Solidarity? (The Case of the Penza and Petersburg Antifascists)

fil_0Viktor Filinkov, Petersburg antifascist, torture victim and political prisoner

Solidarity? No, They Haven’t Heard about It
The Security Services Are Using the Case of the Antifascists to Test Society: If We Keep Silent, the Torture and Arrests Will Continue
Yan Shenkman
Novaya Gazeta
March 22, 2018

On Election Day, March 18, which was simultaneously Paris Commune Day and Political Prisoner Day, Theater.Doc in Moscow staged a performance entitled Torture 2018, a reading of the interrogation transcripts and diaries from the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case.

The case has disappeared amid the flood of political and election campaign news, so I should briefly summarize it.

In October 2017, a group of young antifascists was detained by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) in Penza. They were accused of organizing a terrorist community code-named The Network. They were allegedly tortured. Nearly all of them confessed to the charges, telling the FSB what the FSB wanted them to say.

Recently, for the first time in history, FSB officers admitted they used electric shockers when interrogating Petersburg antifascist Viktor Filinkov. In their telling, however, it was not torture, but a necessity: the detainee allegedly tried to escape.

The arrestees are kindred souls of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova, murdered by neo-Nazis in downtown Moscow in January 2009. A march to honor their memory has been held on the Boulevard Ring every year since then.

Less than ten years have passed since their deaths and we are confronted by a relapse, an attack on antifascists by the Russian state.

The harsh language of the interrogation protocol is more expressive than any op-ed column. Dmitry Pchenlintsev was tortured day after day: he was hung upside down and different parts of his body were shocked with electrical current. Vasily Kuksov was badly beaten: his face was a bloody pulp, his clothes torn and blood stained. Doctors in Petersburg discovered a fracture to the lower wall of Igor Shiskin’s eye socket, as well as multiple abrasions and bruises. They noted numerous injuries, including burns from an electric shocker. FSB officers took Ilya Kapustin to the woods, tortured him with an electric shocker, and threatened to break his legs.

We heard similar reports from Chechnya and Donbass, but this is the first time something like this has occurred in the middle of Russia and on such a scale.

The young arrestees in Penza, none of whom is over thirty (the oldest is twenty-nine) played airsoft, listened to independent music, and read anarchist books, like thousands of other young people. Now, given the will, any of them can be arrested on terrorism charges.

Alexei Polikhovich, who spent three years in prison as part of the Bolotnaya Square case, and produced the performance at Theater.Doc, did not have to make up anything, no monologues or dialogues. What has happened in reality is not something you would make up.

“I was panicking,” leftist activist and former political prisoner Alexei Sutuga says, reading Viktor Filinkov’s statement aloud. “I said I didn’t understand anything, and that is when they shocked me the first time. It was unbearably painful. I screamed and my body went straight as a board. The man in the mask ordered me to shut up and stop twitching. He alternated shocks to my leg with shocks to my handcuffs. Sometimes, he shocked me in the back or the nape of the neck. It felt as if I was being slapped upside the head. When I screamed, they would clamp my mouth shut or threaten to gag me. I didn’t want to be gagged, so I tried not to scream, which wasn’t always possible.”

“It’s probably the worst thing happening now in Russia,” Polikhovich told me after the performance. “But we have no means of putting pressure on them. Complaints filed against the FSB are redirected to the FSB, meaning they are supposed to keep tabs on themselves. Naturally, they are not about to do this. The only thing that can save the guys is public pressure.”

“But for several months there were no attempts to pressure the FSB. Why?” I asked.

“Location is vital in this case,” replied Polikhovich. “There are tried and tested support methods in Petersburg and Moscow. There are independent journalists and human rights activists. There is nothing of the sort in Penza. The environment also makes a difference. The Bolotnaya Square case, in which many leftists were sent to prison, meant something to the entire liberal democratic opposition. It was a story the average Moscow reporter could understand.”

“In this case, however,” Polikhovich continued, “the accused have been charged with very serious crimes. They are not liberals. They are not Moscow activists. We have to break through the prejudice towards them.”

