Sunday, May 8, 2016

‘Russia Urgently Needs a Defeat,’ Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 8 – As Russians prepare to commemorate Victory Day tomorrow, Moscow commentator Mikhail Berg argues that “Russia urgently needs a defeat,” because  the experience of countries suggests that defeats have the effect of “sobering up” society and elevating the recognition of the value of the individual relative to the state.
            In both Russia and other countries, “the combination of poverty, lack of enlightenment, and hypocrisy” is a feeding ground for patriotism, he writes on the Kasparov portal. “But the others,” he says, “have the happy experience not only of victories but also of defeats which are useful” for society (

            It isn’t the case that Russia has suffered fewer defeats than others, he continues, “but if one compares it with the conduct of those European states which are generally considered civilized, then the difference” in how Russia, on the one hand, and they, on the other, react to defeats, “is striking.”

            “Defeats in war for the French or the Germans have led to an elevation of the value of human life,” but in Russia, in contrast, it is “precisely victories [which] have become the source of still greater declines in the value of the human personality” because they have increased society’s “contempt” concerning “the fate of individuals.”

            And this is “a vicious circle, Russia cannot break out of,” Berg suggests.

            Indeed, he continues, “The victory over Nazi Germany … remains the last reserve of Russian contempt of individualism as well as love for a harsh state and a tyrant ruler.” That is why Putin exploits it and why it works with the majority of the population.

            “From the very beginning of his administration, Putin promised to deliver the good most in deficit: a symbolic victory over the main opponents which were gladdened by the defeat of Russia in the economic and cold war.  This war was a hybrid one … but Russia lost it; and those who felt that defeat after a decade became the free Putin majority,” Berg says.

            “The symbolic victories” he offered by raising Russia from its knees and asserting that it must be treated as the equal of the entire West, however “are dangerous in only one thing: sooner or later they require conversion into reality.”  Hence the invasion of Crimea and the Donbas; hence, “the reanimation and strengthening of the Soviet cult of victory in 1945.”

            That victory, he points out, involved “enormous and unbearable” losses, and as a result, it became “an additional argument against individualism and that small elevation of the value of human life at the start of perestroika,” the Moscow commentator says.

            “In this,” he writes, “is the chief meaning of the regeneration of the rhetoric of victory, the militarization of society, the mobilization of aggressive patriotism, and unity around the leader,” an effort designed to “preserve the traditional portion between the low price of ordinary life and the immeasurably higher price of the state and its attributes.”

            “Only in a society where individualism in all its manifestations (political, social and even sexual) is suppressed is totalitarian and authoritarian mobilization possible,” Berg argues, and thus he concludes that “in this sense, Russia urgently needs a defeat,” not only to “sober up” but also to elevate the value of the individual.

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