‘Real men vs scum’: How Vladimir Putin split Russia in two

Leonid Gozman on Putin’s crusade to subdue and divide the Russian society

‘Real men vs scum’: How Vladimir Putin split Russia in two

We all adjust the world to the way we want it to be. People who have seized the power in our country do not know how to co-operate; they only know how to win or lose: in a fight, a scheme, or a war. Therefore, this is how they set up relationships with others. They do not understand what a non-zero-sum game means: the winner must take it all.

However, the modern world relies on playing non-zero-sum games, on negotiations, and search for solutions that would be best both for your interests and the ones of the opposite side, while inevitable drawbacks are to be distributed fairly so that nobody feels to have been disobliged or deceived.

This is how business normally works, seeking benefits for all: both the links in the processing chain and the end consumer. The same principle pertains to politics on all levels. This is how various lobbies come to agreements in parliaments as it is the only way to reach the compromise that does not fully satisfy anyone, but the one every party is more or less content with.

And this is how wars finish. Peace treaties should be perceived as just ones. Otherwise, they become ticking time bombs ready to explode sooner or later, as it was with the Treaty of Versailles, when the bomb did eventually go off. However, all of this requires understanding that you are not alone in this world: there is some Other, and you will have to reckon with their interests.

There are many reasons, such as educational background, service in secret agencies, and childhood, explaining why Russia’s top officials never acquired such understanding. One may be under the dominion of the Other if dominating over them is not possible, but co-existing with someone independent from you is unthinkable.

When Putin came to power, he followed the footsteps of the Bolsheviks and started his crusade against independent media. It took him a while to achieve full control, but Putin made it.

Political institutions were next in the line.

It is difficult to believe now that we used to have an almost proper parliament between 1999 and 2003. Obviously, the president’s people used to both intimidate and bribe its members, but it was nothing like the ultimate submission that we see today.

Destroying the courts, including the Constitutional Court, was even easier to do, as the justice system was incredibly weak even in the 90s. When Putin suggests that people go to court today, he knows well enough how much of a joke that is.

The same processes were going on in the internal relations as well: to subdue or to submit; and they look like they are ready to submit to China now. Equitable relations just do not work out: not in the CSTO, not with NATO, not anywhere.

Our chiefs define sovereignty as the right to do whatever they want, ignoring all sorts of agreements. The “partners” with their questions, first surprised and then angered ones, are to be responded with all sorts of nonsense, for example, assurances that “we are not there” in the early stages of the Donbas war.

The chiefs are generally unable to grasp that any sort of agreement, be it one between two neighbours or two countries, is self-restrain, an obligation not to do something even if it is so much desired. For them, an agreement is when they do whatever they want while others cannot. But they may sleep peacefully now as there are no more agreements, even formal ones: Russia has exited all sorts of treaties and organisations that used to contain its boldness.

It would appear as the complete victory: nobody talks back, everything is under control, time zones may be shifted, and wars can be started. But do not think Russia’s politicians are simply cynical pragmatists. Absolute power is just not enough for them, they want the world to be shaped the right way for them.

That is: the world where their subjects do not even challenge anything, let alone resist. And people must stay silent even if their objections remain unheard. The independence of the Other has to be crushed, even the kind of independence that does not stand in the regime’s way.

This way they have obliterated all sorts of elections, even council ones, in addition to those that were actually a threat to them. You’d think: what’s with the council legislators, they might actually do something useful and ease people’s discontent. But they banned this, too, and since total control is challenging at this level, independent candidates are sent to prison if there is no way to tackle them down.

Those who aspire for a bigger goal, either in politics or in the media, will inevitably face prison, exile, or even a bullet or poison: a reincarnation of the Borgias amid the snow! Russia has been long going down this path.

The world shaped the right way is the one where there is no liberty: not just in actions or words, but also in thinking; a world rallied around the chief and around common feelings and ideas.

