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January 25, 2022

The bloody haughtiness

Maybe it was just an unfortunate accident. A mistake, an act of confusion in the chaos of a war. Yet, the responsibilities of bringing down the plane full of western citizens above eastern Ukraine do not fall upon just few militaries. Nor only on the filo-Russian secessionists. The main role in the box of the accused is played by Russia. And not because it delivered, as the Americans accuse them, military hardware capable to attack planes at high altitude. No, because Russia is mainly guilty of maintaining this plan of disintegrating Ukraine. And that, this way, it not only ignores the political institutions of the latter, but also defies the European Union. The innocent victims in the destroyed plane are the tragic symbol of this defiance.
When, three decades ago, the Russians destroyed a Korean plane (causing almost as many victims), president Ronald Reagan, who had just called the Soviet Union the ‘evil empire,’ accused them of acting ‘against the world and the moral precepts which guide human relations among people everywhere.’

Although many saw it only as a propaganda trick from the arsenal of the Cold War, we can ask, in the conditions of today’s tragedy, if his words are not still valid. The present attack was not just a simple game, it relied on a military justification, but that of 1983 had been even more legitimate (a strange detour through the Soviet airspace), so the moral responsibility is by no means annulled. This pertains more to haughtiness. A political haughty style that acts impenitently, without fearing consequences.
To understand this style, we must look at the Russia of Vladimir Putin, already in his first decade and a half. How can we explain the political longevity of the acting president? Could it be just the Russians’ fascination for the model of the czar, the autocrat ‘for life’? No, the success enjoyed by Putin has explanations that are more concrete than a vague national psychology. First, the presidential party ‘United Russia’ discretionarily dominates the political stage. It is first a marketing success, which has behind people like Vladislav Surkov, who was skilled enough to merge the forging of an ideological current with unique organizational initiatives. In order to seize the ‘street’ and deprive the opposition of the advantage of protests, he founded a youth movement affiliated with the presidential party. The ‘ours’ who organized mass rallies, noisy and full of a contagious enthusiasm. The most virulent opposition thus became the opposition to the opposition. But the key factor was ideology. A mix of nationalism (extremely seductive in a country with an old imperialist past), cultural identity in strident contrast with the West and religious fervor provided constant popularity to the Putin regime. After the humiliation of losing the position of global superpower and the dismantling of the Soviet Union, the Russians regained, these last years, some of the face of a state capable to make itself respected. However, in order to do this, there was a need to boost the cultural difference from the West, which actually is something traditional in Russia. And thus Moscow became ‘the new Rome’ of an alternate way, immune to European ‘deviations.’ In other words, a variant of the motive of the ‘third way.’ Surkov provided Putin with an adequate concept: `sovereign democracy`, rather an oxymoron with cynical nuances. Because one of Putin’s models seems to be Machiavelli, with the use of religion, without preconceptions, to political purpose. Vladimir Putin not only goes to Orthodox masses and kisses the icons, but he has a father confessor and he even visited Mount Athos, a bastion of radical Orthodoxy, which sees him as a czar of the old ages, a trustworthy political support for all the Orthodox believers in the world. The respective father confessor, Tikhon Shevkunov, also became known due to a TV documentary about Byzantium, where he advanced the idea of the guilt of a spiritual decline of Byzantine rulers, which allegedly preceded the disintegration of the empire and the fall of Constantinople. In other words, for Russia not to collapse again, it needs politicians that will not succumb to the siren’s songs of western culture, based on the individualism contrary to the Orthodox faith – a rather fragile thesis, in fact. The suggestion of the propagandistic conclusion is clear: Vladimir Putin is one of these `incorruptible Orthodox believers`. Father Tikhon also has a grandiose plan: rebuilding a monastery near the Lubyanka Square, the site of the main repression institution during the Soviet era. This is another success of President Putin, capable to bring together victims and tormentors, in some sort of non-conflicting memory. He supports the urban project of his father confessor, he paid homage to Soljenitsyne when he was still alive, he promoted an abridged edition, with didactic purpose of the ‘Gulag Archipelago’ and commemorated the victims of the communist state terror, while also paying homage to his base profession of Ceka agent, as well as to the past glory of his country, back in Stalin’s days. Even Soljenitsyne appreciated him at the end of his life. Such a ‘historic’ reconciliation however seems a poisoned fruit, with perverted effects in the future. Anyway, the Orthodox church has great influence in present-day Russia. And the partnership with Putin’s powerful state is a proof of its spiritual conformism. The punk singers of Pussy Riot were sentenced to prison for the ‘vandalism’ of singing in a church a prayer against Putin, first condemned by the Orthodox prelates. Why did they not remember a medieval Orthodox saint who offered Czar Ivan Grozny a piece of meat during fasting? In order to suggest him how cruel he is, a real cannibal. Couldn’t Pussy Riot, despite their anti-religious irreverence, be also seen this way, like a suggestion of the abuses of the new autocracy?
If the opposition is weak, this is also because it lacks a sound economic basis. The case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is significant, because it became a serious warning addressed to anyone who would try to wage a war against the political-economic entourage of the Russian president. The economic system of the Putin era is hard to define using classic criteria. What matters is the economic force of the power’s people, who have available, for their political strategies, huge funds (also the fruit of a global economic conjecture favorable to Russian exports). No matter how unjust it may be, the system is now in a relative balance (unlike the turmoil of the ‘90s), which satisfies much of the population (implicitly of the electorate). But how can survive a ‘capitalist’ society with more employees in the state system than in the private economy?
An important role in the success of Putin was played by his international strategy. He assumed and increasingly active role, sometimes even unpleasant for western leaders, without avoiding conflict. At the same time he tried to seduce them so that he accedes to the select club of great leaders of the world. He even ‘befriended’ some, either using real affinities, or due to advantageous economic arrangements. Thus he became both feared and demanded. His haughtiness increased. And the effects start being visible. With the price of tragedies involving the lifes of Europeans. Whose leaders his too much behind diplomacy.

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