest problems remains excessive drinking which in turn reduces life expectancy, Tumanov says, “It is necessary to drink less. But this assertion can be true only for those people who recognize their responsibility at a minimum for their own fate and still better for the fate of their society.”

“In other words, for those Russians who do not await from the powers that be instruction about how to love it, what to think and how to conduct onself and which are not seeking the causes of their own lack of well-being in the machinations of mythical ‘internal and external enemies,’” including “the non-Russians.”

Russia’s tragedy, Tumanov suggests, will continue “as long as the unnatural symbiosis between the insane deification of the powers” and the acceptance of existing conditions as beyond anyone’s control” exists among the majority of Russians. That time, unfortunately, is not yet, the commentator concludes.

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