No Unity in a besieged fortress

The holiday of National Unity, officially celebrated in Russia on Nov. 4, often makes me sad.Why? Because more often than not it demonstrates the absence in society of the very value that it celebrates - national unity.

National Unity Day. Drawing by Niyaz Karim

Click to enlarge the image. Drawing by Niyaz Karim.

Every year several liberal sociological think tanks, headed by Levada Center, order new opinion polls on the attitude of Russians to this holiday. And every year the liberal sociologists come to the same conclusion: an average Russian does not know what event the country celebrates on Nov. 4.

Worse, he or she does not know which human qualities this holiday is supposed to foster, which emotions it should inspire. For the majority of the country's population, this is just one more day off.

The liberals almost never bemoan this situation. They usually view it with what the Germans call "schadenfreude" - a feeling of rejoicing at a failure of one more state initiative. If all of these innumerable ironic sociologists, newspaper editors and radio hosts had a minimal feeling of civic loyalty, they would blame themselves, and not the accursed and demonized "regime."

The "intelligentsia" in Russia traditionally was supposed to play the role of a carrier of national memory and tradition, educating the people and treating its illnesses – moral and physical ones.

So, if people do not know that in the early seventeenth century Russia was on the brink of being destroyed by a civil conflict, aided by a Polish intervention, it is not only the fault of authorities which cut hours on history lessons at school and allow the television to misinform rather than inform the people. It is also the fault of "intelligentsia," which son after the end of the communist rule turned back to its destructive ways of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century.

The current situation of widespread “schadenfreude” among Russia’s intellectual classes has little precedent in all of Russia’s history. The majority of the Russian intellectual class honestly tried to educate the people in the best and in the worst of times, before and after the revolution of 1917.

Only a small minority of intellectual extremists, mostly the early Bolsheviks of Lenin's and Trotsky's mold, demonstrated remarkable indifference to Russia's heritage, treating the very word "patriotism" with contempt.

However, this small minority left such a terrible footprint in Russian history that it would have made them an unattractive role model in any country with a minimal sense of historic memory. It is indeed sad to hear its rhetoric repeated today in the speeches of some of modern “radical reformers.”

As it often happens in history, rightist or leftist orientation is not very important, what counts is radicalism. It was not accidental that even Russia’s unrepentant communists agreed to call Anatoly Chubais, the “father” of Russia’s radical privatization, a “bolshevik.”

The historical Bolsheviks had been fighting for industries’ nationalization, Chubais fought for their “denationalization” and privatization, but he widely used Bolshevist methods – coercion, manipulation of ballots, direct dictatorial rule by presidential decree.

How have we allowed these Bolsheviks to determine our historical destinies?  Why do the hosts at Russia’s formerly most sophisticated radio stations show such “remarkable” joy at reporting the saddest news, if only the damaged party is not some Western country, but Russia? Why do Russian intellectuals, having met a foreign journalist, immediately start using him as a sort of political psychotherapist, telling most terrible rumors and inanities about their own country? Why?

Because these people have no sense of national unity, they have only the feeling of belonging to a group – at best.

Not long before last year’s National Unity day, when trying to pinpoint the weak spots of Russia’s armed forces, Ruslan Pukhov, a Moscow-based military analyst, gave a precise diagnosis: “Lack of civic loyalty.”

What is indeed dangerous – that is the fact that this lack of civic loyalty is presented as a virtue, not as a sin in the bulk of Russian press. Any attempt to instill this feeling in society is denounced as “trying to instill a besieged fortress’s mentality.”

Wake up, my friends, look at the headlines of newspapers from Vancouver to Tokyo, where Russia is presented as “a force for evil” and a “danger to its neighbors.” Living without enemies and having a besieged fortress mentality is indeed stupid. But living in a besieged fortress and not having a besieged fortress’s mentality is downright idiotic.

Dmitry Babich is a columnist for Voice of Russia radio station.

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