While Moscow was silent, brushing the case aside by mentioning it in a few lines of column inches, the case, which originated in Penza, had spread to Petersburg, then to Chelyabinsk, and finally, in March, to the capital itself. Several people were detained after a protest action in support of the Penza antifascists. (OVD Info reports that nine people were detained.)

“They put a bag over my head. Then they shocked me, constantly increasing the intensity and duration of the electric charge, and demanding I make a confession,” Moscow anarchist Svyatoslav Rechkalov, released on his own recognizance, told Novaya Gazeta.

The protests against the FSB’s use of torture in this case have mainly followed ideological lines: anarchists and antifascists have been doing the protesting. Solidarity protests have been held in Copenhagen, Toronto, Berlin, and New York. Finnish anarchists and antifascists held a demo outside the Russian embassy in Helsinki. In Stockholm, the way from the subway to the Russian embassy was hung with Filinkov’s diary and posters bearing the hashtag #stopFSBtorture.

A concert in support of the arrested antifascists was held at a small bar in Petersburg. The organizers were able to collect 42,500 rubles in donations. By way of comparison, a year ago, at a similar concert in support of Ildar Dadin, who was tortured in a Karelian penal colony, organizers collected 29,000 rubles in donations. But there no incidents at that event, while there was an incident at the Petersburg concert. Ultra-rightwing thugs burst into the bar and started a brawl.

In Moscow, the riot police or the security services would have telephoned the club’s owner and insisted he cancel the event, as happened with the anti-war Deserter Fest. In Petersburg, however, the rightists showed up.

“The situation has come to resemble the mid-noughties,” said Maxim Dinkevich, editor of the music website Sadwave, “when every other punk rock show was attacked.”

Pickets in support of the antifascists have been held both in Moscow and Petersburg, and there will probably be more pickets to come. But this story has not yet made a big splash. The public is more interested in discussing the falling out between Sobchak and Navalny, while anarchists draw a blank.

This case is not about anarchism or antifascism, however. It is about the fact that tomorrow they could come for you for any reason. Electric shockers do not discriminate.

The regime has been testing us, probing the limits of what is possible and what is not. If we keep silent now, if we do not stand up for each other, it will mean they can continue in the same vein. It is clear already that the case of the antifascists will expand. The arrests will stop being local, becoming large scale. We have no methods for pressuring law enforcement agencies that torture people, no authorities that could slap them on the wrists. The only methods we have are maximum publicity and public pressure. They are the only ways to deter the security service from making more arrests and keeping up the torture.

There is a group page on Facebook entitled Project No. 117, named for the article in the Russian Criminal Code that outlaws the use of torture. It is a clearinghouse for news about the Penza case and other anti-antifascist cases. It also features six videtaped messages in support of the arrested men, as recorded by the well-known Russian cultural figures Dmitry Bykov, Andrei Makarevich, Dmitry Shagin, Kirill Medvedev, Artyom Loskutov, and Artemy Troitsky.

I would like to believe that, in the very near future, there will be six thousand such messages, not six. Otherwise, we will be crushed one by one.

Dmitry Bykov (writer)

“Absolutely Gulag-like scenes of strangulation, beating, and abduction. Stories like this have become frighteningly more frequent. The return to the practice of torture is a relapse into the roughest, darkest period of Russian history.”

Andrei Makarevich (musician)

“If the authorities are trying to pass young antifascists off as terrorists, it begs the question of who the authorities are themselves. Have you lost your minds, guys?”

Dmitry Shagin (artist)

“I experience this as torture myself. By torturing these young men, they are torturing all of us.”

Kirill Medvedev (poet, political activist, musician)

“The Russian authorities have been posing as the most antifascist regime in the world for several years now, and yet they are cracking down on antifascists. Is this not hypocrisy?”

Artyom Loskutov (artist, political activist)

“If you arrested me and tortured me with an electric shocker, I would confession to terrorism, satansim, and anything whatsoever. And if the FSB officers were tortured, they would also confess to anything. Antifascism is not a crime, nor is anarchism a crime. But torture is a crime, a very serious crime indeed.”

