Divisions In Russian Society ‘Unprecedented’ Since Russian Civil War – OpEd


“The horrific split in Russia, not only between the powers and the people but also among the population is unprecedented,” embattled Russian historian Leonid Gozman says. It may have been as bad during the Civil War as it is now, but it was not like that after the end of that conflict.

Russians, he says, “are beginning to be afraid not only of the authorities,” hardly something new in their country, “but also of each other. And the person who was killed a few day ago for expressing a pro-Ukrainian position is only one of the first victims of this new Civil War” (novayagazeta.eu/articles/2022/08/21/ne-synovia-protiv-ottsov-a-sila-protiv-pravdy).

According to Gozman, certain recent cases like the dispute between a pro-war senator and his anti-war daughter have prompted Russians to revive the old hope that the younger generation will be better and will replace the evil current one if everyone will just show patience. But such hopes have never been realized because people experience the same events differently.

For example, the generation which came of age during World War II included not just those who fought at the front lines but also those who didn’t fight at all and those who served in SMERSH units. The members of these various groups despite having similar birth years had very different wars and thus a very different future.

The same is true now. And technology has not changed it, the historian says. Those who think otherwise are “unforgivably primitive.”  The current divides in Russia are “not between generations;” they involve “other more important factors, each of which is behind only part of the variance.”

Above all there are differences in intellect and education. There are intelligent and educated people who support Putin’s war in Ukraine, but one has to have a low IQ to think that the West is conspiring there against Russia and that despite problems, “’everything is going according to plan,’” Gozman says.

Another factor is how much this or that group of Russians has accepted a European way of life as legitimate and how the members of these groups see themselves in the future. And there are also “completely unpragmatic parameters which divide us today. Chief among them is the value of freedom for an individual.”

That is not some “pragmatic understanding that it is needed if the economy is to develop or the like but rather, if you like, an unselfish love for it and its elevation to the status of a super-value.” For such people, the choice is clear – “either the special military operation or freedom,” the historian says.

Fortunately, he argues, there are not a few people even in Russia who are on the side of freedom. “All history of progress is not from Malyuta Skuratov to the gas chambers but from Homer to Goethe, from the lay of the host of Igor to Brodsky, and from the research of Mendel to contemporary genetics.”

That isn’t about generations; its about the commitment of people from all generations to the values of freedom and a willingness to act to put their own country back on normal rails, Gozman concludes.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .

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