Russia, Today: Part 2

Princeton historian Ekaterina Pravilova discusses the battle over rationality in Russian popular and academic circles, while French philosopher Michel Eltchaninoff explores the intellectual history of Putin’s political ideology ...

Back in October, we published the first installment of “Russia, Today,” a three-part series about contemporary Russia organized in collaboration with the French online journal La Vie des Idées / Books & Ideas. In the first pair of essays, NYU slavicist Eliot Borenstein discussed Russia’s love-hate relationship with all things American and French sociologist Carine Clément explored the social and political forces that undergird Putin’s rule. Here in “Russia, Today: Part Two,” Princeton historian Ekaterina Pravilova discusses the battle over rationality in Russian popular and academic circles, while French philosopher Michel Eltchaninoff explores the intellectual history of Putin’s political ideology.


The Trouble With “Truth”:
Russian Academia in the Age of (In)Certitude
Ekaterina Pravilova


Orwellian analogies are once again ubiquitous when discussing contemporary Russia. Between clandestine forces abroad and the gradual dismantling of civil society at home, not to mention a rabid nationalism fomented by the government’s TV and internet propaganda machine, the absurdity of recent political events supports the impression that we, the citizens of Russia, live in a dystopian nightmare. But this drift into a bleak future has a metaphorical counterpart: a reversion to the archaic past, to a world before modernity and Enlightenment. With the proliferation of pseudoscience in popular media and the dissemination of mythicized history by the government, many scientists and scholars have begun to diagnose “the decay of rationality and the de-installation of a scientific worldview.”1 For some, the current crisis of knowledge amounts to a true catastrophe: Russia crawls back to the Dark Ages.

In response, champions of reason within Russia have created clubs and public societies to promote the values of rationality and inculcate sensible skepticism. At the same time, academic communities have sought government support in the battle against superstition and falsification. In their defense of Enlightenment values, however, they have risked a Faustian bargain whose consequences for Russia’s future are immense. Caught between a popular taste for superstitious pseudo-science and a government that increasingly relies on misinformation to bolster its authority, it seems that today’s intelligentsia must either persuade Russians through evidence and reason, or join the government in proclaiming the singular truths of nature as of history.

The present crisis of reason began in the late 1980s. The sudden collapse of Soviet censorship and the elimination of the state publishing monopoly burst the dam of silence and discretion. Russian society learned new facts about the Revolution of 1917, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the crimes of Stalinism, and even the private lives of Soviet leaders. At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church attracted former communists and atheists alike. Citizens were allowed to profess any cult, religious or political, and hundreds of missionaries from all over the world streamed to Russia to proselytize and convert. The freedoms of speech and confession seemed to be complete. Even if the state wanted, it had no legal authority to restrict or control the tide of new ideas, knowledge, and information.

This tide was not crystal clear, however: the publication of documents from previously sealed Party archives, for example, was drowned in a sea of non-academic works that promised to reveal the hidden “truth” about past and present. It was hard to withstand such temptation: “truth” had been concealed for so many years, and scientists and scholars were thought to be complicit in hiding it. Therefore one had to look for truth in other, unconventional places. Former secret intelligence officer and emigrant Viktor Suvorov, for example, claimed to have revealed the “true” story of WWII: Stalin had planned to attack Germany first, but Hitler forestalled him. The pseudo-scientific works of Lev Gumilev, the son of Russia’s greatest poets Anna Akhmatova and Nikolai Gumilev, likewise attracted wide attention, mostly by virtue of having been suppressed in the Soviet Union. Gumilev’s tragic life story, including several years in the Gulag, added weight and authority to his very dubious biological theory of the emergence of ethnicities.

For some, the current crisis of knowledge amounts to a true catastrophe: Russia crawls back to the Dark Ages.

Some scholars from universities and other academic institutions tried to carefully criticize each bizarre and hopelessly inaccurate theory, but the flood of specious publications only increased. Distinguished mathematician Anatoly Fomenko, a professor and member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, beat sales records with the publication of his “New Chronology,” which claimed that everything we know about history before the 18th century is a lie: there was no antiquity, no Middle Ages, and that the history of these periods was the result of a great falsification plot. But next to the mass popularization of parapsychological experiments broadcast on central TV, the proliferation of “alternative” medicine, and the study of UFOs, even Fomenko’s ideas might have seemed quite innocent.

