Russians hate their own government
Patriotism in Russia : How Vladimir Putin's people tick
Thousands of national flags are flying all over Russia these days on the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. They all cover the country in white, blue and red and thus a patriotism inspired by new but old thinking - only three small national flags hanging 100 meters away from the Kremlin are supposed to say otherwise.
They dangle from improvised flagpoles on the Great Moskva Bridge, where Mathias Rust landed in his small plane in 1987, thus reducing the Cold War to absurdity - and where the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov was shot on February 27, 2015. People who have a different attitude than those in power in the Kremlin are also part of it, say these three flags. They are an almost defiant attempt to show that there is more than one Russia and more than the one unified Russian striving for international recognition.
It may or may not be a coincidence, but the rose-strewn pedestrian path from the memorial for Nemtsov down to Red Square shrank to a few meters at that time as preparations for the gigantic parade on May 9th were progressing. The memorial had previously been trampled down by nationalists, defended by liberals, and challenged by invasive patriots.
"Stability is more important than freedom"
Places that encourage uncomfortable questions are becoming rare in Russia. On a small scale, such as on the bridge at the Kremlin, and on a large scale, such as in Perm in central Russia, where the country's only real Gulag museum was closed in autumn 2014. Even Bolotnaya Square, less than a kilometer from the bridge, where the biggest anti-government protests took place in 2012, is just a park wedged between the river and the main street without the demonstrators. Nothing smells of revolution there.
In the absence of physical locations for critical reflection on the present and the past, uncomfortable positions migrate. If they are not locked into the minds of equally inconvenient spirits, or if they disappear abroad with them, they go to the most difficult place to control: the Internet. There are even entire museums in Russia, such as the “Museum of the 1990s” run by the Yegor Gaidar Foundation. As Minister of Economics after the fall of the Wall, Gaidar was one of the fathers of Russian shock therapy - that is, the fastest possible transition to a market economy, no matter what the cost. The average Russian is one of those men who squandered their country.
The online museum was realized by Ilya Venyavkin. The 33-year-old has a beard, glasses and a gray suit. He came to the Sakharov Center to report on his project. “It is a Russian paradox that we are drowning in history, but that we hardly have any good historical museums. Large parts of the population are very ignorant, ”says Venyavkin. Just putting the museum online as a kind of interactive hodgepodge of interviews and contributions would have financial reasons, he explains, and even a house on the Moscow periphery would have been too expensive. “We have ten years of propaganda against the 1990s behind us. Many hate Gaidar, ”explains Venyavkin and has to smile for a moment. “However, nobody hates their own private property. Gaidar brought this private property to the people. "
The early 1990s form Russia's great socio-historical fault line. Because of the traumatic transformation, the country has since believed a sham correlation. It was safe to live in the authoritarian Soviet empire. Not in the democratic wild west capitalism of the 90s. So security and freedom must be mutually exclusive. “It was not inevitable that Russia would become a market economy. Back then there was only one other option: sell everything to foreigners. But nobody wanted that either, ”says Venyavkin.
His position becomes remarkable when he tells of his own story. His father had developed missiles for the Soviets, lost his job with the fall of the Wall, and the family broke up as a result. “It was dramatic. Practically all the families of my friends at the time collapsed. ”Nevertheless, Venyavkin is fighting today to deal with the 90s because that is the key to the present. “In people's consciousness, this time is a black hole. They all demonize them, but nobody really talks about recent history. "
A very young and emblematic story about Russia 2015 is why the conversation with Venyavkin took place in the Sakharov Center in Moscow. Just like some of the other people who will have their say in this text, Venyavkin spoke to the attendees of the Times of Change. This workshop was to take place parallel to the German-Polish-Russian forum “Remembrance of Change” in Lenin's hometown of Ulyanovsk. The German-Russian exchange, the Robert Bosch Foundation and other partners wanted to compare the transformation processes and the culture of remembrance in the three countries in the province. At first the province wanted too. Then problems started.
“I was aware that Polish-Russian relations are not the easiest. But it was precisely in this difficult dialogue that we started, ”explains the responsible Robert Bosch cultural manager Cornelia Reichel. “Unfortunately, some Russian authorities saw the risk of a scandal in this dialogue.” The organizers made more and more compromises when it came to the design of the program, nobody banned the events, but the hurdles grew bigger and bigger. When Reichel returned to her apartment in Ulyanowsk after a business trip, she found it broken into and her belongings ransacked. Nothing was stolen. Whether there is a connection with their work cannot be proven beyond doubt. Together with Johanna Sievers from the German-Russian Exchange, Reichel decided to move the workshop to Moscow - where it could still take place with the help of partners such as the Sakharov Center.
This cultural center, named after the famous human rights activist, landed on the list of “foreign agents” in 2014, like numerous other non-governmental organizations. This status is intended to brand organizations that receive money from abroad. The director Sergej Lukaschewskij makes it clear that his center does not pursue a political agenda, but does educational and documentation work. “It was about getting us on that list. We are numbered. Now you can do anything with us, ”says Lukashevsky. He speaks softly, looks inward, has long gray hair. The center is now trying to acquire money from Russians. “Unfortunately, charity is not very pronounced in Russia. People may still donate for sick children, otherwise for nothing. "
Lukashevsky tells of constant audits by tax authorities, of the problems faced by employees who, with this stigma of “foreign agent”, have automatically become traitors for ordinary people. The more he speaks, the more fragile his voice becomes, and you can't help but notice that the head of one of the most important institutes for coming to terms with Russia's past has given up here and now, in the present.