Nothing puts people together better than hatred. That is why Russians are forced to hate the West and Americans in particular, and sadly, this goes quite fruitfully. The Americans we met on the Elbe, the Americans who provided our army that would otherwise not only surrender Moscow, but also the Urals, with weapons and canned food. The Americans who saved our compatriots from starvation so many times. It was not long ago when they last shipped humanitarian and financial aid here: those were the times of Gorbachev and then Yeltsin.

And now, we are also supposed to hate Ukrainians, as the war cannot last without such hatred.

But Americans and Ukrainians are quite far away, and the perfect thing would be to hate some domestic enemy. Any dictator will prove this: hatred within the country bolsters the regime’s authority. Hitler was lucky as he did not have to make up Jews, he simply declared that they were to blame for all Germany’s problems, and genuinely believed so himself. Many agreed with this.

It was more challenging in Russia, though, but the current leader’s predecessors had a lot of experience there, too. Comrade Stalin made up Trotskyists and other dreadful conspirators virtually out of nowhere. Putin has been talking about the “fifth column” and “national traitors” since the mid-2000s. The “national traitor” thing was quite awkward, though, as this concept was part of the Great Führer’s vocabulary. But he who makes no mistakes, makes nothing.

National traitors and fifth columnists are especially useful because anyone can be punished for being part of these detrimental communities: the elements of their crime have never been legally determined. Time went by, and an even more blurry notion of “foreign agents” appeared: security officials later declared that anyone under “foreign influence” was a foreign agent. There is no thing easier than finding foreign influence in any individual. It would seem as that was all, and things had finally settled the way they should be. Even that was not enough.

The chair of Russia’s Human Rights Council recently proposed to start punishing people for Russophobia. This idea was welcomed by the Prosecutor General’s office and the patriotic general folk. Since those define Russophobia as critical attitude towards the state and its policies, this would make it possible to send anyone to prison for simply opening their mouth. They have not made up their minds yet on how to deal with Russophobes outside the country: Novichok is quite expensive these days, and there is no other way.

The fancy future is being shown to us by the president (which can be considered a banned loanword now, but we shall have to call him this way until he is finally crowned). As he spoke to his FSB colleagues recently, he made an addition to the political discourse: the word “scum”, to be precise. That is a clear instruction: one may wipe those off the face of the Earth on sight without any trial.

Making up domestic enemies has been very fruitful for the Russian leadership: the Kremlin might want the same economic efficiency. There has not been such a rift within our society since the Civil War: it is literally brother against brother now, and it is still early days so far.

The world of unity and fight against the enemies has to be mentally simplistic. There is no place for LGBT or, God forbid, “the third gender” in it: those are simply perverts for a simple commoner. There are no undertones in this world that shines blindingly bright. In this world, Russia is always in the right, both in the past and in the present, and all its enemies are Nazis, be it Estonians, Poles, or Ukrainians (even those of them that are Jews).

Our country has many ethnicities and religions, but one ethnicity is the state-constituting one, and the Russian Orthodox Church is the only correct religion. Others must keep their place, and they will be allowed to live inside their ethnic and cultural cage and sometimes use their representatives to thank the Sire for their happy way of living.

In this world, woman has an honourable role of a mother and hearth keeper, but man is the superior one, obviously. Not every man, of course, but the warrior and the conqueror one. Hamlets and Werthers are not needed. Smart people are also not needed, except to develop a wonder weapon: the ones who are needed are the loyal ones.

The state has already started to produce and reproduce those: the “Important Conversations” propaganda school classes, teachers reporting students to law enforcement, basic military training in school, and a campaign against the “incorrect” exhibitions in the Tretyakov Gallery are all parts of the puzzle. Naturally, there is no way of living without knowing how to disassemble an AK these days, taught to you by a “special military operation” veteran who is hiding his swastika tattoo. The main thing is to know that the boss always knows better, that to be smart is to march on, and that power provides authority.

Many people are going to like it. The smart, the sensible, the talented ones — those that move the world forward — will suffer. But why move forward if we have already carved a nice home where the stars are seen in daylight?

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