Amidst the ruins of the Soviet economy and science, abundant centers of everything “non-traditional” and esoteric flourished. Projects to produce energy from nowhere received generous state funding; books that revealed the “secret stories” of the Russian state were published with 100,000-copy print runs. Freedom, it seemed, exploded all standards of reason and probability. The crisis of Russian science, which had led to the massive emigration of scientists and scholars unable to work and unwilling to live in misery, further contributed to the erosion of rationality on a national scale.

Those who stayed, meanwhile, tried to resist. Historians debunked every new myth that gathered public attention, and classified the whole genre of parahistorical literature as “folk-history” (a slightly pejorative term borrowed from English), which they defined, among other features, by its aggressive struggle to expose “falsification” and reveal “truth.” In 1999 the Moscow State University hosted a conference dedicated to the phenomenon of Fomenko’s New Chronology and folk-history, as well as strategies to combat its growing influence. A year earlier, the Academy of Sciences set up a “Commission for the struggle against pseudoscience and the falsification of scientific research.” A decade later, in 2008, this Commission’s main preoccupation was a campaign against the imposter-scientist Viktor Petrik, the ostensible inventor of a nano-technology for water filtration that sought state funding in the amount of $500 billion. The governing party “United Russia,” and the speaker of the Russian State Duma, Boris Gryzlov, backed up Petrik’s enterprise, even though scientists showed that the project was based on an array of improbable assumptions and errors. Ultimately, though, the scientists won the battle, and Petrik—whom his supporters from the government compared to Nicolaus Copernicus and Giordano Bruno—had to retreat.

The Commission’s attack on pseudoscience joined a similar campaign against superstition and religion. Almost routinely, scientists spoke against the broadcasting of the popular “competition of psychics,” inviting a representative from the Russian Association of Illusionists to expose the tricks of parapsychological experiments. Some protested against the publication of horoscopes in major newspapers, as well as against attempts to introduce “non-traditional” methods of criminal investigation. Just as worrisome was the Russian Orthodox Church, whose spectacular rise to power soon led to attempts to introduce Orthodox Christian theology into public school curricula. Scientists sounded the alarm, arguing that the values of Darwinism were in peril2 as the church attempted to propagate creationism. “Public consciousness is slowly succumbing to a dark Middle Ages,” the physicist Evgenii Aleksandrov, head of the anti-pseudo-science commission, explained. “It happens because of the negation of rational science, the advancement of religion, and the real bacchanalia of all kinds of obscurantism on television.”

Aleksandrov noted, however, that the Commission does not deal with the humanities, where “the criteria of truth are always blurred.”3 It was in this blurry space that the Russian government began to exert more influence. In 2009 the government created “The Commission for the struggle against the falsification of history to the detriment of Russia’s interests.” Where the pseudo-science commission published semi-annual bulletins, the activities of the falsification commission were shrouded in secrecy. The Russian intelligentsia rightly perceived it as an advancement of censorship, particularly after the commission targeted certain foreigners—individual historians and organizations alike—for allegedly trying to blacken the image of Russia and its geopolitical role. While popular science had succumbed to the unreason of superstition, humanistic enquiry threatened to become a tool of government propaganda.

In 2012 the government dismissed the commission without explanation, and the emphasis in the struggle against “falsification” shifted to education on the home front. In 2013 Vladimir Putin spoke in favor of a uniform school textbook that would replace the cacophony of regional and national histories, presenting a “well-balanced” version of Russia’s past. The Russian academic community was divided over the issue of the history textbook: some historians protested against such uniformity, while others agreed that the textbook would help re-introduce standards of historical knowledge and suppress pseudo-scientific history. The Russian government may appear an awkward partner, but many scholars from the Russian Academy of Sciences and research universities will tolerate such an alliance, seeing it as a chance to restore the expert authority of academic institutions.

What kind of history does the future Russia need?

