The dustbin of history

The Kremlin has opened the political season with an unprecedented borrowing of fascist language

The dustbin of history


Whether they like it or not, the 140 million inhabitants of a vast nation are being forced to take part in a terrible spectacle. Despite the backdrop of murder and repression, there are daily occurrences in this farce that would have the audience rolling in the aisles were this a theatre. But this isn’t theatre — it’s real life.

Leonid Gozman

Russian opposition politician

I sometimes wonder if this could be an immersive practical joke dreamt up by the powers that be and their scriptwriters for our collective entertainment. It takes genuine talent to be able to justify the war in Ukraine by pointing to the supposed existence of gender-neutral toilets in schools there with a straight face, but that’s exactly what Putin did last week.

That line, first voiced by famous thinker and part-time governor of St. Petersburg Alexander Beglov, was such a hit that “the boss” took the idea and ran with it, adding that this was precisely why those Russians who had so thoughtlessly left the country two years ago were now returning in droves. All this he said quite in earnest, without so much as a trace of a smile.

Have these people just settled into their final forms or have they always been like this? The comments they sometimes let slip can make your blood run cold. The thin veneer of their European disguise vanishes before our very eyes and there they are, exposed as the Stalin- or, rather, Hitler-era monsters they really are.

On Thursday, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the exodus of war critics from Russia had effectively “cleansed” the nation and brought about unprecedented levels of national unity. Similar claims about unity and purity of both the racial and spiritual variety were also made in Berlin shortly after Hitler came to power 90 years ago. Ein Reich, ein Führer, indeed.

Unlike the Germany of yesteryear, though, Russia first started a war before beginning to cleanse itself seriously, but the principle remains much the same.

Note that the cleansing is purely spiritual in nature and has been carried out by expelling the unclean from the country or putting them in prison. After all, why bother with banalities such as ensuring our common spaces and our non-gender-neutral public toilets are clean?

Russia’s chief intelligence officer Sergey Naryshkin has no need to borrow ideas from abroad, he can simply follow in the footsteps of his NKVD predecessors. It turns out the United States is trying to build a new fifth column in Russia to replace the one it lost with the departure of the unclean, this time using whichever exchange students Russia still has. It won’t succeed, since Naryshkin’s men are on the lookout for them, but what a great idea nonetheless! The children of almost all Russian officials have been involved in various exchange programmes and internships abroad. You could now tell any one of them that they have displayed insufficient zealotry and that their offspring could be an agent of US influence. Or be like Göring who said he would decide who was a Jew and who wasn’t and whether or not to persecute them.

Anyone who isn’t persecuted will be grateful and serve the cause even better. But students doing exchange programmes or internships, even the ones who got there thanks to their connections, clearly aren’t the most stupid of people. They’ve learnt a foreign language, at least. But who wants intelligence when you can have loyalty! The mediocre students are the ones we should be relying on. This has all happened before.

In other news, there has been exponential growth in the number of informants in Russian society. That’s also happened before — in 1933, when the Third Reich was still in its infancy, Hitler warned an associate they would drown in all the denunciations that they were receiving. People now write in to inform the authorities who’s reading what on the metro and what conversations they overheard.

Fresh manna from heaven appeared on Thursday: the Supreme Court released its full 19-page judgement on why it declared the “international LGBT movement” extremist in November, an attempt to address the tiny legal detail that Russia has both banned and declared extremist a movement that doesn’t exist.

It turns out this nonexistent movement was created in the 1960s in the United States in order to lower the birth rate. After the blood libel, it was time for a fresh conspiracy! The non-movement is trying to destroy everything that is good and holy and is active in 60 Russian regions. One sure sign you belong to the movement is if you use the feminine forms of professions when speaking about women doing those jobs. The Supreme Court didn’t clarify whether you had to be a practising homosexual to be part of the extremist community or whether just using feminine forms was enough. But what if you’re homosexual and don’t use feminine forms? So many questions! This does at least mean that I shall start using feminine versions of professions just to show I’m against this insanity.

Once upon a time, some fun folk protesting against Putin held up a placard saying, “Putin is better than Hitler!” They were detained, of course, but their words, at least, seemed indisputable at the time. Now I’m not so sure.

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