During Russia’s extended Christmas holidays, in a town near Moscow, an unemployed man stabbed his potential employer for political reasons during a friendly meal. The employer, who owns a gas station, said that Russians live poorly because of low productivity—that is, a US worker has to work 30 minutes to earn enough to buy a bottle of the people’s favorite drink, while it takes 2.5 hours in Russia. This incident did not make the national newspapers or TV, and fortunately, everyone survived.
People began talking about such politically motivated incidents in 2014, as soon as the anti-West propaganda campaign began in the mass media in connection with the conflict in eastern Ukraine—there were at least two deaths resulting from drunken brawls between “patriots” and “cosmopolites.” But then these issues were somehow forgotten.
But facts are facts—many Russian citizens seem to be losing the ability to have a normal discussion about politics, our society, and the world outside Russia, even in our long-standing ironic mode. This is worrying.
It is worrying that completely literate people, competent in their own spheres, are inundating one another with filth on social media just because they do not agree on specific issues. The issues are varied—raising children, abortions, Crimea, Putin, Trump, prices or housing taxes—it doesn’t seem to matter.
The level of ferocity of these exchanges, and the complete absence of political correctness, is off the scale, making you question the mental health of the opponents.
Another side of the issue is the total absence of any reaction not only on the part of the authorities, but also of people in show business and business in general, to criticism in the media. As Lidia Grafova, a legend of Russian journalism who spent the last 25 years fighting for the rights of migrants to Russia from countries of the former USSR, noted astutely of those in positions of power: “In response to freedom of speech, they apply freedom of listening,” that is, they do not want to hear anything that journalists and human rights activists have to say.
This is happening in a country where censorship has been illegal for the last 25 years, where freedom of speech is a constitutional right—the victory of perestroika and the realization of the long-held aspiration of intellectuals and writers, who dreamed of freedom for almost 300 years!
In the era of the Internet and digital technologies, when essentially nothing can be hidden for long, the misfortune is not only that the authorities don’t want to hear—people don’t want to know the truth. Here’s the most recent episode: the publication on the Internet of lists of people who were part of the mass executions in the Stalin era was met with resistance from ordinary Internet users—they did not want to see the names of executioners or the details of the executions! You would think that nothing would be better to awakening our consciousness, the collective conscience of the nation, than beginning a dialogue about our shared tragic past, in order to avoid mistakes and look calmly at the future. To continue the conversations about our common future not finished in the perestroika years. But no, dialogue was not considered honorable. I think that many of my fellow countrymen have lost the very ability for discussion, surrounded by the ocean of unnecessary and aggressive information, and they are not prepared to bring it back. It is so much easier to find an enemy—Europe, the USA—and to blame our problems on them. Especially since our foreign opponents seem to be waiting just for that. So that they can blame Russia for all their ills. The shadows of the new Cold War have appeared over Russia and the world. That is very dangerous.