The signs of the erosion of the expert authority of scholars and scientists are abundant, particularly in the government’s attempts to create a new canon of Russian history. Not only has the history of WWII been subjected to revision: the government even aimed to reimagine the history of medieval Rus’ (partly in order to disassociate it from Ukrainian Kiev and lay the foundation for a historical claim to Crimea). The multi-media exhibit “The Ryurikids. The Orthodox Rus’,” recently shown in both Moscow and St. Petersburg, and blessed by Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church, has tried to popularize this new Russian history. Professional historians routinely laugh at the absurdity of the errors that reproduce legends and myths from Russian medieval chronicles,4 but they also wonder how and why they have lost the upper hand in the public representation of history.5

Perhaps they also notice, but do not discuss openly, that the rhetoric of the government’s history campaign bears a striking resemblance the vocabulary of folk-history, with its persistent desire to reveal some “truth” that has been concealed or perverted. As the prominent Russian historian Igor Danilevsky has noted, folk-history is inherently archaic in its urge to narrate events “as they actually happened” (referring to Leopold Ranke’s “wie es eigentlich gewesen”). The government, in its attempts to unmask falsifiers and reveal true facts, has aligned itself with this marginalized current, asserting the singularity of historical “truth” when historians prefer to speak only about veracity and evidence. With The Ryurikids and other historical chimera, the government imposes certainty in the interpretation of historical periods where, as historians insist, “there are only grades of hypothesis, from the almost certain to the plausible to the just conceivable.”6

As recently as June 2015, historians who have been battling on two fronts—against the political abuse of history by the state, and against its mythologization by “folk historians”—united to form the Free Historical Society with yet another (third!), now independent, “Commission against the falsification of history.” Russia’s leading intellectuals declared the society’s mission to promote the “multiplicity of histories”—a goal that one can only applaud. However, their first steps have been alarming: The society plans to begin with a survey on the “degree of Russian society’s contamination by historical falsification, the level of its exposure [to such ideas], and resistibility to politicization of history” (note the paternalistic rhetoric of contamination and disease). The society has also announced the preparation of an analytical report, “What kind of history does the future Russia need?” The title of the report must have caused unease, because a disclaimer followed immediately: “This title notwithstanding, we are not going to manipulate history,” one of the society’s members clarified, adding, “The title is deliberately provocative, in order to attract attention.”

The government’s campaign against falsification in history may thus appear as the distorted mirror image of the noble battle for reason against pseudo-science and the politicization of history. Russian intellectuals may not sympathize with the government’s attempts to reveal the “truth,” favoring the efforts of scientists and scholars to resist falsification. However, while ideologically opposed, the two campaigns overlap at several points. Indeed, the champions of reason and the champions of the state ultimately labor to a similar end: the institutionalized authority to define the nature of reality.

At stake in Russia’s crisis of reason is nothing less than the power to mandate “truth.” To re-inculcate the values of Enlightenment reason, knowledge risks becoming an adjunct of state power. The battle for reason is, indeed, the battle for authority, for seats close to the government now taken by clerics, patriotic organizations, or, occasionally, someone like the notorious Petrik.

At the same time, it is a battle for people’s minds, respect, and attention—one that may come with profound costs. Although scholars’ desire to regain authority is understandable, the resultant trajectory, in the long run, appears quite dubious. Russian scholars well-versed in Michel Foucault’s writings need no reminder about the many forms a disciplinary regime can take, autocratic or liberal. But if certain kinds of knowledge fail to win on the free market, scholars and scientists seem to believe that the value of reason must be restored by all available means—even through regulation and control over media and education. Reason in this form appears as singular and irrefutable, not tolerating any concessions or compromises. Should we care if, to avoid a slump into obscurantism, scientists take on the task of censorship? Out of this double bind there is no easy path: as long as the state privileges deception, and social trust stagnates, truth will live on as illusion.


