This is the third and final part of my conversation with ‘C’ a senior Russian citizen whose life experience has, to date, spanned the latter part of the Communist era, it’s disintegration and the optimism, disillusionment, and chaos that has followed up to the present day.
This is based upon an individual’s perspective of course, one we are not obliged to either agree or disagree with. At the same time it appears to be reflected in the views of others who share similar circumstances and heritage. Whatever you think of the views expressed here, the point is that they do exist, so do other perspectives.
Hopefully, we can at least gain some understanding from insights into the minds of others, irrespective of whether we share their views or not. Some of the revelations came to me as a surprise, indeed.
I wasn’t expecting a former Communist citizen to draw analogies in capitalist business terms, but confounded expectations are some of the minor joys (and concerns) of the interview process. At any rate, the aforementioned system has gone the way of Lenin, and lies in state, but is still unable to be relinquished by the final few who cannot let go. Meanwhile, times change.
“Once I worked in a firm. The boss liked to work with me. I was a good a employee. My direct manager did not like me, because I was a competitor! I did not need him. Russia is like a me – a competitor. In business nobody likes a competitor.”
The business that ‘C’ is referring to concerns the modern theatrics and machinations of world politics, particularly those in the full glare of the media spotlight. The competition is decidedly rooted in the past however. ‘C’ plainly states that it’s the west; Europe, the UK, the Americas, essentially: us. Yet, here we are, speaking across this old divide, like friends.
The conversation is amicable. I ask ‘C’ how, specifically, he sees the West “competing” against Russia and his response is less clear than I had hoped, and somewhat disturbing too, as a result, “We read it in newspapers” he tells me, “We hear it from outside and in. They don’t say it exactly, but we can understand it. They think about it. Their actions reveal their intentions.”
Old adversaries die hard
But the adversaries here are competing governmental systems, surely? Is it likely that most members of the public on both ‘sides’ are keen to break off from their families, their working and social lives, just to trade blows with those of similar status on the other side of the world? Don’t we all mutually have much more interesting and important things to do? Apart from the intellectually lazy, the terminally indoctrinated and the pathologically stupid, then surely, yes.
‘C’s following comments are a chilling reminder of an era (and a mindset) that the early 21st Century still cannot leave behind: “The western world wants Russia to be disintegrated!” he declares. “This will be bad for the whole world, because of nuclear weapons!”.
Do I have to say again that this is not the view of every Russian? Perhaps I do. ‘C’s statement is a surprise of an entirely disturbing kind and I have to point out to him that as a member of the western world; I certainly don’t want that to happen. Furthermore, I have never met or heard directly from anyone who does. ‘C’ continues: “Military expansion is necessary because of so many American bases close to Russia. The bases are ‘only for defense’ but Russian specialists say they could be changed. Today it’s defence, tomorrow it’s for something else…!”.
I’m forced to think of the Cuban missile crisis and America’s reaction to the prospect of an opposing nuclear capability just offshore. Cold, harsh logic would consider a perceived enemy on your doorstep to be a threat and a provocation too far, no matter which side you are on. Such reasoning is simple enough.
It’s not just about bases of course, as Euractiv reports:-
“When the United States, the EU, and several other Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia in 2015, popular perceptions of the West in Russia sank to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, with 81% and 71% of Russians holding a negative of opinion of the United States and Europe, respectively.”
‘C’s comments are chilling indeed, but there are enough people involved for any perspective to be considered possible depending upon whom you ask. Some of ‘C’s views are indeed echoed in this modern BBC news report. Thankfully some are not, the dividing line seems to be age-related. Many of those who experienced the brief embrace of western values at the end of the Communist era – including ‘C’ – were subsequently burnt by the experience and are wary of trusting the west again. An active distrust easily leads to outright opposition of course. This makes sense. The problem was not necessarily in the imported values – as ‘C’ sees them – but rather in their mismanagement and financial exploitation by some.
“We must use progressive ideas from capitalism, but not make those mistakes (again)”, he tells me. “The West uses progressive ideas from the USSR. Free education, free medicine, public (benefits). Some Western countries use this system. There were some great things in the Soviet union that can still be used now, and we must!”.
Sure enough, here I am in the UK where our embattled but largely free NHS is still an absolute jewel utilised by both socialist and capitalist alike.
The follies of youth?
For those Russians born after the wild east of the 1990’s, the same geopolitical situation often seems mercifully different; a world divorced from their own. Of the fearful words broadcast on State TV? Well, some don’t even watch television. Others certainly don’t recommend it and some outwardly condemn the narrative. ‘C’ has words for those that dare oppose the established system however, especially those whose figurehead is Alexei Navalny, Putin’s fiercest critic.
“This man tried to oppose Putin. I think he is very weak opposition. Only some young stupid men can believe him. They are easily lead. These people know nothing about Russian history. They do not have their own words. They repeat only what they are told. They rewrite history to make their arguments.They talk about corruption! They do not know that there is corruption in every country? They can tell young people false ideas and they will not be patriots of Russia. They suggest a way that will destroy Russia!”
Whatever you may think of such views, the fact is that they exist, perhaps born of fear rather than outright malice, and in the minds of those that have experienced the mistakes of the past. “Onwards” is perhaps the best word I can think of to end this sobering mini-series.