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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Midnight in the Neo-Soviet Garden of Good and Evil

Robert Amsterdam points to this first hand account of the pro-Putin and anti-Putin demonstrations that occurred in Moscow over the weekend. Putin's Nashi thugs, relying on Kremlin financing and Russian cowardice, outdrew the democracy protesters by a margin of 35 to 1.

After reciting the horrors on display before his eyes, including the fact that Nashi pretends to be gathering to help the veterans of World War II but in fact does absolutely nothing for them, and is in reality "a very well-funded theatrical spectacle," the author concludes with a bit of dreck that captures the basic essence of what has always been wrong with many people's analysis of Russia:

I suppose you could say it’s a symbol of Putin’s Russia – thousands of Santa Clauses going around Moscow giving out gifts funded with petrodollars, and totally outnumbering any ragged opposition rally. That, I’m afraid, is the state of Russian politics, and while we may not like it, I can’t say the state of Russian youth plunges me into complete depression. These were young, likeable people who were interested in the West and who genuinely wanted to improve their country. Maybe when they are a bit older they will be less eager to be taken for a ride.
"Maybe?" Dare we ask the author what his "maybe" is based on other than rose-colored glasses and a pipe dream? The only evidence contained in the text that could possibly support this "maybe" is his observation that "the kids who take part are not politically sophisticated. They are not committed members of Nashi or supporters of Putin. " In other words, they're not actually evil.

But they are willing to participate in a "spectacle" that consumes vast quantities of resources that could change the lives of many, many impoverished Russians. The author observes: "I was struck above all by the sheer expense of the operation. The Kremlin has so many petrodollars, it can waste them on a big, stupid PR stunt like this, just to show up the previous day’s opposition rally."

A student who "genuinely wants" to get good grades in school but who isn't willing to study in order to get them is a student who fails and ruins his life (or, in Russia's case, steals his disseration and becomes President of Russia, a country doomed to become "Zaire with permafrost"). As the old saying goes: "If wishes were horses then beggars would ride." What difference does it make what "good intentions" the members of Nashi may have? Maybe many of the young folks in Hitler's legions had the "genuine" desire to make Germany a better country and help it recover from the shock of World War I. But if these young people are not willing to think critically about what kind of government they have, if they are willing to take handouts from a proud KGB spy after the KGB brought the nation to its knees, then what good are they?

Simply put, there is no basis whatsoever for believing that "when they are a bit older they will be less eager to be taken for a ride." In fact, the exact opposite is the case. Right now, they are the most civic-minded they will ever be, and as they become older they will only become more corrupt and (even) less aware of the value of democracy and the alternative paths Russia might seek. One might as well have hoped that the members of the old Komsomol would have guided Russia away from the totalitarian nightmare of Communism.

These children are part of the problem, not the solution. They'll grow up to admire Vladimir Putin and vote for people just like him. They'll think it's perfectly normal for the country to have a KGB spy as its president, they'll ignore the harm the KGB has done to their country, and they'll teach their kids to think the same way, just like they were taught.

But the author is the real problem. Instead of being brave enough to confront the obvious significance of the youth cult, instead of being brave enough to challenge them with hard questions, he prefers to live in a comfortable world of dreams where everything will be just fine in the morning.


TUNDRA said...

Dear Russophobe:
When I read this site I get pangs every time. And these "Nashi" kids... I want you to know, however, that I had the privelage of volunteering with 30 russian "youths" my age...18-25 or so, this summer, of which a full 3/4 are studying to become psychologists. In Russia? really? They are led by a guy who is 18 years old who probably weeps inside 1000 times a day from all these things, but actually really does something about about it; at his age already at the head of several unique, proactive, politically aware and fiercely liberal organizations. I have absolutely no doubt that he will become an important figure of independent journalism very soon. I didn't know there were people like that of my generation in Russia, but there are; there was a whole solid group of amazing, aware, people who through their lives are involved in shaping a future; and thus, I have hope.

La Russophobe said...

TUNDRA: Thanks for your comment! There's no doubt that there are people in Russia who are worth fighting for. That's why this blog exists! Our fingers are still crossed. Maybe you'd like to contact this fellow and ask him to submit some material to this blog about his experiences? Or maybe you'd like to write about him yourself?