Jump to remarks:

Ekaterina Pravilova, Michel Eltchaninoff


Ideologues and Cassandras:
The Thinkers Behind PUtinism
Michel Eltchaninoff


In September 2013, one year after his second reelection to the Russian presidency, Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric took a conservative turn. “The Euro-Atlantic countries,” he thundered, “are rejecting traditional principles of ethics and identity—national, cultural, religious, even sexual. They are adopting policies that place families with children on a level with same-sex couples, and equate faith in God with belief in Satan. The excesses of political correctness have led them to seriously consider legitimizing a party whose agenda is to promote pedophilia. Many Europeans have become ashamed and afraid to speak of their religious affiliations.” This can only lead, he claimed, “to a demographic and moral crisis.”7 Pointing to himself as the embodiment of the fight against this dangerous trend, he called for the “defense of traditional values” and assured he would take “a conservative stance.”

Some months later, in response to the Ukrainian revolution, the Kremlin annexed the Crimean peninsula. During his celebratory speech, Putin said, “The policy of keeping Russia contained, begun in the eighteenth century, continues today. The world always tries to push us back into our corner because of our independent position, because we enforce it, because we call things what they really are and do not cater to hypocrisy. But there are limits.”8

Finally, on January 1, 2015, the Eurasian Economic Union came into force. A revival of the Eurasianist philosophy that arose in the 1920s and was again in vogue in the 1990s, the EEU aims to gather 180 million people into a single market that will rival the European Union and the United States. It aligns Russia with Kazakhstan, Belarus, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan, and will potentially add other central Asian states.

Conservatism as an antidote to Western moral degeneracy; the defense of a unique “Russian way”; an official Eurasian world power. These are the vectors of the new Kremlin ideology, endorsed by its highest authorities. In his speeches, the President regularly quotes the ultrareactionary emigrant philosopher Ivan Ilyin (1883–1954), whose remains were repatriated to Russia in 2005. He frequently evokes the anti-Western intellectual Konstantin Leontiev (1831–91). He praises Lev Gumilyov (1912–92) and his concept of “passionarity”—the essential energy native to the Russian people.

Of course, borrowing philosopher’s words does not a philosopher make. Putin uses them as signals to illustrate the depth of the Kremlin’s political identity. But, taken together, this kitschy collection constitutes the intellectual foundation of Putinism.

<i>Vladimir Putins news conference following the G-20 Saint Petersburg Summit (September 9, 2013).</i> Photograph from the President of Russia Press and Information Office / Wikimedia Commons

Vladimir Putin’s news conference following the G-20 Saint Petersburg Summit (September 9, 2013). Photograph from the President of Russia Press and Information Office / Wikimedia Commons

The rhetoric is not new. It first appeared in the 1830s over the dispute between Slavophiles—defenders of Russia’s early culture, society, and politics—and pro-Westernizers hoping to see Russia modernized on the European model. The controversy intensified in the latter half of the 19th century with the emergence of a second generation of Slavophiles who were more aggressive toward Europe. Their quarrel survived the Russian Revolution and continued, subtly, to inform the country’s intellectual field. It divided the members of the Central Committee’s Politburo. Dissidents turned against one another—Solzhenitsynon on side of the Slavophiles, Sakharov with the pro-Westernizers. The dispute dominated the national conversation of the 1990s. Putin, too, doesn’t stray far from the old motifs of conservatism, Slavophilia, and Eurasianism in his speeches. He is reviving the anti-Westernist current that was ever-present during the Soviet era.9 He is the personification of victory over perestroika and the liberal democracy of the 1990s.


Nationalism in Détente 

Stalin’s death in 1953, around the time Putin was born, reignited old divisions. Popular magazines, benefiting from greater freedom during détente, put opposing ideological perspectives on display. Novy Mir (New World) took a humanist and vigorously anti-Stalinist view; they published Solzhenitsynon’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch in 1962, as well as the writings of future dissident Andrei Sinyavsky. Even as they conscientiously quoted Marx and Lenin, the liberals were more concerned with socialist internationalism, condemning chauvinism, and analyzing Russian history strictly in terms of class struggle. Working against Novy Mir was the “Russian Party” in the form of another magazine, Molodaya Gvardiya (Young Guard). These “patriots” extolled the merits of the peasantry while criticizing—often in anti-Semitic tones—the rootless élites, and lamenting the Americanization of society.

