There are numerous episodes and circumstances separating future and present Russia from present and future Europe.
If one moves to the more recent past, the 19th century is decisive for the political and cultural formation of today’s Europe and also of Russia, which will become an empire that is as powerful as it is extensive. And it is in this territory – more or less extensive, more or less dominated and somewhat unraveled by time and its rulers – that the post-Soviet regime will find itself and that precisely thanks to the weakness of the USSR will collapse and lose a significant part of its members.
This is the sting that the current President has had since the beginning of his administration and who now seems to have decided to retire in order to regain the “greatness” of his empire.
At least that’s what concerns me today, and especially after the publication of Antony Beevor’s book Russia: Revolution and Civil War, 1917-1921as in the essay by Marta Rebón the Cain complexis not so much the what as the how: the brutality (and there is no word for the barbaric and savage way of changing things) with which Russia resolved its conflicts.
In the literature of the past there are moments in the works of Pushkin (the captain’s daughter), Tolstoy (Tales of Sevastopol, After the Dance, Khadzhi-Murat), Turgenev (The first love), Chekhov (My life), Bulgakov (the white guard), Babylon (Red Cavalry) and a long etcetera, in which this violence and contempt for life, for the hard death path of the others, the slaves, the weak, the inferior, is shown in all its brutality. And that we’re talking about fiction, literature; They are not deaths taken from reality, they are not actual blows or bullets of molten metal, nor whips given out of anger and with very wet, elastic and hissing sticks on the soldier’s still pale, soft and trembling back. They are fictions drawn from a reality a thousand times more terrifying than those offered by these sensitive authors.
All of this comes to mind because of one of those periodic disillusionments that we older people suffer from, that we build a vision of the world that we thought corresponded to reality, but which turns out to be a lot crueler than we introduced ourselves.
Tolstoy in his mighty novel war and peace —of which, by the way, the second edition, translated by Joaquín Fernández-Valdés, was published by Alba Verlag – without avoiding the horror and pain of the war that permeates the work, develops, among other controversial ideas, the theory according to the What stopped the Napoleonic invasion, was the energy of the people. And there must be some truth to that. But from what I read these days, the energy of the fire was just as important, or more importantly, the destructive strategy of the military commanders, who in 1812 devastated the entire territory (including its inhabitants) and abandoned the retreat with their soldiers. wounded.
In Number 2 (February issue written before Russia’s ominous “special operation” against Ukraine), perhaps Russia’s best-known cultural magazine, new look, published in the Department of Philosophy-History-Politics an article entitled “The Unknown War of 1812” signed by the professor of a Siberian university Sergei Nefedov. In the documented essay, the author refutes the notion, believed by most Russians to this day, that it was, as I said, the zest for action, the dedication, in short, the heroism of the people that saved Russia from falling into the hands of the evil heretic and perfidious dwarf Napoleon fall.
In a few words – enough to start learning Russian – Nefedov offers us detailed material from which we can first conclude that the Russian authorities and generals really feared that the ideas of freedom and fraternal equality of the French would make a dent in the French left slave people. And then again, that the only way to stop and defeat the enemy was to leave them on their very predictable retreat without food or shelter. For this, since the invasion of Napoleon’s troops, the Russian commanders gave the order to destroy everything that could help the enemy. To do this, they spared no effort in destroying, burning and stealing whatever was left behind in the retreat. Cities – like the old capital Moscow -, villages, crops, cattle, haystacks, buildings, hospitals with their thousands of wounded, warehouses were either burned down or looted by Russian troops and their brave Cossacks.
Again: What is all this?
Returning to the present, this article forced me to recall the works of various writers and testimonies of the second “Great Patriotic War”, the war of 1941-1945, and discover what I already needed to know and remember . To this day the number of people killed in this war is unknown – I think they don’t want to know. What we do know is that the generals who survived Stalin’s purges spared no effort, that is, soldiers, lives, “sacrifices” to achieve their goals, whether those bloody and devastating battles in Leningrad, Stalingrad, Moscow, Kursk or Berlin took place.
Well, the same thing is happening today. And if, as for the Ukrainians, their tragic loss is primarily due to the fact that they are defending themselves, that they are defending their country and at the same time they are fighting against a far superior enemy, against an inexorable invader, barbaric and savage; in the case of the Russians, it is their commanders and rulers, as always—as in the days of Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and Catherine the Great, of Revolution and Civil War (tragedy about which Antony Beevor collects egregious details), of Generalissimo Stalin, and the current president—continue to do the same: ignore the life of the little man in order to build their grand ideals.
The psychiatrist and scholar of Russian culture Aleksandr Etkind writes in his book The nature of evil (Priroda zlain its English version, natural evil, 2020) that one of the characteristics of the societies that have lived and live on natural resources (their own or those of others) is their contempt for those who exploit them, an ignorance of the price paid for labor, sacrifice and life will perform these extractions, be it hemp, hides, wood, oil, metals, etc. The lives of these subjects, whether their own or that of strangers, are worth very little or nothing. On the other hand, in societies where knowledge, science and technology are their engine and foundation, the opinions (votes) and the conditions in which their citizens live, learn, work and create matter to them.
It’s a scheme, of course. Easy, one will say. It’s about two interrelated social models, that’s true.
Among other things, one of the advantages of the Russian army and its friends is due to the disregard for the lives of both Ukrainians – soldiers, civilians, the elderly, women or children – and their own soldiers. So we can say that the system works in the case of Russia, both in terms of its past and its present. Can we say the same of the future?
Ricardo San Vicente (Moscow, 1948) is a professor of Russian literature at the University of Barcelona and a translator of authors such as Anton Chekhov, Varlam Shalamov, Joseph Brodski and Svetlana Alexievich. He is also responsible for the complete works of Dostoyevsky in Spanish.
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