I was seven years old when a distant relative, the brother of my great-aunt’s husband, showed up at our dacha. He was stuck there for the whole summer. We called him Uncle Misha. He was decidedly unlike my parents and their acquaintances. Having him around caused me grief at the time, but now I am grateful to fate, because in the person of Uncle Misha, Russia (from whose sight my relatives had erratically shielded me) came into my life.
Like Russia, Uncle Misha was extremely stupid. The first thing he did was dig up a huge boulder sticking out of the ground in the garden, and spend a whole month chiseling an inscription on it. The inscription was long: “On April 22, 1870, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the world proletariat, was born.” Uncle Misha painted each embossed letter white.
Besides, he liked to drink, and that addiction laid waste to his dreams. The fact was that Uncle Misha wanted a bicycle most of all and saved up for one for a long time. When he had purchased a bike, Uncle Misha went to Solnechnoye to celebrate the occasion. He fell asleep at a beer stall, and the bike was immediately filched.
Like Russia, however, Uncle Misha had amazing skills. I remember how he picked a basketful of pine cones, took out our decorative, Nicholas I-era samovar, filled it with the cones, soldered the leaky spigot, stoked the pipe almost with his boot, and brewed some extremely tasteless tea.
Then he disappeared, and a couple of years later he died of cancer. It was all a long time ago, and I would have forgotten Uncle Misha, but now he has suddenly risen from the grave. I constantly see and hear (mostly at a safe distance, thank God) the people who surrounded me as a child. There are the old women crushing each other whilst queueing for sugar, officious Auntie Motyas with serious hairdos, exact replicas of my teachers and head teachers, the peasants wearing baggy-kneed trousers, the gopniks with herring eyes — they are the grandsons and granddaughters of the Soviet people who so spoiled my childhood. They have been cloned whole, already dressed and sporting mohair hats and berets from the get-go.
I spent a whole month this past winter in Petersburg and saw them at every turn. While I was it, I went to a Chris Marker retrospective that friends of mine put on. There were about twenty people in the large auditorium, and I knew almost all of them personally — five organizers, five foreigners, and ten university students.
After getting any eyeful of this, I was persuaded that it was impossible to improve this country. It keeps churning out people on the same old conveyor belt, but no cataclysm is capable of stopping it. And right now I’m even more convinced that this is the case.
If a Russian loves Russia, he’s a patriot. If a Ukrainian loves Ukraine, he’s a “Bandera nationalist.”
If pro-Russian slogans are bandied about in Russia, it’s normal. If pro-Ukrainian slogans are bandied about in Ukraine, it’s “Nazism.”
If the Russian president talks to the American president, he’s forging better relations between their two countries. If the Ukrainian president talks to the American president, they’re “hatching a plot” against Russia.
If a Russian national speaks Russian, it is par for the course. If a Ukrainian speaks Ukrainian, he is “persecuting” Russophones.
When you see footage from protest rallies in the Russian Federation, all that ring-around-the rosy, or watch broadcasts made by the Russian emigration in Tbilisi, you immediately recall one of Jünger’s journal entries in Strahlungen. Although, admittedly, some Russians, a few, have already caught sight of the abyss out of the corner of their eyes.
PARIS, 14 JUNE 1942
Went to Bagatelle in the afternoon. There Charmille told me that students had recently been arrested for wearing yellow stars with different mottoes, such as “idealist,” and then walking along the Champs-Ėlysées as a demonstration.
Such individuals do not yet realize that the time for discussion is past. They also attribute a sense of humor to their adversary. In so doing, they are like children who wave flags while swimming in shark-infested waters: they draw attention to themselves.
[Ernst Jünger, A German Officer in Occupied Paris: The War Journals, 1941–1945, trans. Thomas S. Hansen and Abby J. Hansen (Columbia University Press, 2019)]
We have to admit that our generation of Russian anti-authoritarian leftists drew the short straw when it comes to the people [narod]. I want to emphasize, though, that they are not the way they are “genetically.” They have been raised to be this way. Yes, there was a seed of imperial mindedness, but without soil and fertilizers, that godawful hogweed would not have grown.
– Brutal capitalism and maximum competition multiplied by the cult of success, causing universal brutalization and an inability to communicate.
– The survival tactic that follows from the first subprogram: identifying with the powerful aka blaming the victim. If you want to foster a nation of stern warriors, you foster a nation of toadies. Hence our servility and respect for ranks.
– A regime based on a twenty-year-long counter-terrorism operation.
“I need love and vodka,” says one young woman to another. Everyone is so joyful.
T-shirts sporting the Z symbol are sold in the pedestrian underpass near Gostiny Dvor. Near the the exit from Gribanal [Griboyedov Canal subway station], a woman sells willow branches [for Palm Sunday, which is this Sunday in the Russian Orthodox calendar], the Soviet flag flying above her. A jeep adorned with a huge [Russian] tricolor cruises near Kazan Cathedral. A car branded with the letter Z is parked in Bankovsky Lane.
I don’t know whether I will ever be able to love this city again. Or at least not feel sick. I walk around it looking for niches, corners, secret places where I can hide, pretend to be a shadow cast by the caryatids, so that I won’t be found, pried out, and forced to be part of universal vileness.
Source: Comrade JG, Facebook, 16 April 2022. Translated by the Russian Reader with the kind permission of the author, who wishes to remain anonymous.