How Ul­tra­con­ser­vatism Be­came The Rus­sian Elite’s Cho­sen Path

The Moscow Times - - LOOKING BACK -

Ul­tra­con­ser­vatism is the new Rus­sian zeit­geist. The coun­try’s leadership has em­braced it. Its in­flu­ence on Rus­sian me­dia is ob­vi­ous, and the pub­lic mood re­flects it as well. Re­li­gious and mil­i­tary com­po­nents of the school cur­ricu­lum, re­vi­sion in his­tory cour­ses, the con­struc­tion of new tem­ples and mon­u­ments—all of this serves to con­sol­i­date, for­tify and per­pet­u­ate the at­ti­tudes, ways of life and forms of power that have taken hold in Rus­sia.

In the 1990s, Rus­sian so­ci­ety moved from the ru­ins of state so­cial­ism to­ward a demo­cratic po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and mar­ket econ­omy. By the mid-1990s, do­mes­tic eco­nomic re­la­tions had, for the most part, reached a point that suited both own­ers and man­agers, as well as those who were some­where in the mid­dle. A bal­ance had been achieved. Of course, this bal­ance did not suit the ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion, but it was fine with the mi­nor­ity that held the main as­sets of Rus­sian so­ci­ety. These were mostly mixed re­sources of power and prop­erty. They were of­ten of ques­tion­able ori­gin, and the rights to this power and prop­erty could only ex­ist as long as the cur­rent order was main­tained. Of­ten, spe­cific peo­ple even had to be kept in cer­tain po­si­tions.

This in­ter­me­di­ate state most suited the huge post-Soviet class of bu­reau­crats, who had mas­tered laws, rules and reg­u­la­tions, as well as the meth­ods for their se­lec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion or dis­re­gard. They did not want to re­turn to so­cial­ism. Every­body knows that their power is much greater than that of Soviet civil ser­vants. They feel no need to pro­ceed to bour­geois democ­racy, with its in­de­pen­dent courts and in­ter­ac­tive branches of power. Peo­ple wouldn’t “un­der­stand” them there.

The bour­geoisie that formed along with the bu­reau­cracy — the new own­ers — wouldn’t want a re­turn to Soviet so­cial­ism ei­ther. Not that they have any use for Western-style de­vel­oped cap­i­tal­ism, with its trans­parency, stan­dards and au­dit re­port­ing. “Per­fect! Hold it right here,” the post-Soviet elite is think­ing. That’s how the party of the sta­tus quo came about. Con­ser­vatism was an in­stinct and mood be­fore be­com­ing an ide­ol­ogy.

They had to put a damper on the demo­cratic re­forms started in the pre­vi­ous pe­riod. The steady, grad­ual dis­man­tling of new so­cial in­sti­tu­tions be­gan. Any ex­cuse would do. The pub­lic watched in si­lence, and it seemed as though the prom­ises of democ­racy were be­ing de­nied to them, just as the prom­ises of com­mu­nism had been.

This frus­tra­tion led to a mul­ti­tude of com­pli­ca­tions and patholo­gies in the mass con­scious­ness. The first ev­i­dence of this was the idea of a “spe­cial democ­racy” for Rus­sia — one that is ob­vi­ously not the same as in the West. This has since evolved into a broader, and po­lit­i­cally con­ve­nient idea of Rus­sia’s “spe­cial path.”

We have clearly fallen be­hind on the path the Western coun­tries are tak­ing, and we are never go­ing to catch up. We thought about China’s path, without so much as a whis­per about com­pet­ing with it. At the same time, al­most no one is will­ing to ad­mit that Rus­sia is back­ward. So in­stead we are asked to imag­ine our­selves on a spe­cial path, with no one for com­pany.

The idea is com­fort­ing. But you can’t stop there. The logic of our ex­clu­siv­ity has led over time to the idea of our spe­cial rights. We can do things no one else can. Af­ter the an­nex­a­tion of Crimea, politi­cians found a hun­dred rea­sons why it was le­git­i­mate, le­gal and cor­rect. Mass con­scious­ness didn’t be­la­bor the de­tails of the case but tried to stand firm in the con­vic­tion that it was our right, that’s all. And if ev­ery­one in the world thinks we are wrong, it only proves our right­ness.

The truly spe­cial path from Soviet so­cial­ism to par­tial state cap­i­tal­ism has left a lot of Rus­sians in con­fu­sion. A sur­pris­ingly cheap and ef­fec­tive ul­tra­con­ser­va­tive drug has been found for them: a daily show­ing of old Soviet films on ma­jor TV chan­nels. They have started to in­ject sym­bols of the Soviet and im­pe­rial periods into pop­u­lar cul­ture.

The au­thor­i­ties have re­al­ized that ul­tra­con­ser­vatism — via the sys­tem­atic dosage of a vir­tual past — al­lows it to main­tain the sta­tus quo nec­es­sary for the elites. A unique con­sen­sus of the pub­lic and the au­thor­i­ties has thus been cre­ated. It has proven its value: two-thirds of the pop­u­la­tion now ap­proves of the ac­tiv­i­ties of its chief rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Putin, and has done since the be­gin­ning of the 2000s.

The re­cent con­ver­sion of mil­lions of other Rus­sians have raised the pres­i­den­tial rat­ing past 80 per­cent. These changes, and the transformation of ul­tra­con­ser­vatism into a new ac­tivism, de­signed to frighten and pro­voke a hos­tile out­side world, are sub­jects for a sep­a­rate, and im­por­tant dis­cus­sion.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Russia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.