Artemy Troitsky (writer, music critic and promoter)

“Torture is a sure sign the case doesn’t hold water. If they have evidence, they wouldn’t torture the suspects.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Photo courtesy of Autonomous Action. Videos courtesy of Project No. 117 and Novaya Gazeta. If you have not heard about the Penza-Petersburg “terrorism” case, you can read the following articles and spread the word to friends, comrades, and journalists.

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Ayder Muzhdabaev: We Are Not Going to Take a Deep Breath

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Ayder Muzhdabaev

15 Minutes
Facebook
October 14, 2017

Crimean Tatar Journalist Ayder Muzhdabaev to Russian Rock Musician Andrei Makarevich: “It Hasn’t Passed, It Hasn’t Stopped Hurting, We’re Not Going to Take a Deep Breath”

Before arriving in Ukraine to clean up at the box office yet again, Russian TV presenter and showman Misha Kozyrev advises Ukrainians not to let the war into their hearts. By the way, he will again be arriving in the country real soon. Someone has to tell the “embittered” younger brothers what to think and how to live. We are clueless on our own.

And when Russian musician Andrei Makarevich was asked why he wanted to drag his band Time Machine’s keyboardist Andrei Derzhavin, who signed an open letter to Putin supporting the annexation of Crimea and the war, along with him to Ukraine, he wrote on Facebook it was time to stop discussing events that had happened four years ago. “Learn to take a deep breath,” he wrote. As if everything had passed and stopped hurting. No, it has not passed, and it has not stopped hurting. If someone thinks we have forgotten everything, he or she probably should not come to Ukraine.

If your keyboard player, Mr. Makarevich, still slips into the country under your skirt, so to speak, we will drag him from his dressing room and send him home packing. If you are incapable of understanding such a simple, normal thought, then so be it: we will explain it to you. We have not taken a deep breath, and we are not going to, because we had our homeland stolen from us—or at least part of it. We remember that and we cannot forgive what happened, not only the war and annexation but also the indifference to us.

We are not aquarium fish or serfs who remember nothing and have no right to rage. We do not need any Russians here except those who are wholeheartedly against the Putin Reich, support the return of Crimea and Donbas to Ukraine, and support Ukraine unconditionally, without any provisos. If you are incapable of understanding us, if you lack the humanity to put yourself in our shoes, to feel and share our pain, you had better stay home, in the so-called Russian world.

I hope the so-called Russian world will take it easy on you, Mr. Makarevich. I hope it treats you more gently than it has treated the Ukrainians and Crimean Tatars. Although I do not think it will happen. Life is set up in such a way that right after the Jews were massacred, trouble came for the Germans. But who knows. If you continue to sit still and choose your words carefully, maybe you will be luck personally.

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up. Photo courtesy of Radio Europe/Radio Free Liberty

Halluci Nation

BabiBadalov8light

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Maybe there is no direct connection, but soon after the first article, below, ran in The Moscow Times, the following message appeared on the newspaper’s web site: “Due to the increasing number of users engaging in personal attacks, spam, trolling and abusive comments, we are no longer able to host our forum as a site for constructive and intelligent debate. It is with regret, therefore, that we have found ourselves forced to suspend the commenting function on our articles. The Moscow Times remains committed to the principle of public debate and hopes to welcome you to a new, constructive, forum in the future.” When I glanced at the comments to this article, it did seem that a lively “debate” was underway, but I no longer read such things to preserve what is left of my mental well-being. The emphasis, below, is mine.

Russia’s Empire State of Mind
Pyotr Romanov
October 26, 2014
The Moscow Times

Following World War I, the Russian Empire bid farewell to Poland, Finland, the Baltic states and Bessarabia [in modern Moldova]. The Soviet Union later regained only some of that territory — and yet that did not prevent the world from continuing to view the Soviet Union as an empire. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia decreased in size even more than it had after World War I, and yet many today continue referring to it as an empire.

