Euromaidan wasn’t about Russia. Or perhaps I should say it wasn’t entirely about Russia. It was about Ukraine: its poverty, endemic corruption and police brutality – a massive outcry of the neglected population, which could no longer take abuse. But as soon as there was an uptick in violence it became evident – much as she would like to, Russia won’t be able to sit this one out.
Still, that this particular crisis was to impact the country to the degree that it did – at the onset even the wildest analysts couldn’t project. End of February was supposed to be about us ever so gracefully winning the Olympics. Four days we had to savor that beautiful triumph. With the occupation of the Crimean Higher Council in Simferopol on 2/27 everything changed and three months on Russia is a whole other country.
According to the latest data available via CIA World Factbook people aged between 25 and 54 years today make up the largest population group in the country – roughly 46% from the total:
Although employment-wise these people represent the most productive part of our civil society, up until just recently a significant number of them were also entirely apolitical. Those currently in the ‘around 50’ segment were in their late 20s / early 30s when the USSR collapsed. Deprived of decent livelihoods in the chaotic 90s, with children to feed and educate – they simply withdrew from whatever was happening in the public domain. Many became resentful – Presidents and Ministers (Prime or any other kind) became irrelevant to this electorate because people were mostly abandoned to their own devices to survive, and the words ‘politician’ and ‘thief’ became interchangeable. That would be both of my parents, for instance, who spent the larger part of their lives – their most productive years – feeling massively betrayed. Today’s late 20s / early 30s brigade are the children of such embittered parents, who grew up on the decomposing corpse of the Soviet Dream – surrounded by crime and poverty, without a dream to call their own. That would be me.
Euromaidan, together with the attacks on Russia that followed in light of how she reacted to it, has now handed us “the Russian World”, which everyone in this sizable age group can embrace in equal measure. The older generation will do so because their life experiences have been acknowledged for the first time since the country they grew up in disintegrated. You see, in the 90s, if you wanted to advance, you had to categorically reject everything that made the USSR what it was. As a result, the people that became adults in that system of values felt marginalized – out of place in this new Russia, which battled fiercely against all societal pillars they regarded as worthy. Today is possibly the first time they genuinely feel their worldview doesn’t belong in a dumpster. For the younger crowd this is likewise a tectonic shift in perception. The ideological vacuum we became grown ups in is now being flooded with content, with ideas, with exciting debate. Previously unattached, with parts of our national identity severely damaged, our hunger for a sense of belonging is being satisfied.
In short, many who were thought to have been ‘lost’ in the 90s are coming back.
Curiously enough, there is absolutely no appetite in the West for such resurgence. George Soros speaks of “Russism” almost with distaste, claiming it is rooted in the concept of ethnic Russian superiority on a genetic level, which is his interpretation of the following statement by President Putin, I assume:
As for our people, our country, like a magnet, has attracted representatives of different ethnic groups, nations and nationalities. Incidentally, this has become the backbone not only for our common cultural code but also a very powerful genetic code, because genes have been exchanged during all these centuries and even millennia as a result of mixed marriages. And this genetic code of ours is probably, and in fact almost certainly, one of our main competitive advantages in today’s world. This code is very flexible and enduring. We don’t even feel it but it is certainly there.
Would you say this invokes superiority over other ethnic groups? I personally wouldn’t go that far. Final results of 2010 Census show that ethnic Russians make up 80,9% of our entire population. But I am willing to bet you that not one of these ‘ethnic Russians’ would be able to guarantee they have nothing but Russian blood flowing through their veins. For most of us, in fact, it’s just the opposite, which makes the President’s observation just that – an observation.
In fact, on the inside of the Russian society this idea of “the Russian World” isn’t seen as an outward impulse. It isn’t up for export and has nothing to do with our relations with Western cultures. It’s about us making peace with ourselves: healing the scars of collapse and humiliation, coming to terms with the bloodiest patches of our 20th century history, looking at one another up close again and finally answering – who do we want to be in the years to come?
We are about to have a genuine national dialogue. There is no guarantee we’ll find the right answers, but Western fear of Russians ‘high on patriotism’ isn’t reason enough to stop looking.