When the Masks Come Off

800px-Red_Guards

Alexander Skobov
Don’t Underestimate the Enemy
Grani.ru
May 14, 2015

Igor Yakovenko has questioned the sanity of those MPs who supported Red Guardist Irina Yarovaya’s latest amendments to the anti-extremism laws. At issue is a ban on travel abroad for people whom the FSB has issued a warning about the inadmissibility of activities that, in the FSB’s opinion, are potentially fraught with terrorism, war, and genocide. Under the current rules for issuing warnings, no formal grounds are needed except the opinion of the agency issuing the warning. Meaning that if it wishes, the FSB can crank out warnings to anyone to whose activities the authorities simply do not cotton.

Yakovenko asks, why not let the undesirables leave the country, if you cannot stand them? Let them leave and thus reduce the ranks of the so-called fifth column. These measures will not stop an increase in protests, and if protests do kick off, they will only add fuel to the fire. Yakovenko’s conclusion is that the folks on the other side of politics are completely off their rockers. But I would not underestimate the enemy’s intellectual capacities. Yes, they suffer from an acute totalitarian itch to ban and restrict. But they know what they are doing.

In my opinion, Yarovaya’s notorious amendment to ban travel for “warnees” is absolutely rational and quite precisely calculated. It is targeted at the segment of Russian society that,  according to Yakovenko himself, suffers from pathological anemia and dystrophia of the will. These are successful and well-off people who still believe that if they have done nothing unauthorized, they will get off scot-free for their not entirely loyalist public activism. They have become accustomed to the fact that one can be involved in not entirely loyalist but quite respectable and moderate media, cultural, and human rights projects without especially risking one’s own comfort. Our stunted civil society largely rests on such lovers of performing  “small deeds” in their spare time.

And now take a guess at what percentage of these outstanding people would be willing to sacrifice travel abroad for the sake of continuing their outstanding social activism, who would be willing to sacrifice the principal attribute of the post-Soviet lifestyle, without which life would be unthinkable? Anyone like Yarovaya would realize that the majority of them will choose either to give up their activism or leave the country before receiving a warning. To predict these people’s future behavior it suffices to recall Ksenia Sobchak’s recent philosophical musings about the lives of frogs.

And where will all these popular newsmakers find themselves if they are banned from leaving the country for the piquant statements they occasionally permit themselves in public? This is not to the mention the fact that many civic initiatives will simply be paralyzed if the people involved in them cannot take numerous business trips and attend various international clambakes.  The current regime is quite consistently pushing for the complete suffocation of not only the independent but even the semi-independent civic organizations that have managed to stay afloat. The period when Putin’s clique had a stake in maintaining a legal oppositional ghetto on the margins of public life, thus imparting a certain seemliness to its own image, has come to an end. In recent years, this image has become so disfigured the Kremlin has lost interest in touching it up. It has realized it no longer has anything to lose.

And so there will no longer be any legal bounds vouchsafing the opposition from crackdowns. Any public organization that violates the informal ban on discussing issues the regime finds touchy will be crushed. All the Kremlin’s recent significant steps, beginning with Moskalkova’s appointment and ending with the latest round of purges of semi-independent media, have been focused on this. In this long series of steps, however, the ability to ban any undesirable from traveling abroad is a symbolic step. It finally undermines the social milieu whose entire life strategy was built on the proposition that however disgusting Putinist authoritarianism was, it was better than Soviet totalitarianism, because the freedom to travel abroad existed. That meant one could live with it, adapt to it, and come to terms with it. By obeying certain rules imposed by the regime, one could maintain a minimal amount of freedom.

This slightly dissatisfied milieu has become used to living high on the hog. Our consumptive civil society must come to its natural biological end. It must be replaced by professional revolutionaries who will have no such problems, since their activism conforms with the law as interpreted by people who have arrogated to themselves the exclusive right to interpret it. For them, Yarovaya’s fascist laws will be neither more nor less than a profound insult to their moral sensibilities.

Alexander Skobov, a left-liberal writer and activist, is a former Soviet dissident and political prisoner. Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade AM for the heads-up. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

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