I recently read an impassioned plea on Facebook from several Ukrainians that God call down on Russia a host of biblical chastisements and hasten its demise. In their view, the only way to escape the claws of the Russian bear is to kill the animal. At the same time, they have no intention of fighting the beast themselves, convinced that Europe and the U.S. alone have the power and the responsibility to vanquish the foe.

In other words, they prefer that others break their bones in the bear’s den so they can mount the pelt over their fireplace. I somehow doubt that the rational West finds that prospect very attractive.

In fact, a number of historical figures dreamed of dismembering Russia. Peter the Great’s arch-rival King Charles XII of Sweden held that dream even before Russia formally declared itself an empire. The French ambassador in Stockholm at that time said, “The king will make peace with Russia only after he has arrived in Moscow, toppled the tsar from his throne, divided the state into small principalities and summoned the boyars to divvy up the kingdom into their personal provinces.”

In hindsight, knowing how the Swedes suffered defeat at the Battle of Poltava, it is tempting to assess such a claim as pompous bravado. However, that was a serious plan that the Swedish king and his allies had discussed on more than one occasion. Charles really did plan to install his own puppet ruler on the Russian throne. He dreamed of Pskov, Novgorod and all of northern Russia as Swedish possessions. He planned to allot all of Ukraine and the Smolensk region to Polish King Stanislaw Leszczynski. Charles agreed to give Russia’s southern lands to the Turks and Crimean Tatars. There are countless other similar stories in history — but where are all those dreamers today?

However, this is not the main point. I see no reason to blame my ancestors for their imperialist actions. Russians have no more to feel ashamed of in this regard than do the British, Germans, Spaniards and French. All of their imperialist pasts were dictated by fate, God, geopolitical factors and their national character — that with which it is absolutely pointless to fight.

The collapse of the Russian Empire deeply troubled many of its citizens, and the later collapse of the Soviet Union gave them a disturbing sense of deja vu. Even today, millions of Russians wax nostalgic for the past — particularly for the Soviet Union — recalling much that was also good from that time.

This is the second time in a century that Russia has gone through such painful “withdrawal symptoms” while overcoming its imperialist mentality. Russians have nothing of which to feel ashamed: the same process was no less painful for other “imperial” nations.

Of course, modern Russia is not an empire, and it is unbecoming to act like a broken record, continually repeating the same old cliches. It is just that the process of adapting to the new realities is not moving as quickly as some in the West — and also in Russia, by the way — would like it to. But it is impossible to hurry it along.

It is decidedly easier for a tiny little ship of a state such as Monaco to make a sea change than it is for a massive ocean liner such as religiously diverse, multiethnic and multicultural Russia. A little patience is needed.

I understand that what seems fast by historical standards might appear painfully slow to people. History is measured in ages, but individuals measure time in terms of a single lifespan. Nonetheless, it takes nine months for a baby to come into this world, and no amount of impatient fingernail-biting will change that.

Making a baby come into the world any sooner is not the healthiest option either. In the same way, it does no good to keep impatiently tugging on Russia’s sleeve. Every fruit has its given period of maturation. When the time comes, Russia will let go of the last vestiges of its imperial past.

Until then, praying for God to curse Russia with a swarm of locusts or the 10 plagues of Egypt is not only unseemly, but also a bit archaic and completely meaningless.

Pyotr Romanov [sic] is a journalist and historian. 

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Post-imperial melancholy has also got the unnamed editorial writer (the West’s most beloved Russian “leftist”?)  at Russian “leftist” web site Rabkor.ru waxing poetical in the vozhdist mode in the run-up to November 4, National Unity Day.

The West intends to play hardball in its long negotiations with Moscow. Zeal and rigidity might betray it, and then events will not go as planned. That has already happened in Ukraine. However, the US and the EU understand that Russian liberals have increased their grip on power and will stubbornly seek a compromise. Dmitry Medvedev has already said that a “reset of relations” requires a return to the “zero position,” meaning normal trade without sanctions. The ruling class will do anything for its sake, particularly if its position is complicated by economic problems. If solving the problem with Western Europe and the US requires presenting Putin’s head on a platter, then that it is how the problem will be solved.

