Friday, 1 November 2013

Are Russians Racists?

"Avoid the faults of your nation." This is a dictum of Balthasar Gracian. No nation is unblemished and Russia is no exception to this rule. Very few nations surpass the Russians when it comes to self-criticism. Repentence is not only a central concept to the theology of the Russian Orthodox Church: echoes of it can be heard in the folk songs, the novels of Dostoyevsky, and even in the five-year plans of Stalin. When Stalin urged the citizens of the Soviet Union to do their utmost to industrialise the nation, he pointed to the past follies of the rulers and the ruled alike, and now the hour of decision of the come: if the Russians did not rise up from their semi-vegetative state, the Soviet Union would be crushed by the Anglo-American imperialists. The village idiots of Russia, still reeking of alcohol, awoke from their slumber and industrialised the nation. More than this: they developed the nuclear bomb. And just when the Americans thought they had the upper hand qua technology, the village idiots shot Gagarin into space.

The first Russian village idiot of note to rise up against tyranny was Yemelyan Pugachev (1742-1775). The man may have been an illiterate goon, but he was also a shrewd politician. The French aristocrat Joseph de Maistre, who despised all revolutionaries, closely monitored the exploits of Pugachev and viewed the success of the village idiot as an omen of the coming deluge. "The Pugachev of the future", said de Maistre, would not be Pugachev the Village Idiot; he would be the "Pugachev of the University." How right de Maistre was: both Lenin and Stalin were intellectuals. Lenin mastered the works of Marx and Hegel as a very young man, whereas Stalin, for his part, was a product of the Russian Orthodox Church. Educated at a seminary, he received classical education of the highest order. Stalin's appetite for philosophy and literature was almost superhuman, and he would read the dialogues of Plato in classical Greek. Lenin and Stalin were not only intellectuals; both men were also deeply practical. Balance of power and strategies of tension were no longer the pastimes of seasoned imperialists; the Bolshevik upstarts could play these games of life and death just as well. This prompted the reactionary German social philosopher Oswald Spengler to remark that Russia had finally thrown off her European mask; hidden underneath the mask was the bloodthirsty Mongol. Because Russia had revolted against the imperial order of the West, she would have to pay for her disobedience by being ostracised from the community of the civilised Western nations. This quasi-theological narrative can be discerned in virtually every Western monograph treating of Russia's past: Russia is good to the extent that she is European and evil to the extent that she is Asian. Such a crude narrative tells us very little about Russia, but it tells us a great deal about the inveterate provincialism of Russia's enemies.

It is true: Russia - or the former Soviet Union - is the land of extremes. The dialectical philosophies of Hegel and Marx, which sought to reconcile opposites, were congenial to the Russians. The problem of Faust was also the problem of Russia:

"Zwei Seelen wohnen, ach! in meiner Brust,
Die eine will sich von der andern trennen;
Die eine hält, in derber Liebeslust,
Sich an die Welt mit klammernden Organen;
Die andre hebt gewaltsam sich vom Dust
Zu den Gefilden hoher Ahnen."

The philosophies of Hegel and Marx sought to bring this contradiction to naught, and this was precisely the kind of remedy needed in Russia, the land of contradictions. She was the land of repentent aristocrats with money to burn, who abandoned all their wealth to live amongst the poor - as the poor. Yet Russia was also the land of the pogroms, where the dregs of the society would be subjected to the kind of treatment that would have made a Nazi gnash his teeth in dread: Jewish teenage girls would be gang-raped and bayonets would be rammed up their vaginae. Little seems to have changed in modern Russia: some years ago a beautiful Tajik girl, no more than nine years of age, was stabbed to death by Russian teenagers in Sankt Petersburg. This Tajik girl, with white skin and European traits, would not have been touched if her father had looked European. But because her father was a black-haired Tajik, she had to pay with her life. Once again Russia is divided: 50% of the Russians are xenophobic, whereas 50% of the Russians do not mind foreigners. What Lenin and Stalin had united is once again out of joint.