In a 1968 Molodaya Gvardiya article, the Slavophile critic Mikhail Lobanov condemned the “mini-bourgeois spirit” of conformity and pragmatism sweeping through Soviet cities and paralyzing the “creative genius of the people.”10 Novy Mir’s response, “On Popular Traditions and Principles” by Alexander Dementiev, denounced propagandists who preferred to employ “the language of Slavophiliac messianism rather than that of our contemporaries.”11 In 1970, another Molodaya Gvardiya nationalist critic, Sergei Semanov, railed against Western decadence: “In the capitalist world, spiritual values erode and collapse under the obvious influences. There they celebrate the relativism that permeates their moral sphere; take the ‘sexual revolution,’ for example, the ‘hippie movement,’ etc.”12 This accusation brought the regime’s censure down onto the magazine and resulted in the dismissal of its editor-in-chief. But the worst-suffering publication was Novy Mir. Its editor-in-chief, Alexander Tvardovsky, had been under fire since the suppression of the Prague Spring, and he too was removed. By 1970 the situation was under control, but the fault lines remained visible.

Two years later, the Party’s head of ideology decided to launch a new term to combat neo-Slavophilia. Alexander Yakovlev published a long article in Literaturnaya Gazeta (Literary Newspaper) entitled “Against Antihistoricism”13 (1972). Yakovlev criticized “apologists for the rural patriarchy’s hostility toward urban culture.” It was deleterious, he asserted, for progressive thinkers to mingle with supporters of czarism within the same national conscience. There was no way to reconcile “democratic revolutionaries with Slavophile reactionaries.” Fidelity to the principles of Marxist historical analysis—that is, to the framework of class struggle—should replace essentialist notions of an abstract, artificially virtuous “Russian people.” Yakovlev accused Molodaya Gvardiya of—crime of crimes!—“idealizing and glorifying reactionary agents like Vasily Rozanov [the anti-Semitic Christian philosopher] and Konstantin Leontiev,” the “Russian Nietzsche” who derided the Western bourgeoisie and is quoted today by Vladimir Putin. His conclusion lacked appeal: “We find moral examples not in the ‘lives of the saints,’ nor in the embellished biographies of czars and khans, but in the revolutionary feats of those who fought for the people’s happiness.”

With this article, written by a high-ranking apparatchik, Leninism appeared to have won back the Party. The events that followed, however, showed that the fight was still on, and that the “Russian Party,” with help from sympathizers in very high places, had no intention of going down easily. Several months later, Alexander Yakovlev was relieved of his duties as an official ideologue. He went into a long political exile as the Soviet ambassador to Canada and was only reprieved in 1983, by Mikhail Gorbachev. The father of perestroika was looking to surround himself with a team of reformers and bring liberalism back to Moscow. The same man who had been punished for criticizing Slavophiles became the chief ideologue of perestroika—and, once again, anathema to the “Russian Party.” The battle was back on.


Perestroika: The Rising Ghosts of the Past

With his politics of transparency (glasnost), Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party beginning in 1985, opened the Pandora’s box of embattled liberals and patriots. From then on the controversy unfolded in broad daylight, but with new actors and points of reference. The magazine Nash Sovremennik (Our Contemporary), which had for several decades published writers specializing in descriptions of country life, represented partisans of the “Russian Renaissance.”

The religious believers had returned in force. They commemorated the thousandth anniversary of Kievan Prince Vladimir’s Christianization of Russia with pomp and pageantry. In a country rediscovering its orthodox majority, many youths took part in the baptism—and brought along their formerly staunchly atheist parents. A movement to reclaim architectural patrimony was growing. Banned literature from the Soviet era was republished. The educated populace could now explore a side of their culture that had previously been difficult to access. Newly published writings of Russian religious philosophers, Slavophile thinkers, and those once written off as reactionary or imperialist now flourished. A generation of students discovered this previously hidden “Russian mind.” The official Soviet idols had been revolutionaries and progressives: Belinsky, Pisarev, Dobrolyubov, Chernyshevsky. As for those who had been considered renegades—Konstantin Leontiev, Nikolay Danilevsky, Vladimir Solovyov, Nicolay Berdyaev, Pavel Florensky, Father Sergei Bulgakov, Lev Shestov—now they were adored.