But Russia is not a banana republic or a tiny country in Eastern Europe, where you can just organize a color revolution by gathering several thousand “civil society” activists on a central square. And so only Putin himself can remove Putin’s head for the US, and not only through his own carelessness.

Patriots stubbornly dream of persuading the current president to become like Stalin or Ivan the Terrible. Members of the liberal intelligentsia scare each other and the gullible western public with this same prospect. However, with each passing day, our ruler [sic] becomes like a completely different predecessor, Mikhail Gorbachev, who was also, incidentally, a politician who banked on compromises.

The growing prospect of a “liberal putsch” becomes more apparent with each passing day. The final act has not started, but the play is already underway. Liberals are making ritual sacrifices. They are sacrificing the exchange rate of the ruble and social policies. They are sacrificing Novorussia [Novorossiya]. They are sacrificing the country’s dignity. They are destroying the possibility of Russian society’s development. They are even willing to sacrifice the one who protected the system for many years. Only none of this will bear fruit, because only a different course can save Russia from economic disaster.

And let no one be deceived: if the liberal coup becomes a reality, its authors will quickly discover how correct the thesis “Ukraine is not Russia” was. Unlike its neighboring country, Russia, with the exception of the capital, will turn into one solid Donbass.

The preceding was an excerpt from “Who Will Bring Them Putin’s Head?”, published on October 20, 2014, by Rabkor.ru. You can read the entire editorial in English here, as translated by other, less shaky hands.

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After a friend mailed me the following “news” item, he wrote, “This is how the whole ‘television—Levada—television’ scheme works.” As Kirill Rogov has argued, many people will tell pollsters what authoritarian state television has told them to think, especially when it comes to things that don’t really matter to them, like musician Andrei Makarevich’s alleged “treason.” It’s no wonder that one of the world’s leading offshore Putin apologists was worried, last year, when it seemed as if the state was cracking down on the Levada Center. He needn’t have worried. My friend titled his email to me, “Levada will receive the Stalin Prize posthumously.” That about sums it up.

Almost Half of Russians Consider Makarevich a Traitor to the Motherland 
October 27, 2014 | Gazeta.ru

Almost half of Russians believe that when he performed in Slovyansk, which is occupied [sic] by the Ukrainian army, musician Andrei Makarevich betrayed the interests of the motherland, according to the results of a survey conducted by the Levada Center.

45% of those polled agreed with the statement “Makarevich betrayed the interests of Russia, and now the public does not want to go to his concerts.” However, among Muscovites there was a high percentage (32%) inclined to believe that Makarevich “acted in good conscience” and that he had been the target of a defamation campaign. 28% of respondents admit that Makarevich behaved unpatriotically, but that administrative resources have been used to disrupt his concerts in various Russian cities.

The percentage of those supporting Makarevich and condemning the defamation campaign was quite low—13%. Respondents with a higher education were generally more supportive of what the musician did than Russians with less than a secondary education.

The poll was conducted among 1,630 people aged eighteen years or older in 134 municipalities in forty-six regions of the country.

Earlier, Makarevich recorded a song about how he has been hounded. On October 27, news came of another cancellation of one of the musician’s concert, this time in Kurgan.

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Image (above): Babi Badalov, Halluci Nation (Orna-mental poetry), 2014; ink on paper, 26.5 x 19 cm. Courtesy of La Galerie Jérôme Poggi, Paris, and the artist.

The Russian State of Mind in Stormy Weather

A State of Mind in Windy Weather
Galina Mursaliyeva
October 1, 2014
Novaya Gazeta

A conversation with psychologists about hatred, aggression, the Russian mentality, cognitive breakdown, the loss of social sensitivity, and society’s lack of self-confidence

The side mirror showed that the cars in the next lane were a safe distance from me. I switched on my turn signal and merged. I realized right away the mirror had deceived me. My car was almost a millimeter away from the front bumper of a black jeep: I had rudely cut off this “stealth” car. It was clear in a situation like this that no one would try and figure out whether this had been done purposely or accidentally. I was ready, or so I thought, for anything. I knew the other driver might deliberately overtake me and brake abruptly right in front of me. And yet, I wasn’t expecting what happened next. When the person in the car I had cut off drove his jeep in front of me for the second time, I deftly avoided a collision by moving into the far left lane, meaning he simply had no way to pursue me. But he found a way: he drove down the oncoming lane and once again put his jeep in front of me. This time I turned on the emergency lights and stopped. He walked up to my car.

