Archive for November 2016
Kremlin’s spasmodic reaction to Ukrainian revolution was caused by the fear of Ukraine becoming an alternative Russia – a country with the same ex-Soviet and Russian-speaking population that enjoys the advantages of inclusive institutions and economy. The revolution has won, but the Kremlin has also achieved its goal – Ukraine will not become a viable alternative to the Russian mafia state model in any foreseeable future. In fact, it has largely remained a mafia state.
Now that the West is getting engulfed in internal political crisis and post-Soviet countries will be largely left to their own devices, it is vital for all healthy forces to communicate and coordinate their actions. Nationalism and xenophobia, which infect many liberals and democrats, work for the Kremlin. A successful pro-European platform will only emerge when everyone begins helping each other to move towards Europe. It is also important to prevent the return of atomised Europe and the old normal of wars and annexations.
As someone from Russia, which has been ruled by alt-right autocratic regime for the last 17 years, I have a privilege of conveying messages from the future to my friends in the US and Europe. You can find the previous message here.
Now that Donald Trump has been elected, you have every reason to be depressed, but there is a guy next to you thinking: “Now this is my golden moment!”.
It might be someone you didn’t pay much attention to because of their perceived lack of talent or charisma. In your intellectual snobbery, you may have even insulted them on more than one occasion without even noticing.
The success of a populist regime, like Putin’s, depends on its ability to provide social lifts to those who couldn’t succeed in a more meritocratic system – often due to mediocre education and a lack of confidence. Many of these people are genuinely talented, but not in the way you are – they begin to shine when the epoch requires a more vicious and misanthropic kind of talent.
Now they can overtake you in the race for better life by going over ethical barriers, which matter for you but not so much for them.
Putin has elevated a whole generation of non-entities, turning them into billionaires, ministers, spin doctors, television stars and top security agents. He has created numerous youth movements, agencies and institutions that pamper and educate young followers during their meteoric rise to power.
If Trump wants to succeed, he will need to do the same, else he’ll find himself alone against the old establishment that will simply eat him up. Like Savonarola or ayatollah Khomeini, he needs an army of loyalists obliged to him for having a life they could never have dreamt of.
I used to have many friends in the 1990s who are no longer my friends. They would depart into Putin jobs saying something like: “Good people need to be inside the system, else no one will ever stop these bastards”. Many would insist that the other – liberal – side is ethically no better than Putin’s, that they are technocrats who can help Russia no matter who is in charge. Some of them would point to the theory of small local improvements that eventually lead to tectonic cultural shifts.
All of them eventually turned into hideous monsters. I remember how in something like 2000 my wife complained to her school friend, who had just become a major political operative in the Kremlin, about the cynical way Putin tackled Kursk submarine disaster. “Now you are talking like an ordinary person”, said the man who over the next couple of years made a full evolution from living in a dingy Soviet apartment to owning oils wells and 17th century Flemish paintings.
Putin’s regime, both political and economic team, is comprised of young talented people who would fit naturally into a crowd of cynical Wall Street executives, such as those who precipitated Enron scandal, or crypto-fascist Silicon valley bosses of Peter Thiel type. Only their job is arguably more fun because on top of getting super-rich, they can manipulate millions of people, start wars, move borders and destroy the lives of their perceived enemies.
You’d say this is impossible in America because of long-established institutions, oversight, checks and balances, free media. But I also remember hearing that a candidate who blatantly ignores facts, logic and basic ethics couldn’t be elected the president of the United States. Trump has done the impossible and yes he can do much more.
To avoid what happened in Russia, it is crucial to be intolerant to any form of collaboration, to attack and ostracise anyone who turns to the other side without giving them a chance to breath and find their bearings. The psychological damage due to constant pressure should outweigh the perks of their jobs and shiny prospects. Many people say Trump and his team should be given a fair chance to govern. Well, you may give that chance to them, but they won’t give you any.
As someone hailing from Russia, which has been ruled by alt-right autocratic regime for the last 17 years, I have a privilege of conveying stories and messages from the future to my friends in the US and Europe.
The first one will be about Trump’s racism and xenophobia. The president-elect and members of his team are often being accused of spreading hatred towards Muslims, Jews and Hispanics. The outrage is justified, but if Trump is to become a successful alt-right autocrat, he will soon neutralise this criticism by coopting numerous representatives of these communities into his camp and indeed the government.
For someone like Trump or Putin xenophobia is only a means of mobilising their constituency, not an end in itself, like it was for Hitler. People like them have no qualms about embracing someone who they hated just a second ago. Trump and Putin are ecumenical nationalists.
Putin has always been able to reach out to and find support base among Muslims, Jews, Chechens and even a part of LGBT crowd. Putin’s version of nationalism is truly non-ethnic and non-racist, but it is just as vicious and radical as nationalist movements that took over much of Europe in the 1930s. In the same vein, now being in America, I can see how Trump can appeal to Afro-Americans, Jews and Hispanics. I met all of these at Trump rallies and I am now writing from Brighton Beach, a Russian-speaking Jewish district of New York which is overwhelmingly and vehemently pro-Trump.
Putin has created a version of modern nationalism which myself and many others in Russia call nashism. It comes from the word ‘nashi’, which means ‘our folks’ and was used by Putin and his alt-right predecessors in the 1990s to define the supporters and their enemies, who would naturally fall into the category of non-ours. The latter would include everyone who disagreed with the system – some minority activists indeed, but mostly straightforward Russian liberals of non-exotic origins and walks of life.
The likes of Putin and Trump don’t create ethnic movements, they create gangs, in which the only criteria that really matters is whether you are “with us” or “against us”, whether you are ready to insult or hurt the “others” no matter who they are and what you felt about them in the first place. They are mob artists, they are majoritarians or – translating the latter term into Russian language – the Bolsheviks.
Trump’s and Putin’s advantage is that they are not bound by logic or intellectual decency. Their constituencies have the span of attention of a toddler – they won’t even notice the leader and his propaganda machine switching from hating to praising and coopting a certain group. That’s what Putin has done with former Chechen independence fighters, who are now playing a key role in his machine or terror.
The anti-Trump march held by the opposition last weekend was all about minority rights, but I am not sure to which extent everyone present – the crowd included many radical left-wingers – is united on values, such as democracy, rule of law, transparency of the government and internationalism. Trump’s spin doctors will have no problem breaking this movement, pitting its diverse components against each other, the same way Putin did with Bolotnaya protests in 2012.
With their old rhetoric and linguistic taboos, left-wingers and liberals look obsolete and lagging far behind Trump or Putin who both represent a very modern, sophisticated and media-savvy political movement. To beat Trump, his opponents need to start everything anew and unite under more universal and unifying slogans.