Why do more than 80 percent support the Kremlin leadership?
But why is today's Russia a state in which people like Lukashevsky are marginalized? Why do more than 80 percent support the political course and the top staff? Masha Volkenstein can tell a lot about this. At the beginning of the 90s, the trained physicist founded Russia's first opinion research institute. Today she mainly does market research. Volkenstein welcomes you to the office of her company Validata, which with all its lounge chairs, lemonade bottles and hopefully creative chaos could easily pass as a Berlin hipster start-up. Do the Russians still dare to speak their mind openly, Ms. Volkenstein? “In the early 90s everyone was terribly excited and just as depressed. Everyone wanted to talk. Today people keep more distance, but you can find out what they think. "
Volkenstein wears a black dress with a center parting and looks concentrated and friendly, as bosses ideally do. "The Russian always etches against the government and gives it even more power," she says, not looking disaffected. “For a long time we had major inferiority complexes towards the West. This keyboard is still played today. ”As a market researcher, Volkenstein has a lot to do with the effects of the sanctions that the West has imposed on Russia because of the Ukraine policy - if there are any. “Many large companies have been producing here for a long time. Today it is no longer possible to simply draw boundaries for goods or people. ”Volkenstein also found the return to local products, which is often invoked in the Russian media, in studies, but only with local foods. “When it comes to technical or medical equipment, the Russians still want western goods.” And when will Russia get its first female head of state? "Phew," she says and laughs briefly: "Just ask me when we can get any other president!" The approval ratings of the current president have only been so high since he took the Crimea. "People just believe in him."
It is also difficult to get past him, who not only gives the statesman every day on state television with a firm voice, but is also omnipresent in the street scene. In the souvenir shops he rides bears, peeled himself from matryoshkas, and used T-shirts to proclaim resistance to foreign aggressors. However, it would be a mistake to assume that this was due to a state campaign. When asked whether the Kremlin is helping with the presidential cult, a saleswoman replies: “What are you talking about? Vladimir Vladimirovich simply sells well. We want to make money. ”When talking to Russians of all ages and social classes, it is noticeable that hardly anyone feels any real enthusiasm for the Kremlin and the strong man in it, but most support it.
"I am for the freedom of every individual to behave properly"
Marat Jezhow is one of Russia's leading cardiologists today. He was born in the small town of Kamensk-Uralsky, "with ten war-important factories and the constant fear of American bombs". His childhood was happy, says Jezhow in a bar not far from the legendary Taganka Theater, “although we couldn't even afford sausage”. He finds the liquidation of the Soviet pension system in the hospital sector in the 1990s more than regrettable. Today it is better again, since 2008 heart operations have been free of charge across the country. However, the market economy brings with it other constraints such as time pressure. “As a doctor, I have to say that stability will always be more important to me than freedom.” He finds this often used word, freedom, difficult anyway. "I am for the freedom of each individual to behave properly."
How does Jezhow assess the political course of his country? “I have great respect for the president, especially for his clear opinions.” Jezhow likes turning back time in socio-political terms - because he doesn't like the present. “Many people walk sadly through our streets. Personally, I don't accept today's brutality and cynicism. ”In 1990, Jezhow had sold his stamp collection for his first pair of jeans. “What a mistake!” He says today. The attitude of today's youth - "only-for-the-kick-for-the-moment" - he sees as a decisive problem of society. The longer Jezhow speaks, the more he looks like a moral Soviet person who might have become a pastor in Europe and of course would have problems with his views in this very Europe.
Moscow differs from the west at night just as it does during the day: it is hectic. Relaxed going out à la Berlin is not the thing, people laugh louder, flirt more aggressively and get more money on their heads. Despite this wanton ecstasy, Moscow looks more homogeneous than other metropolises, perhaps because hardly any woman does without their pumps and hardly any man does without his short haircut. Getting into a conversation with these men, who always seem a bit overworked, is still no problem, they are not afraid of a dispute.
Jegor, Dima and Maxim are all in their late twenties, they drink Belgian beer for the equivalent of 6.50 euros per half liter in a normal Moscow restaurant. Their names are actually different, two of them work for the Ministry of Defense. How would the three of them feel about a change of government? "It's like that joke with the man being sucked out by a mosquito," says Maxim. “Another comes along and kills the mosquito. The man gets upset, of course: Are you stupid? She was fed up. Now only the next one comes and wants too. ”Jegor and Dima nod in agreement. Dima takes a sip and adds: “In the West, many think that people here don't dare to do anything because everyone is suppressed and deceived. But the Russians know everything. They want it that way. "
Why is no one ever uttering the Kremlin chief's name?
The evening will be long, it's about the sanctions that would only affect the poor, about the 90s that they would never talk about to parents, and about what Russia should actually believe in. The result of the conversation is confused, but could be summarized as follows: Under the tsar, for the Russians, God was God and the tsar was his deputy. It didn't work for most of them, they were serfs. After that, with communism, Stalin was elevated to the rank of deity and after him the community. That didn't go well for most of them either, because it was a forced community. In the 1990s the dollar became god, but most remained poor. So people are going back to orthodoxy and communist myths even if they don't want communism. Another narrative is missing.
After this conclusion there is still a question that arises after many discussions in Russia: Why hardly anyone pronounces the name of the head of state, why does everyone just say "he" or "the President", "Vladimir Vladimirovich" or "the Kremlin" ? After all, it is not about Jehovah, Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter or a tribal cult that associates the mention of a name with a misfortune. The three young men seem surprised by the question. No, they wouldn't have an answer either - but they want to think about it.
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