Hitting Rock Bottom

erofeyev111809.jpgThe writer Victor Erofeyev has published an opinion article in the New York Times commenting about what motivations Russians to embrace a familiar if ugly past instead of imagining a reformed future.  His expression of support here echoes what he wrote in Feb. 2008, calling Medvedev Russia’s “last hope.”

In any case, I — for all my skepticism about any Kremlin initiative — declare my support for Mr. Medvedev, because, ladies and gentlemen, we have hit bottom. It all began with the Kremlin’s declaration, not long before the financial crisis, that Russia is rising from its knees. But a large body needs help to get up. In this case, the chosen instrument of assistance was imperial crutches. But where were they to be found? All the neighboring countries of the former U.S.S.R. not only declined to serve as crutches, but, like children during a school break, ran away (for the most part toward Europe).

Instead ofseizing the initiative and turning West itself, Russia took offense andturned in on itself. And there it found a large stock of old ideas:Orthodox dreams of a chaste civilization, ultra-right nationalism attimes bordering on fascism. A virtual return to the U.S.S.R. — and toStalin — were unavoidable.

These were the crutches it grabbed.This may not be comprehensible to the West. There, it might seem that areturn to the past has no prospects or logic. But a significant numberof Russians are rushing backward because they see nothing good in thefuture. This is understandable emotionally: Only in the past, as in thewomb, is it warm and safe; only in the past are there symbols andvictories that people can understand.

And so, nationalism inRussia has assumed unprecedented dimensions. It has permeated majortelevision channels, many newspapers, government organs andintellectual collectives. Attacking those who disagree has come to beencouraged. Informing on or smearing opponents has become common. Witchhunts have proliferated not only through politics, but also throughculture.