“Well?”

“Well what? Yes, I made a mistake. Yes, I could have caused an accident. But do you realize that after this you did something that could have got us killed?”

“So what? Maybe I would have kicked the bucket, but I would have taken you down with me.”

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There was not a shadow of doubt in his eyes, whitened with anger: one could “kick the bucket” for the sake of punishing one’s offender.

It is not that I recall this incident often, but that I have never forgotten it. Because I saw in a highly condensed form what has been happening with people everywhere—on roads, in supermarkets, on social networks.

“She was the godmother of my son, who is now twenty years old. I was very fond of her, and we were very close, but now that she supports all these Makareviches, I am forced to unfriend her. She has turned into a reptile,” writes a woman on a social network.

Those who call themselves liberals are no better. There is a new photo of a famous person who has more or less spoken out in favor of “Crimea is ours” posted several times a day on Facebook. People batter and pelt the photo with words like stones. “Another one has caved in.” “Creep.” “He used to be my favorite actor. Burn in hell.”

There is an amazing trait that unites everyone these days—their means of expressing hatred. “Fascists,” “traitors”: that is what everyone calls each other. And the verbs are also the same: everyone has “sold out,” either to the Americans or Putin.

You have to kill someone and eat them to take their power. Well, or poison yourself.

Dmitry Leontiev (head of the International Laboratory of Positive Psychology of Motivation and Personality at the Higher School of Economics, doctor of psychology, professor in the psychology department at Moscow State University, and Viktor Frankl Prize winner): It reminds me of an essay by Hegel, published two hundred years ago, “Who Thinks Abstractly?” He gives an example: you go to the market, and a market woman tries to sell you apples. You try them and say, No, I won’t buy them; they’re a bit sour. The market woman says something like the following to you. It is my apples that are sour? You are sour yourself, and you have a sour mug. And who the hell are you to give my apples a bum rap? I remember your parents: they were layabouts! So she begins to generalize: you were only talking about the taste of the apples, but in response she—

Attacks you personally?

Leontiev: The personal attack is only a detail. But here everything is brought into play, the broadest contexts. Hegel calls this generalization “abstract thinking.” According to him, it is the market woman, rather than the philosopher or scientist, who thinks the most abstractly, because she cannot focus on anything specific and generalizes everything. From my point of view, this is what is happening in our society. The great philosopher Merab Mamardashvili, who for me is quite comparable with Hegel, said, “The devil plays with us when we do not think precisely.”

And the devil is playing with us now: we have stopped thinking precisely. Say, neither the Ukrainians themselves nor we understand clearly what is really happening in Ukraine. But the huge number of people who never for a moment doubt they know exactly not only what is happening now but also what will happen next horrifies me. The number of clairvoyants and seers has gone off the scales. And the farther they are from the scene of events, the more accurately they know everything.

What is the cause of this epidemic?

Leontiev: It is a symptom of cognitive breakdown. Criticalness—the ability to filter incoming information, separate fact from fiction, and soberly assess the limits of one’s own knowledge—is considered one of the main mechanisms of the mature mind. Now it would appear that all the natural filters have come undone. The mind ceases to function: it just swallows readymade packaged texts and spits them back out. As soon as you try in a debate to clarify or specify something, your opponent, like Hegel’s market woman, responds by expanding the topic of the conversation to infinity, entwining anything whatsoever into it. This is the most important method of the usually unconscious manipulation now being used: lumping everything together. The topic of the conversation becomes fuzzy, and a lot of details irrelevant to it are entwined in the conversation.

