Moscow war diary. Part 5. The absent voice of the Russian intelligentsia in the land of aspic

kholodets (Ukrainian recipe)

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

March 9, 2022
The flight of many representatives of the Russian intelligentsia, which many pro-European and anti-Putin residents of Russia admired for many years, now causes unpleasant surprise and annoyance for many, it seems. There is an understanding that there could be political persecution of Dud, Dmitry Bykov or Anton Dolin. But after all, it was they who for many years turned to the enlightened European audience of the country, to show citizenship, courage, etc., believing that it was important to fight the regime in this way. And what? Where is their courage and citizenship? They left the country of the new “Z-intelligentsia” like Zakhar Prilepin… Now the voice of the “Russian European” will not only not be heard, it will be absent. And it must be admitted that Navalny became the only truly courageous leader, person and intellectual. Others were unlikely to be threatened by what Navalny received (although Dmitry Bykov seems to have survived the poisoning attempt in 2019), but the haste of this flight is somewhat amazing for many and has not yet been meaningfully understood by anyone. Moreover, with the introduction of total censorship, this can only be understood in kitchens, as it was in the 1970s.

The metaphor of the “kholodets country” (jelly, aspic) was also born – it trembles around the edges when shaken (middle class and big cities), but remains almost unchanged in a viscous state in the depths. It seems to be ready to melt, but vlast’ freezes it all the time, it can be stabbed with knives, but this will not have such a noticeable effect on integrity when frozen. So it is with us – sanctions pierce the country with economic knives, but the authorities will simply keep this jelly with a frost and a distributive economy. Pieces in the form of the middle class will fall off of course, but it seems that it was so superficial … Moscow especially – like fat, appearing on the surface of the jelly. They’ll sieve it off and put it in the trash and all will be well.

March 13, 2022
It is interesting that business in Russia no longer considers itself as an independent political entity, but only as one of the classes according to Simon Kordonsky, which is trying to reduce costs and increase profits in the conditions of corporate capitalism, which the country has become for some time ago. In this sense, it can be said that business, like the military class, is depoliticized in Russia. The so-called “oligarchs” from the 1990s. after the Khodorkovsky cases found their place between the glamorous life of eternal travelers on luxury yachts and the role of cosmopolitan emissaries of the state and their interests in global capitalism. The most cosmopolitan of them tried to find a compromise in the new military reality – abstractly calling for peace like sophomore students. It seems that this was the worst solution for their image in Russia and abroad – for some, their statements seemed to be a surrender of national interests, while for others they were not anti-war enough. As a result, many of them rush around different countries on their business jets and quickly lose influence and money. At the same time, there was an influential cohort of state-owned businessmen in Russia who are at the helm of state-owned corporations, show high management efficiency and strive to implement advanced management technologies in their structures. The most striking figure here remains German Gref, who seems to have not yet expressed a clear position on what is happening and his Sberbank is still in working condition. “Systemic liberals” in business and government should soberly assess the depth of the defeat inflicted by the sanctions on the Russian economy, but they did not outline a visible political position. It is quite likely that now this is impossible, since the stunning economic attack of the West on Russia leaves them no other option than to put out the fire on the ship together with everyone, so as not to be branded as a traitor to national interests. In this regard, the West acted tough and consistently, but not entirely far-sighted, leaving no room for communication.


After the closure of McDonald’s and other global fast food chains that have been operating in Russia for many years, the question arises of replacing them with local businesses. At the level of government officials (Volodin), the departure of foreign networks was perceived with optimism, but Russian businessmen themselves react to this prospect with skepticism. A few days ago, the opinion of the owner of the well-known and large fast food chain based on Russian cuisine (mainly pancakes with filling) “Teremok” Mikhail Goncharov appeared. He believes that the unique technological, logistical and marketing solutions that McDonald’s possessed cannot be replaced in Russia and complains about the lack of targeted government support for national businesses:


“Teremok and other representatives of Russian business were not created as competitors to McDonald’s simply because we don’t know how to do it (meaning – as well) as they do. Neither technologically nor in terms of management and marketing.” https://tjournal.ru/opinions/562982-osnovatel-seti-teremok-mesto-makdonaldsa-v-rossii-nikto-ne-zaymet-my-tak-ne-umeem

“All this comes from decades of hard work by hundreds of thousands of executives, marketers and engineers, and even with the help of stimulating development (!) Government measures. So far, we do not have these measures at all. On the contrary, the existing measures and modes of operation stimulate the degradation and decay of any large business.”


