Russian Resilience

Andrei Loshak has an article out on the endemic corruption in Russia. IKEA’s attempts to open new stores there are met with sheer absurdity, the currency of the realm. The absurd is everywhere in a nation of circular logic and Catch-22s, where power is shut off to a store on the verge of opening for no reason at all. “Reason has limited possibilities, whereas the absurd knows no limits.” According to Loshak, society may have reached a breaking point:

When the absurd transmogrified into the lunatic, the system activated the command to self-destruct. The Castle, impregnable from outside, starts collapsing from inside. Two eagle heads tear into each other, only feathers fly. But, strangely enough, the stronger the entropy in the state, the faster everything disintegrates and the easier it becomes to breathe. As if there’s more air. I think that society has lost its fear: the people perceive the government’s inability to keep control of itself as a sign of weakness. Such a state cannot have enough strength for repression. The animal nips of the enraged system have woken people from their hypnosis. Fear and apathy have been replaced by rage.

The Russian state is trying to do too much where it can, and can’t do enough where it matters (see the recent Metro bombings). Between corruption, incompetence,  and contempt, Moscow has managed to alienate vast swathes of its citizens. Overreach – and for no apparent reason other than the power to do so – could end up a catalyst for decentralizing the Russian state.

The further a person is away from power, the better he is. I have seen this for myself in far away Ural villages built by lumberjacks before the Revolution. These villages’ link with civilisation was the only one-track railway in the country. Five years ago the authorities decided to tear down the villages and pull up the one-track railway. People who had been born and grown up in the forests were offered a flat in a high-rise block on the outskirts of the regional centre.

The government’s attempts to ouster the good citizens of the small village went from gentle cajoling to scorched-earth, smoke-’em-out tactics. But people may be starting to fight back. The state’s attempt to overmanage in the Urals is met by a particularly resilient community.

First the trains stopped going there, so food and pensions were not able to get through. There were people in the villages who hadn’t seen money for several years. They baked their bread, fed their cattle, shot game in the hunting season and wanted only one thing: for the state to leave them in peace.  When their electricity was turned off, they used locally improvised materials to build their own hydroelectric station on the river…

As a rule the spectacle of total degradation is depressing, but the people who lived in these autonomous forest villages were completely different. The men were strong – their children had grown up and they were determined to die in the place where they were born. In spite of the hard living conditions, their wives had somehow managed to remain neat and womanly.  Doors were not locked here, as there had been no thieving in these forests for many years.  People moved from one village to another in railcars, a cross between Minsk motorcycles and wagons, on a narrow gauge railway, a construction that was as exotic as it was dangerous.  I was told confidentially that one of the men was on probation. Representatives of the regional administration had come to take up the railway and he had fired a warning shot and then one at their feet … These people were full of dignity. You don’t often see people like that in the cities.

Unfortunately, you don’t see a lot of people like that anywhere. I’m not trying to call for revolution or mass uprising, nor do I even want to approach the Teabagger argument that the guvmint is a’comin’ to take away our guns and liberties and force us all into abortions and gay marriages. But nevertheless, something’s on the horizon, and as my new mantra goes: the future is coming, for better or for worse.

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