The meaning of the word “opinion” has been devalued in our country. Any nonsense that occurs to someone is labeled an opinion. This assumption that all opinions are equal is a product of so-called postmodernism. Earlier, when experts were asked for their opinions, it was assumed they were the products of intellectual work in the fields in which the experts were professionally employed. It is then that real discussion can unfold, and we can find someone who can be trusted.”

Nowadays, on the contrary, there is often no trace of analytical and intellectual work in what are commonly referred to as opinions. A person gets some “kind of, like” bit of information from somewhere in left field. These “opinions” are not rooted: they can easily switch to their direct opposites. So I am very skeptical about the figure of eighty-five percent of the population who, according to pollsters, now support everything the Russian president does in Ukraine. This is largely a weather phenomenon. The wind has inflated this degree of support, but when it blows in the other direction, it will fall below zero.

You mean the majority of Russians have a heightened psychological “meteodependency” on the political climate? On the stance of the authorities?

Leontiev: What is the “Russian mentality”? Everything said about the peculiarities of the Russian psychology wholly conforms to the psychology of a normal child. This includes a rich mental and emotional life, but a spontaneous one. Hence the inability to control oneself, to keep promises. Small children can be quite cruel: they do not know what pain is, and do not value life. Our country has had a prolonged childhood; we have not succeeded in growing up. Life, both one’s own and that of others, has a low value.

Many things are caused by the inability to link cause and effect. There is no sense of time, of the dynamics of change: Russia is worried about territories, about not giving an inch. We have virtually no social institutions. The State Duma is like a kindergarten during naptime, when the minder has left the room. Everyone is bawling about his or her own thing.

Maybe it is time to replace the concept of “state of mind” with the concept of an “instinctual state”?”

Leontiev: I would rather speak about a state of mind in windy weather. Thinking is energy consuming, and people who have failed to grow up find it easier to throw words around. The fundamentals of humanity’s survival are simple and sound. They unite rather than divide people, despite all their differences. For example, it is good when people live, and bad when they die and kill, even under the most plausible pretexts. But we have a divided society, and in this situation it is important not to contribute to the polarization. It is a virus that has infected the country

Olga Makhovskaya (fellow at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Ph.D. in psychology, and writer): I would say that what is happening today is a reflection of the country’s biggest fault: we have frittered away our values. When they answer any question—whether to fight or not fight with Ukraine or the whole world, whether they are for or against Putin—people are guided by their fears rather than values. And I can say that there, at Maidan, even before the war the protest was not as encapsulated as it is in our country. Encapsulation is when everything happens in cliques: I go to a protest rally with my friends, but as for everyone else, I do not really know or understand how they live. When there is no overall consolidation, you are among a circle of friends but in a society of strangers. It is extremely difficult to get past the bouncers at the door. In Ukraine, there is definitely not this stark opposition between the intelligentsia and people of the land, for example. There, the latter are in fact the most respected, because the land will always feed you, whatever the regime. And these are grounds for personal dignity. They have greater reserves of values there than we do. There is a Russian proverb that says money cannot buy you love. But there is no comprehension that money cannot buy you anything valuable at all—neither freedom, life, talent nor friendship. It is these things that have failed in Russia today.

I think it is not just a matter of events in Ukraine. This segment of people who think alike, a whopping eighty-five percent, is also encapsulated. A person who is willing to kill someone else and himself in the process is not trying to clarify your stances on these issues. He is just ready to kill.

Makhovskaya: From my point of view, the figure of eighty-five percent is rather an indicator of society’s extreme lack of self-confidence than of public opinion. When a survey on happiness, for example, is conducted, and the vast majority says it is insanely happy, politicians see this as a lovely figure. But any psychologist will tell you that such uniformity indicates a state of helplessness. This is a society of old people and little children—of old people, who suffer from diminished intellect and have no future, and of children, who because of their age cannot be independent.

What is happening in our country today—the intolerance and hatred—is directly linked to the state of being in an axiological and normative vacuum. The social psychologist Durkheim called this condition “anomie.” It happens when old institutions, functions, and norms have been destroyed, and new ones have not yet formed. The main conditions for the emergence of a new set of values are the consolidation of society and an optimistic view of the future. But in Russia, values are promoted that divide people and narrow their horizons: money, power, and pleasure. Transient values camouflage the lack of eternal values—“Thou shalt not kill,” for example—of the old conservative attitudes to work, education, patience, love, and mercy.