In other words, Russian business was a diligent student of its Western competitors, but it is extremely difficult to make a quick import substitution under the current conditions. In addition, many medium-sized Russian companies are already facing problems with the supply and renewal of equipment, spare parts, with the breakdown of established supply chains and are experiencing a state of shock. Many people think about survival, not about development. Of course, regional producers of food and alcohol will survive by switching to a simplified product line, but this will not be a full-fledged replacement for Western companies. In fact, no one seems to know how the situation will develop in the coming year.


If we talk about the political subjectivity of medium-sized businesses (which are often a large employer in the regions), then we must remember that this subjectivity was also very limited and concerned only those aspects, inclusion in power structures that helped this business to have insider information and to influence the regional authorities in their interests. After the turbulent 1990s, when “power entrepreneurs” and “new Russians” actively entered politics, other times came: after building the “vertical of power”, regional entrepreneurs became part of the “Big deal” or “new social contract” between Putin and society . They remained loyal and donated to the needs of the regions within the framework of “social responsibility”, they could be deputies of city and regional parliaments, but almost never participated in non-imitation political activity. They kept quiet and made money. Various public associations of small businesses “Opora Rossii” or large corporations of the RSPP rather resolved government relations issues and lobbied for the interests of individual business groups, but also were not civil subjects.


It must be said that the position “business is not politics” or “business is not politics” or the neo-liberal version of corporate social responsibility (CSR) “we pay taxes, we give jobs and in this way we perform our civic function” (Milton Friedman) has become very popular in Russia . In the 1990s, a right-libertarian individualist cult of money and an “American story” of success in the vein of Henry Ford or Herbalife network marketing came into vogue among the country’s younger generation, who had abandoned any Marxist interpretation of the social order. Interestingly, the “dollar” and personal success in caricature form captured the minds of many Russians who believed that they could and should become personally successful outside the state and public institutions. In the 2010s, on the wave of new ideologization, Ayn Rand and her famous novel Atlas Shrugged came into fashion when they began to think that minimizing the participation of the state in one’s destiny and a competitive market economy would be a salvation from corruption and bureaucracy. Then the popularity of the idea of ​​“passive income” began to grow – playing on exchange electronic platforms in order to obtain long-term income, which will become the basis of well-being instead of a state pension.


Thus, business (small, medium and large) turned out to be politically subjectless and could only complain to the state about bureaucratic barriers and tax burdens. Now they all suffer from sanctions and each chooses his own path to salvation or survival. A thin layer of the urban creative class and innovative industries (IT, advertising, design) will most likely be suppressed or many will emigrate, there will be more state corporations and derizhism in industry and technology, small and medium-sized businesses will survive on their own – existing in a gray zone of increasingly less clear economic rules and chaotic market.


Will business have political subjectivity? Hard to say. Among the employees and office managers of large advanced Russian companies, their own “Ukrainian war” is already underway; many of them considered the earned style of Western consumption an important element of class superiority, they wanted to travel to Western European countries, someone even had real estate there. Now things have become complicated and they are of course unhappy. But they also have mortgages and are now afraid of losing their jobs, so their readiness for political mobilization is not so easy to believe.

March 14, 2022.
In the early autumn of last year, I became interested in the topic of the Latin American dictatorships of the 1960s and 80s. I watched the film “Kamchatka” (2002, directed by Marcelo Pinheiro) and read the novel by Marcelo Figueres. Somehow the clouds were gathering in Russia. Now everything is becoming more relevant – under different scenarios, it seems that there will be no good outcome for Russia. In the meantime every day I find out how colleagues leave the country – the intellectual circle is getting poorer. We stay. Nobody is waiting for us. Will there be something tomorrow? The war will continue…

“The film is seen through the eyes of a ten-year-old boy, Harry (Matías del Pozo), who does not know that Argentina’s 1976 coup d’état is impacting his life. After witnessing the “disappearance” of dissident friends, a human rights lawyer (Ricardo Darín) and his research scientist wife (Cecilia Roth) flee the city and hide from the military police in a vacant summer house. With them are their two kids: Harry, who is fascinated with the escape artistry of Harry Houdini, and El Enano, his little brother. (Translated as “Little Guy” in the English subtitles, played by Milton de la Canal. The actual translation is “dwarf”.) The family adopts new identities and attempts to lead a normal life. Later, they are joined by a student who is using the alias Lucas (Tomás Fonzi). Their new life is difficult, but a visit with their estranged grandparents (Fernanda Mistral and Héctor Alterio) reveals that they are still a close-knit family. Subtly hinted, however, and used as a metaphor, is the mother’s constant smoking and El Enano’s renewed bed-wetting. Both serve to show how stressful and precarious their situation is.” Kamchatka (2002) – Plot Summary – IMDb

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