By Paul Goble
Something very ugly and dangerous is happening in Russia today, Aleksandr Tsipko says. Elites increasingly are expressing their contempt for ordinary Russians, failing to see that this attitude means that ever fewer of the latter are going to be impressed by imperial games or willing to sacrifice anything to achieve them.
What is especially bad, the Moscow social commentator continues, is that the elites are willing to mouth the lines of the Kremlin that the ordinary people should sacrifice themselves for imperial greatness even while it is all too obvious that the elites aren’t prepared to sacrifice anything for anyone except their own wealth and position (ej.ru/?a=note&id=33100).
The calculation of these elites is “simple,” Tsipko says. “As long as Putin is alive, he won’t give up power to anyone and consequently will never give up what he considers his victories in foreign policy. “if we want to remain in power,” they say, “we must profess and defend the absurd” and try to convince “the simple people” they should be willing to suffer.
“This open distain of the present-day political elite to how the simple man lives and what bothers him” is rapidly landing the Russian elites in trouble, the commentator says. They have lost their bearings and show no signs of getting them back, and they have even forgotten that when elites behaved like this at the end of Soviet times, they lost their country.
“The constant stress on the ideology of great power status combined with the eternal Soviet deficit led in the end to the complete de-ideologization of the population, to the appearance in the population of a desire to reject everything” and to cease to be moved by any appeals to them at all, Tsipko recalls.
What makes the current moment even more dangerous, however, is that within living memory Russians lived better than they do now and did not see the fact that the rich are getting richer and the poor poorer as the defining factor of their lives. As a result, Russians today are even more put off by what the elites are saying than they were at the end of the 1980s.
“People are beginning to exit from the paradigm of the besieged fortress,” Tsipko argues. “They are tied about all this talk of eternal enemies who supposedly surround us on all sides. And the most dangerous thing for the authorities and for our political stability” is that they see their leaders don’t care what happens to them as long as the elites are taken care of.
Tsipko says that he “always distances himself from the catastrophism of Sergey Kurginyan, but in [his] view, there is truth in his latest interviews where he directs the attention of the powers to the fact that many of the representatives of ‘Crimea is Ours’ Russia are beginning to look at the powers with the eyes” of those who want “a velvet revolution.”
“Our present-day political elite somehow doesn’t take into consideration the possibility that the people could become tired of their open lying” and that as a result, the population is “losing faith not only in them but in the powers that be as a whole.” Increasingly, ordinary Russians view the elites as having sold out to the powers for money not Russia.
Russians still watch these “talking heads” but they do so “with new eyes.” They are no longer persuaded. Instead, they start with the assumption that they are going to be lied to but need to watch to know what new horrors the regime and the elites around it are planning to visit upon them next.
That is because ordinary Russians as a result of income differentiation driven by state power increasing look at themselves, their own lives, the current powers that be, and its representatives not as one common thing but rather “through the prison of the opposition of the poor and the rich.”
Ordinary Russians have lost all interest what is going on in the Donbass, Syria or even Crimea. They place ever fewer hopes in the state and aren’t persuaded by the propaganda or some new foreign policy “triumph.” Instead, they see these things as just another means to keep those on top there and those like themselves on the bottom there.
And that is extremely dangerous because the situation Russia finds itself in today is at a dead end, the Moscow social analyst says. No Russian government is going to give up Crimea, but no Russian government knows how to live and develop if sanctions continue as they may for decades.
The Russian people don’t want to give up Crimea either, but they will not sit still for long “with the negative consequences” that sanctions are bringing. “Now it is becoming clear” that they no longer think Putin can provide them with a better life or that they should back him no matter what.
“In my view,” Tsipko says, “the present-day powers, in contrast to the CPSU will fine it ever more difficult to justify the negative consequences of these sanctions seriously and for a along time.” They aren’t offering an image of the country as one in which everyone is making sacrifices but only one in which those without power are.
As a result, “instead of the Soviet equality of poverty has arrived the disturbing in equality between those who choose among the capitals of Europe as the place for their children to live and study and those who do not know where they will find enough money to pay for summer school holidays.”
The latter aren’t going to be bought off with images of victory in some new war, Tsipko continues. Instead, they are likely to ask more questions about why the situation in Russia is what it is. And that ought to lead the elites to ask the people the following question: “does it want to die in the name of the great power ambitions of the present-day powers that be?”
The answer almost certainly will soon be if it is not already a resounding “NO.”