Perhaps the Soviet legacy could also be making itself felt in this case. At school, we were made to memorize Nekrasov’s lines “The heart grown weary of hating / Will never learn to love.” But no one told us about the saying of Confucius: “If you hate, it means you have been defeated.”

Makhovskaya: What we remember in childhood is quite important, because we pass it on to our own children as a cultural code. If you cannot love because you cannot hate, it means you must hate: it is a terrible thing, of course, to send this message to schoolchildren. But nowadays there are no less alarming signals, first and foremost, the loss of sensitivity among most citizens. Social sensitivity is a sympathetic attitude to the problems of groups of people to which the individual himself or herself does not belong. Television has “scorched” its viewers by constantly raising the sensitivity threshold.

Why does everyone call each other fascists nowadays? What is the cause of this?

Makhovskaya: It is similar to the children’s game of good guys and fascists [i.e., something like the Anglophone games cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers]. Psychologists believe that the unbearable fear of death is overcome in such children’s games. Given the depth of the trauma caused by World War Two, a trauma passed from generation to generation in Russia, the power of post-traumatic stress syndrome and the relief a small victorious war gives to “inflamed” consciousness are understandable. Despite the fact we won World War Two, psychologically we have been left unappeased, inconsolable, and uncertain that it will never happen again. On the contrary, we have always been reminded that the enemy never slumbers, that we have to be prepared. We live with the convulsive readiness to attack or flee. Sooner or later, individuals cannot contain themselves and enter into conflict; an insignificant occasion can serve as the trigger. The abusive fascist phraseology comes from this same source.

There is another factor that affects how events are perceived—group favoritism. Members of one’s own group are perceived as better, more educated, smarter, prettier, and broader-shouldered.

I will illustrate what you are talking about with a quotation from writer Zakhar Prilepin: “[U]krainian POWs and Russian POWs differ even physiognomically. The Russians are whiter; their eyes are more bewildered and kinder. [The Ukrainians] are darker. They do not look you in the eye; there is something hunted and angry about them at the same time. Almost all of them are shorter than me.”

Makhovskaya: It is a classic example. When we at the Institute of Psychology of the Russian Academy of Sciences studied how Soviet viewers perceived Americans during the first spacebridges with the US, we discovered that a couple weeks after the programs people could not recall either the faces of the “enemies” or what they had said. But as they tried to recall what they had seen, they confidently insisted the Americans were “reptiles.” They recalled the “good guys” in detail, with a tendency to add height, texture, and beauty: the people who had gone out to do battle with the ugly dwarfs from the US were simply cartoonish epic heroes.

Sadly, the level of our psychological culture is such that we do not cope with these cognitive distortions. Even more frightening is that this is the level of the politicians and their servants who induce hatred and broadcast negative stereotypes to the whole country.

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Editor’s Note. I usually do not have much truck with psychologistic explanations of political and social phenomenon, especially when it comes to Russia, where even before the onset of Putinism 3.0, the popular, public and academic discourses, both liberal and nationalist, were lousy with all-encompassing exegeses of Russian society’s ills (or virtues) based on a supposedly unique, perennial or horribly mutated (as a result of Stalinism, serfdom or perestroika—take your pick) mindset or mentality shared by most Russians or certain classes in Russia. The article translated above certainly possesses many of this approach’s defects, but in its own clumsy way it gives some insights into the zeitgeist in the country right now, details usually ignored or dismissed by, say, local leftist commentators, eager to inscribe everything going on into a more palatable, boilerplate “anti-capitalist” narrative. Whether we like it or not, the sheer hysteria of recent months and its effects on people’s sense of their possibilities, responsibilities, and limitations becomes a factor in political and public life every bit as material and potent as the Putin oligarchy’s need to bolster its financial fortunes or generate new venues for state-sponsored highway robbery.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Mail