At the same time, the country formed a strong interest in all forms of Gnosticism. Theology and anthropology were both in fashion. Occultism was popular in the 1990s, and even the most outlandish sects could set up shop. Jung’s more esoteric works were sold on bookstore shelves next to texts on Russian cosmism and Nietzsche volumes with Gothic cover designs. In 1993, followers of the traditionalist René Guénon started a journal of antimodern writings steeped in myth and symbolism, and called it The Magic Mountain. This almanac existed to critique the West’s materialism, its forgetfulness of its religious roots, and the absolute rule of money and dreary legal-democratic transparency.

The euphoria of the mid-1980s was soon forgotten. The USSR’s collapse in 1991 had paved the way for a democratic era, but also for an era of social and political crisis. In 1993, President Boris Yeltsin opened fire on his nationalist and communist opponents in Parliament. The intellectuals of the traumatized country were freshly divided into two camps: the democrats and liberals versus the patriots, who felt betrayed by perestroika and Yeltsin’s attack, and would not rest until they had their revenge.


Revenge for 1993

The 1990s first saw the rise of the prolific Eurasianist guru Aleksandr Dugin. A student of France’s New Right and the Eurasianism of the 1920s, as well as a National Bolshevik Party associate of Eduard Limonov, Dugin tended to mix his references: Occultism and the defense of the Guénon tradition, the fascist ideas of Julius Evola, the German Conservative Revolution. In 1992, during the dissolution of the Soviet empire, he popularized the works of Carl Schmitt in the pages of Nash Sovremennik, presenting them as “lessons for Russia.”14 The primacy of politics over morality, Dugin wrote, must help Russia “avoid becoming, as it was 70 years ago, the hostage of a reductive antinational ideology that ignores the will of its people, its past, its qualitative unity, and the spiritual meaning of its historical journey.”

The Schmittian doctrine of “us” and “them,” friends and enemies, advocated for the rejection of global humanitarian wars. He endorsed concepts such as the “state of exception” and decisionism, which would help Russia escape the moralizing legal “universalism” of the new world order. The “imperatives of the Great Space” were to define Eurasia, a civilizational site that Dugin envisioned as the matrix of a World Empire capable of standing up to the Atlantic Thalassocracy. Schmitt’s partisan theory, Dugin believed, was immediately comprehensible to Russians, accustomed as they were to the partisan wars of Napoleon and Hitler. Dugin published Schmitt’s works in Den (The Day) and then Zavtra (Tomorrow), a mouthpiece of the far right run by the writer Alexander Prokhanov. To both Dugin and Prokhanov, the democratic mode of thought that perestroika had offered as a solution was actually the problem. They believed traitors (democrats and cosmopolitan businessmen) had sold out Russia to the foreigners, and they looked forward to the arrival of a leader who could put the nation back on track. They would find him in Vladimir Putin.

The President, in effect, has developed a new ideology. Of course, he took care to differentiate himself from the extremists. But his borrowed themes and ideas originate with the “Russian Party” of the Soviet era as much as from the neo-Eurasianists of the 1990s. Dugin’s writings reveal a striking similarity between the Kremlin’s politics today and neo-Eurasian geopolitical fantasies. In 2008, Dugin predicted an arm wrestling match with the West over post-Soviet states potentially aligning themselves with Europe and the US. “If Ukraine and Georgia were absorbed into the American empire,” he said, “the imperial scheme would leave Russia blocked off.”15 Thus, said Dugin, “the countdown to stop the annexation of Ukraine by the Atlantic empire has already begun.” He concluded, “We can’t rule out the possibility of going to war for Crimea and Ukraine.”16 At the time, only a handful of ultranationalist ideologues and Cassandras really imagined Crimea being annexed and Donbass set ablaze. But Putin has indeed subscribed to the most radical platform of the “Russian Party.”

Conservatism as an antidote to Western moral degeneracy; the defense of a unique “Russian way”. These are the vectors of the new Kremlin ideology.