The Soviet Union used to be known as the Affirmative Action Empire. Soviet Union's track record in regard to her minorities is something of which every Russian has reason to be proud. When the Czarist Russia came tumbling down, there were approximately 50 recognised ethnic groups in Russia, whereas during the heyday of Stalin, there were more than 150 recognised ethnic groups in the Soviet Union. Furthermore, because many of these ethnic groups had no written language of their own, new written languages were developed under the auspices of the state. The achievements of the Soviet Union prompted the Italian statesman Alcide de Gaspari (1881-1954) - a Christian-Democrat to boot - to utter the following words:

"Upon seeing how Hitler and Mussolini persecuted people because of their race and promulgated those terrifying race-laws, and at the same time upon seeing how the Russians, who comprise 160 races, endeavour to bring together these different races in the name of social unity, I must also say this: this is Christian; this is eminently universal in its true Catholic sense."

The Soviet Union was a well-functioning - by no means flawless - multinational empire until the reign of Gorbachev. Gorbachev, who was a third-rate Marxist and unfit for the task of statesmanship, failed to perceive the obvious: ideas do have consequences. The pseudo-democratic reforms forced through by Gorbachev with a view to bringing about a more transparent society turned out to be a self-defeating enterprise. At the Russian universities there was an increasing interest in the pre-Marxist philosophical traditions of Russia; an intellectual engagement harmless enough in itself and even beneficial to those who care for such lofty matters. Most philosophical ideas, clad in a jargon incomprehensible to the hoi polloi, seldom carry with them any repurcussions at societal level. Ideas with social consequences are those tailor-made for public consumption. The two most dangeous ideas to infect the Russian society during the reign of Gorbachev were those of liberalism and nationalism.

Liberalism was viewed as the magic potion that would cure the Russian society of all its ills. The implementation of liberalism entailed economic reforms and a free press. As soon as these two criteria had been met, wealth and happiness would follow as matter of course. This was the American dream in action - Russky style. What was not known to the Russians was the dark side of liberalism: a murderous ideology that viewed freedom as a privilege rather than a fundamental human right; an ideology that championed slavery and the immiseration of its own working classes so that the privileged few could lead a life of luxury.

The other dangerous Western idea to take root in Russia and Eastern Europe at large was a disease with which the white Anglo-Americans seem to be more afflicted than any other race: the idea of racial supremacy. Here it should be kept in mind that eugenics and the implementation of other pseudo-scientific measures with a view to maintaining racial purity were not the inventions of the German Nazis. These were ideas that were in vogue in both England and the United States long before they were adopted by the Nazis. American white supremacists such as David Duke, presumably nauseated by the sheer number of black faces on the television screen, began to look to the Russian nation as the paragon of white pride. The Russian, who heretofore had oscillated between being a white European and a slit-eyed Mongol, depending on whether he followed the dictates of the West or not, was once again being touted as a worthy son of the West. Concurrent with this farcical spectacle another drama was unfolding on the periphery of the Soviet Empire: the spread of Islamism in the predominantly Muslim regions and the whipping up of anti-Russian sentiments amongst the Ukrainians in particular, not least by courtesy of the British historian and counter-intelligence asset Robert Conquest, whose spurious revelations concerning the Russian genocide of the Ukrainians were widely circulated in the Ukrainian society. What was happening was plain to every Soviet citizen with a discerning mind: the enemies of the Soviet Union were polarising the different ethnic groups so as to bring about the dissolution of the state, even at the cost of a civil war. In Tajikistan alone the civil war cost more than 100.000 lives.

This was the divided society in which Russian racism arose. During the woeful nineties, when the only known law was that of the jungle, the strong prevailed and the weak perished. Given these harsh circumstances, it was hardly suprising that the rugged men of the Caucasus dominated the streets of Russia. The same law of the jungle also hardened the Russian: the neglected children of alcoholised parents became ruthless xenophobes. But to understand a social phenomenon does not mean that one condones it. Racism in Russia is a security threat and should be treated accordingly. A divided Russia cannot survive and this is something that Vladimir Putin and I understand better than most people. You know what I think; upon reading the following words of Putin you will come to realise that all great men think alike:

"[N]ationalists must remember that Russia was formed specifically as a multi-ethnic and multi-confessional country from its very inception. Nationalists must remember that by calling into question our multi-ethnic character, and exploiting the issue of Russian, Tatar, Caucasian, Siberian or any other nationalism or separatism, means that we are starting to destroy our genetic code. In effect, we will begin to destroy ourselves. [M]ulticulturalism and multi-ethnicity lives in our historical consciousness, in our spirit and in our historical makeup. Our state was built in the course of a millennium on this organic model. After consolidating our national identity, strengthening our roots, and remaining open and receptive to the best ideas and practices of the East and the West, we must and will move forward."