A time of boredom and routine begins in Russia, for an absolute minority. Meanwhile, for the majority the show is going on and becoming ever more colorful. Russian intelligentsia loved the title of Hannah Arendt’s book about the Eichman trial in Jerusalem, A Report on the Banality of Evil. Well, they say, all those atrocities were made by people who did not indulge in reflection, who were just cogs in a faceless machine. However, this book sparkled discussions as soon as it appeared, and in Israel, even a storm of indignation. It seems to me like Arendt failed to grasp one very important trait of totalitarianism, as she projected onto it something rather typical for the classic bureaucracy in quite democratic nations, where indeed everything is routine and hackneyed. Democracy is awfully boring and monotonous beyond words.
And therein lies the rub. Mikhail Romm in his Ordinary Fascism instills that totalitarianism is the power of ridiculous vanities. Arendt persuades hat totalitarianism is routine, banality, and mediocrity. In fact, it is a power of intelligent, strong, purposeful leaders, capable of anything. And it is a unity of inspired individuals, rising like one above the daily treadmill, even if they are busy with the usual routine. Totalitarianism gives everyman wings by making them involved in a great common cause. And only the renegades, unaware of their happiness, see the world as grey, dull, and miserable. Every day they feel their uselessness in the great routine of the masses. It is their life that is boring and odious, it is their little silly world that knows neither light nor color. Evil is a banality for the victims, not for the villains, inspired by their complicity in the great cause.
This renegades’ routine against the backdrop of total celebration is awaiting Russia today. Those submersed in the boredom and banality of evil console themselves with daydreaming about dropping oil prices and other troubles for the regime. It is easy to understand, since there are no, and cannot be, any hopes for society and for themselves in Russia. But why Ukrainians join in, when in their country everything is happening differently, and when they still can influence things? Living with such sentiments is nothing other than the Russification of minds.
The essence of the Kremlin’s domestic and foreign policy is proving that things like honor and dignity (individual or national) do not exist at all. That the base always gets the upper hand. And it succeeds without fail, wherever you look: Ukrainian collaborationism, European indifference, American isolationism, or Russian imperialism. Or the voyeurism and populism of Russia’s intelligentsia and progressive community.
The Russian opposition’s most recent rally was a nightmare. Navalny drowned it in dirty, primitive populism, the sort that serves Putin in the tsar’s eternal struggle against the elites, be it the boyars, public servants, or the party nomenklatura. Politics is replaced with peeking through the keyhole. Still before that, the backing of Navalny by intellectuals reached the point of no return, after which the opposition can no longer be considered as democratic. This is the justification of xenophobia as a political campaign trick. As if they had never heard of the famous letter, written by Hitler’s confused astrologer Hanussen to his brother: “I thought that their anti-Semitism was nothing but a campaigning trick, but they did mean it.” Until there appears some sort of association or movement with an urge to revise Russia’s foreign policy and its positioning in the world, there will be no real opposition in that country.
The strength of the current regime is in its air-tight legitimacy. It is absolutely and totally legitimate, they don’t even have formal censorship. In this respect, the regime is much closer to the Nazi model than to the Soviet one. And therefore you cannot but be a collaborationist if you respect the law. By demanding to respect the law, punish criminals and so on, one acknowledges and approves of everything that the regime legitimately does. You cannot demand freedom for Sentsov, Savchenko, Bolotnaya prisoners, and many others, and at the same time welcome war on corruption, which in fact is the purge of the ruling elite.
Those who respected Nuremberg laws became accomplice in the Holocaust. Those who cheer arrests of governors and mayors welcome lawlessness and Great Terror. High-profile arrests in Komi have all the essential features of Great Terror: the entire administration is declared to be one mob, reprisals are organized vertically (the elites are replaced together with their entourage), and the detainees are declared criminals without any investigation and trial. These are exactly the developments I spoke about in my article “On the Eve of Great Terror” (see issue No. 43 of August 11).
But Russia will be Russia. Ukraine’s drama is a different story, it is just beginning to unfold because it is becoming more and more obvious with every passing day that neither Ukraine’s elite nor the masses of its population need freedom. The major question for Ukraine now is whether the elites, in alliance with nationally indifferent population, will succeed in suppressing or isolating supporters of national sovereignty and the European way of development.
Everything is just beginning. I expect that step by step, the fighters will be demoted to military criminals, and civil volunteers will be exposed as thieves and swindlers. So far, the elite succeeded in profiting from European Association, by partial loss of Ukraine’s sovereignty to both Russia and Europe. Economic integration with Russia has been preserved and is consolidated, while the West sends money in. Whether we like it or not, but millions of Europeans have spoken in defense of refugees. Moreover, they are prepared to tighten their belts for their sake. Ukraine’s tragedy remains a peripheral conflict.
For the West, Russia is actually an ally in countering ISIS. So, let Russians slowly occupy Syria. But you should not call the wolf to help the dogs: those who count on long-term cooperation with Russia are very much surprised to see Russian paratroopers on the Golan Heights. Or when they hear that Russia’s aim was the Holy Sepulture, and not the war on ISIS.
No, of course it is not so, this is just a subtle game: Russia is allowed to get bogged in Syria, just like it was allowed to get bogged in Donbas. Sure thing. But I remember how some well-informed people in the stagnant Soviet Union explained to me, then a young student, that the USSR was interested in an eternal war in the Middle East. Over the past three decades we have seen that overall Russia appears as a destabilizing and aggressive force. Russia has never waged a war in terms of victory and defeat. It needs to maintain perpetual tension globally. This is demanded by the tasks of its domestic administration. That is why Russia will not be bogged down in Syria. The rest of the world will, however.
Often Afghanistan is cited as an example. Given all the efficiency of “stringers,” their withdrawal from Afghanistan (just like their withdrawal from the states of tank-supported socialism) was caused by domestic political reasons. And if we want to compare things, then we must compare the essential: the ratio of the Soviet Army casualties (15,000) to those among the Afghani population (up to two million, plus five million refugees).
Now let us think about the possible methods of Russian warfare in Syria and its eventual repercussions.
No, no, the West will not let this happen. There is a mechanism of checks, after all. Yes, the world still considers nuclear weapons as a check to contain Russia. But it isn’t a check anymore. The mental state of Russians (both the rulers and the population) is getting increasingly more suicidal, with a yearning for death, and thus resembles the sentiments prevailing in German Nazis.
So, this is the routine awaiting the world which continues to live as it used to, while the new challenges demand radically new and unexpected solutions. So far, only the Kremlin proved to be capable of such solutions. And we must accept and realize it before we start making plans for the future.
Dmitry Shusharin is a Moscow-based historian and political journalist