Members of the United Russia Party and senior officials are instructed in Putin’s conservative ideology at conferences and seminars. In April 2015, one of these was held in the symbolic city of Kœnigsberg, now Kaliningrad, a European outpost of the Russian Federation. It was the third Berdyaev Conference dedicated to recent developments in European conservatism. The theme: “Russia and Europe: a dialogue on values within civilizations.” The Kremlin is using this new doctrine of conservatism to try to spread its influence into a Europe that is growing more porous to discourses of identity. In the service of another Putinist idea, the “Russian voice,” every theorist on the deep hostilities between Russia and Europe is being mobilized as part of the official conversation. The philosopher Nikolay Danilevsky (1822–85), who happens to be buried in Crimea, has become a point of reference for Russia’s politics today. In fact, in his book Russia and Europe (1871), he prophesied that the fight with the West would increasingly take place out in the open. The Eurasian Union has accordingly joined the movement to build an alternative to Western “universalism.”

Russia’s history can be read through the prism of the argument between Slavophiles and Westernizers. In the 19th century, the fight was an intellectual, complex one. In the 20th, it was more subliminal: “friends of the Russian people” against internationalists. The conflict has been reincarnated through the politics and history of modern-day Russia. The “Russian Party” viewed the end of the USSR as a victory over liberals, while the liberalization of the country signified submission to foreign powers. Yeltsin’s bloody victory over the nationalist Parliament in 1993 was perceived as an attempt to finish off the “patriots” once and for all. Then Putin arrived on the scene, and his ideological rise to power was both the product of and the resolution to the fight.

It’s increasingly clear the president is the manifestation of the Russian Party’s revenge. The consequence is that he has profoundly destabilized the fault lines of his country’s culture. If Russia is to escape being sunk under a wave of hysterical nationalism, it is to be hoped that the liberals haven’t all left the country. Time will soon tell.


Translated from the French by Jolie Hale, with financial support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy


Jump to remarks:

Ekaterina Pravilova, Michel Eltchaninoff icon

  1. Aleksand Sergeev, “Borba s lzhenaukoi: chasto zadavaemye voprosy” (web page of the Commission for the struggle against pseudoscience and the falsification of scientific research). The word “scientific” in Russian, as in German, refers both to exact sciences and the humanities, indicating a way of thinking, rather than a specific area of activity.
  2. See the Commission’s bulletin “V zashchitu nauki” (In defense of science), nos. 1, 2 (2006, 2007).
  3. Evgenii Aleksandrov, “Po chasti organizovannoi psevdonauki my operedili ves’ mir.”
  4. See, for instance: Nikita Sokolov, “‘Krym-to tam otkuda vzialsia?!’: istorik razbiraet vystavku ‘Riurikovichi’
  5. The “public” in this rhetoric is often identified with non-professional audience—the gullible TV-viewers who easily fall the victims to state propaganda.
  6. Simon Franklin, Jonathan Shepard, The Emergence of Rus, 750–1200, Routeledge, 1996, p. XXI.
  7. Valdai Discussion Club, September 19, 2013, Novgorod.
  8. “Address to the Russian Federation,” March 18, 2014.
  9. For a recent overview of these intellectual divisions, see Mitrohin N. A. Russkaâ partiâ. Dviženie Russkih nacionalistov v SSSR, 1953-1985. M. : Novoe literaturnoe obozrenie (izdatel’stvo) / Izdatel’stvo NLO, 2003, 624 s.
  10. Lobanov, M. P. “Prosveŝennoe Meŝanstvo,” Molodaâ Gvardiâ. 1968. N°4. S. 22.
  11. Dement’ev A. G. “O tradiciâh i narodnosti,” Novy’ Mir, N°4, 1969
  12. S. N. Semanov, “O cennostâh otnositel’nyh i večnyh,” Molodaâ Gvardiâ, 1970 g, 8.
  13. Âkovlev A. N. “Protiv antiistorisma,” Literatnurnaâ Gazeta, November 15, 1972.
  14. From the “Arctogaia” website.
  15. Aleksandr Dugin, The Fourth Political Theory, Ars Magna, 2012 French translation, p. 225.
  16. Ibid., p. 228.
Featured image: Russian Academy of Sciences. Photograph by Bernt Rostad / Flickr