LIKE INDIA, RUSSIA ABSORBS AND CHANGES CULTURAL INVA
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I see Russia’s future in the brightest of hues. Admittedly, this sort of statement does not befit a dystopian writer like me, who is supposed to make dire predictions, though for some what I am going to tell you will sound as bad as an anti-utopia (while I see it as an almost ideal outcome).
British reader will understand me, though, because I think future-Russia will resemble post-colonial India. I do not know whether this is good or bad, but such an evolution would seem in character.
As a result of my observations, I realised that Russian authorities have ruled their country in approximately the same way the British managed India. This theory is described and, I hope, reasonably justified in my novel ZhD (an acronym-title loosely translated as “Life of Souls”).
The Russian elite has a vague idea about the life of common folk; yet their standards of living, fundamental values and even subcultures have diverged so far that they hardly speak a common language. The Russian people have long given up the voting game, and demand no accountability from their government.
The latter does not bother to keep the public informed about its preoccupations, or to win the hearts of the constituency. In the words of Edward Radzinskiy, a contemporary Russian writer, the powers-that-be are “lolling in a romantic dreamland”, an ideal world inhabited by meek, submissive taxpayers who can take a lot of abuse and make do with little.
As for the people, they resort to a universal time-honoured method of keeping the government out of the way – bribes, which is not bribing per se, but rather a kind of tax to ensure the authorities let people run their lives and businesses unobstructed as they see fit.
Russia’s top offices have always been dominated by am-ateurs, first by bureaucrats or landlords, then by Communists, none of whom knew anything about farming or climate or the character of local peoples.
Despite that, they instructed peasants on how to grow crops, imposed their advice on scientists to help with nuclear research, and taught poets how to celebrate these successes. Luckily, these dabblers – akin to the colonels of Britain’s colonial troops – have no appreciable impact on reality.
The gap be-tween the public and the government is growing wider. The seat of the empire is in Moscow, or to be more specific, in its upscale district of Rublyovka, where all the top brass have their villas. The rest of Russia is a vast India…
Like India, Russia is defined by a complex social structure with obscure castes, strong horizontal ties and weak vertical links. It is a nation marked by seeming tameness and a good-natured heart juxtaposed with unthinkable persistence and focus. India remained the same mysterious, squalid, blossoming, foul-smelling and fragrant fairyland, as it had been before the British.
The aliens did plant some specimen of Western civilisation, while apparently destroying plenty of the local one; they built hotels and railways, museums and hospitals, introduced inoculation and global trademarks. In exchange, the Victorian culture enriched itself with the bright colours and stifling fragrance of the Indian jungle.
The concept of violence is alien both to Russian and Indian cultures. Violent coups will happen no more. The people will just quietly slip the harness. We can see it happening even now. The government increasingly struggles to recruit enough soldiers and true political supporters, and with getting its message across to the public.
Most Russians know little about the officially promoted version of Russian history, about the members and achievements of the cabinet, or political intrigue inside Kremlin, and still less about Russia’s foreign policy. Common people have their hands full creating things, finding jobs, surviving, falling in love, marrying, raising families. And their children grow to be as taciturn and good-natured as the parents.
It is hard to tell what will happen in the short term. I think Russia in the European sense of the word will be preserved in the sanctuaries of Moscow, St Petersburg and their suburbs. But the largest portion of the country steered by the collective mind will carry on as if Moscow did not exist, preoccupied with local crafts, subsistence and reproduction.
Naturally, this country, like India, will become a genuine mecca for young and open-minded intellectuals seeking truth, rather than comfort. People will come here for the spiritual wealth, of which we have aplenty, but this spirituality will not be marred with artificial folklore, false slogans and Kalashnikovs. It is time to shed the image of a belligerent and unpredictable nation.
On the contrary, we are very predictable, because we do not change. And the belligerence was introduced into the system by “invaders”. Russia has its own method of handling them. Assimilation is the best way to defeat invaders. They will turn Russian within a generation, because no other modus vivendi is possible in our vast land with its severe climate.
As for the management inhabiting Moscow and St Petersburg, they will continue to sincerely believe that they really govern us. And we will continue to try our best not to disappoint them. Why tarnish the usurpers’ last years, when they are obviously degenerating?
Let them revel in memories of the erstwhile colonialism, sitting by the fireplace and casually stroking the mock bear rug, which they take for the skin of the bear they actually failed to catch.
* Dmitry Bykov is an influential journalist and biographer, whose novel ‘ZhD’ will soon be published in English.