Moscow war diary. Part 3: The double steel curtain descends

Third Guest Post by Valery Kostrov, a resident of the capital, a humanities graduate.

otkhodniki – seasonal migrant workers. Source

March 4-6, 2022
During these two days, the situation is as follows – when an endless stream began of all companies leaving us, then even my very, very anti-Putin acquaintances became perplexed and angry. Not towards Putin, which is already customary, but to the West. Annoyance at the very least, because it already seems to them that this whole “cancellation” campaign was carefully prepared, since everything happens so quickly. The thought involuntarily creeps in that perhaps “Putin knew something” by starting this war. The shock of the Great Business Exodus from Russia arises among supporters of a market economy and those who do not support Putin. They ask themselves the question, “how does it feel to cut business ties?” Perhaps if only Apple had left, many would be upset and angry at Putin. But when all companies leave the country in an endless series, the effect is the opposite – from indifference to the desire to survive on their own.

It turns out that in the current situation, the total withdrawal of foreign business from Russia and catastrophic sanctions have played into the hands of strengthening the regime, around which those who have never supported the Russian bureaucracy are beginning to gather. Now it is the chinovniki who will help us survive, since the government of the country is in their hands. The old vulgar slogan of the pro-government “patriots” – “Russia is concentrating” is starting to work, but it works against what the West is trying to achieve – against the escalation of discontent, but in favour of internal mobilization of survival. Orientation towards the coming economic and social problems distracts people from the terrible pictures of the war, everyone thinks about how to stock up food, medicine, how to buy a dacha for a garden, etc. It is difficult to say what is happening in the administrative and business elites, among whom there were many “enlightened Europeans”, but it seems that they still feel like they are in the same submarine, locked from the inside and under torpedo attack from the outside. A noticeable part of the intellectuals and people of art have left, but it is difficult to say how this emigration is assessed by public opinion.

There are more and more statements in Russia from different sides that “in this situation you cannot take a neutral position – this is how you help the enemy.” This enemy could be Putin or the “Ukronazis” – substitute the right one. Probably something similar has happened to intellectuals everywhere: civic passion has become the main feature of discourse, which is understandable against the backdrop of active hostilities in peaceful cities in the center (or in the East? or already on the outskirts) of Europe. It is impossible to be indifferent, but it is proposed to seek understanding – an analytical understanding of what is happening. An analytical understanding of what is happening does not mean support, although the anti-war agenda is win-win. Probably, reflection and understanding is required where and when Europe (the West) lost Russia and how it happened. It would be foolish to believe that everything is the result of the KGB Lieutenant Colonel Putin, who became the Sauron of the cold Siberian Mordor. Of course, this also applies to Russia and its population, where the trauma of the imperial collapse of the early 1990s and deindustrialization could not fully drag on even with the help of the external gloss of the consumer society that engulfed the country’s major cities. The older generation and “poor Russians” – the heroes of the studies of the Russian sociologist Simon Kordonsky – did not forgive the fact that the former Soviet workers and engineers lost their class outlines – they ceased to be workers or employees and became small traders and otkhodniks. They are more comfortable and comfortable in the new world of the post-Soviet market in the end, but the trauma of losing turned out to be inescapable. They wanted not only to be a foreman at a car repair shop, but to be a part of something big – a mythologically creative Soviet project that came to its spiritual and economic collapse in the 1980s, but still possessed positive energy, including for some Western intellectuals.

Now many of the older Russian generation are “losers” from the reforms of the 1990s and not understood by the new Russian intelligentsia, which at first mocked their low taste (as P. Bourdieu would say) in the field of culture – from the vulgar humor of the popular mass satirist Petrosyan to the stupid tik tok videos, and now considers these people a mindless crowd. But there has never been an attempt to bridge the gap and find something in common. Western researchers were also very weakly involved in understanding what is happening in Russia “on the ground”, talking a lot about post-Soviet geopolitics, doing research on opposition rallies on Bolotnaya Square, the Russian LGBT+ community, or exoticizing “poor life in a poor country”. All this sold well in the Western academy and the media, but said little about who these people were – who the post-Soviet worker and lower middle class are, who lives in small towns, how they build their life trajectories. Only 2-3 books have been published. And now, probably, such studies will be very difficult because of the double steel curtain – from Russia and from the West.

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