Peter Pomerantsev: Russia is Dying of Conformity

tags: Russia, Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin, The Daily Beast, Russian culture, KGB



Peter Pomerantsev is a television producer and nonfiction writer. He lives in London.

...The 1970s and 1980s, the period when the current Russian elite matured and which is the focus of Bullough’s book, are largely ignored inside Russia. Few novels and fewer films focus on the era. The most notable movie about the period is German, the Oscar-winning The Lives of Others, which focuses on the battle between dissidents and the Stasi in 1980s East Berlin and captures the sense of slow-baked fear, granite depression, and moral corruption. When The Lives of Others was released in Russia in 2007, local media acted as if the film had nothing to do with them. Whereas in the countries of Eastern Europe unbroken Soviet-era dissidents have become heroes, Russian dissidents are often ignored or censured as traitors: while Václav Havel became president of the Czech Republic, Russia chose a KGB man, Vladimir Putin, as its leader. The mechanics of Putin’s rule are a 21st-century spin on how Dudko was broken in 1980: oligarchs are allowed to keep their money as long as they publicly go down on one knee to the Kremlin; journalists can have all the fun they want as long as they compose Putin hagiographies. The aim is not to simply oppress (how banal!), but to make you part of the system.

When the Kremlin pushed through the recent Dima Yakovlev bill, which banned Russian orphans from being adopted by U.S. parents, many Duma deputies and senators were privately appalled, but were so terrified, they signed anyway: “It’s a way to make us all guilty,” a Duma deputy (one of the very few who didn’t sign) told me afterward, “the old KGB trick.” Seen from this perspective, the loud Russian debates between choosing a “European” or “Oriental” path, between “patriotism” and “modernity,” are all distractions from the great drama between brokenness and self-respect that no one wants to talk about. The new generation of dissidents, such as Pussy Riot, who have taken to Moscow’s streets over the past two years invoke their 1970s predecessors: the protest movement is not just about standing up to Putin, but a way to finally deal with the unresolved conformism of the 1970s. The new dissidents have resurrected the vocabulary of their predecessors: dostojnstvo (dignity), which in the language of the dissidents means not betraying your beliefs; poryadochnost (decency), which means you don’t snitch on your friends; ne pachkatsa (not to get dirty by cooperating with the state). But the new dissidents remain a disliked minority, accused by state media of being Western stooges who are “doing it for money”: in a culture of conformism everyone has to be seen to be a cynic....



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