WHY DO THE PEOPLE NEED A PATRIOTIC CAFTAN?

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The state’s efforts to instill patriotism artificially are futile

We’re stuck between stale socialism and corrupt capitalism. We still can’t figure out what the collapse of the USSR and the end of “homo sovieticus” meant for us. Was it the greatest tragedy of the 20th century, or a deliverance from the lie of communism?


The government is allocating 500 million rubles for “educating citizens in patriotism.” New patriotic holidays are being introduced. Patriotic television channels are being launched. Minin and Pozharsky are being dragged out of the storehouse, to replace the discarded Stalin and Dzerzhinsky. Have the authorities really grown concerned about the state of the people’s soul?

Both the left and the right have patriotic bees in their bonnets. Communist Party leader Gennadi Zyuganov is accepting young Leninists from Moscow into the Komsomol (Communist Youth League). President Putin is giving monarchist Nikita Mikhalkov an award for Services to the Fatherland, while Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov displays the lyrics to the national anthem on billboards in Moscow. Indeed, the authorities do have reason for concern. The latest opinion polls show only 7% of respondents accepting the national anthem, flag, and coat of arms as symbols of the new Russia. But we don’t need pollsters to tell us that; we can see on television that whenever members of parliament and federal ministers are called upon to sing the national anthem, most of them don’t know the words.

There’s an embarrassed silence about the reasons behind this shortage of patriotic sentiments among Russian citizens. But the people know the answer – and unlike the bureaucrats, they’re not hiding it. When the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) asked people to name the emotion they feel regarding Russia, almost 40% of respondents said “shame.” State officials stubbornly refuse to admit that the skepticism about the new symbols of state stems from mistrust of the authorities, rather than some flaw among the people. When asked what Russia can take pride in, most respondents cite examples from pre-Soviet history or the recent Soviet past. “What is there for us to be proud of?” asks prominent writer Boris Vasilyev. “Should we take pride in the fact that entire provinces are starving, that people are paid a pittance for their labor, and that we’re an impoverished country selling raw materials?”

There’s a direct link between a nation’s material and spiritual well-being. In the West, patriotism has always been, and still is, based on one’s own home, family, freedom, and decent living standards. Limitless love for national leaders – currently being promoted as a new ideology by the United Russia party – can hardly be a foundation for patriotic education.

Instead of efforts to solve Russia’s major problems – poverty and theft – we are once again being treated to worn-out slogans such as “Moscow, the Hero City” and “Russia Is Our Fatherland.” Would anyone in the United States or England ever think of putting up street signs reading “Detroit, the Hero City” or “Britain Is Our Great Motherland”? We’re being stuffed full of patriotic surrogates, to cover up the shortage of meat in the people’s soup.

Russia lacks a policy capable of inspiring and heartening the nation. The authorities are messing up democracy and reforms. While saying all the right things about the free market and the new Russia, in practice they are still patching the old Soviet outfit. We’re stuck between stale socialism and corrupt capitalism. Old holidays are being abolished; new ones aren’t being accepted. We still can’t figure out what the collapse of the USSR and the end of “homo sovieticus” meant for us. Was it the greatest tragedy of the 20th century (as President Putin maintains), or a deliverance from the lie of communism? Now we have Karl Marx, and Lenin’s mummified corpse, and Limonov, and Khodorkovsky along with Yaponchik, and the Turkmenbashi along with Lukashenko, and Chubais in charge of electricity, and Kvachkov trying to blow up Chubais, and the likes of Grabovoi and Kashpirovsky – all in one bottle. All of them on our TV screens. Who are the heroes? Who are the villains?

The wise Metropolitan Filoret of Minsk recently quoted a highly appropriate passage from the Gospel of Luke: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old.”

Who shall sew a new caftan for Russia? And where is Russia’s troika heading?

Patriotic incantantions don’t provide an answer.

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