USEFUL LOOK UNDER HATBy Pavel Venzera | Researcher in Politics, the Czech Republic | Issue 4, 2009
The known think-tank The European Council on Foreign Relations issued another publication. It is, this time, the volume of contributions presented at the conference -titled “What does Russia think?” - held in Moscow from 29 June to 3 July 2009. The aim of this conference was “to hear leading Russian intellectuals explain Russia´s priorities at first hands and acquaint themselves with official Russian thinking without intermediation or the interpretation of Western or Russian media.”
It would not make much sense to analyze separate contributions because we would get only little new information. Very often it is enough to read the name of the author, to realize who is who and we immediately know what we can expect. Simply said Olga Kryshtanovskaya will remain Olga Kryshtanovskaya and Gleb Pavlovsky will remain Gleb Pavlovski when speaking about our publication.
However, to bring new information about the situation in Russia was not the aim of this volume. Its aim lies in the presentation of the style of thinking people mostly supporting regime which they are or they were closely linked with. And this aim was completely reached and presented result is more than instructive. It is possible to congratulate editors on their performances; however, one will not be in better mood after reading the presented essays because Russian official thinking offers only tiny optimism.
Russian official thinking looks rather strange. It is as if somebody impeded Russian pro-governmental authors speaking an ordinary language. We have gradually used to expressions like “managed democracy” and its higher stage “sovereign democracy” or recent “Putin consensus” but there is always a certain doubt what real meanings these words have. It is something similar like during the communist period frequently used expression “real socialism.” In all these cases we suspect some problem.
The problem that a speaker does not want to call things by their right names. When somebody outside Russia uses the term “sovereign democracy” we can mostly feel some irony here. Whereas Russians using this and similar expressions look very seriously and they even try to invent other neologisms or to give a new content to accepted meaning of a word. There the question arises what is hidden beyond the effort “to irrigate” the scene with unusual phrases having in most cases rather empty or some inverted meaning.
We have several possible explanations at our disposal. Passing the possibility that our authors only want to show us their erudition and imagination we could consider following ones which together could answer our question.
There is an effort through an unusual form to distract the attention from real problems. Thus we deal with something like the partridge tactics. Attempts to offer red herrings to the surrounding world rather than real problems belong inside this group of technologies too. In Krynitsa this year one of the Russian experts during a critical discussion about the situation in Russia seriously proposed to solve more serious problems e.g., increasing self-confidence of homosexuals...
The involvement of new terms related only with description of the situation in Russia can be the result of an effort to prove that Russia moves outside categories in common use. Therefore it is impossible to evaluate the development there using ordinary criteria based on Western principles and political sciences.
To observe this juggle with words, it is more a kind of some interesting entertainment than paying attraction to historically well-known effort to avoid several sensitive topics. Let only remind that is, for example, very difficult to find in the whole volume any remarks about the observance of human rights, the oppression of any opposition or Russian behaviour towards neighbours. Russia seems not to think about it. By the way, during real socialism these topics were outside the official mainstream too.
 Ibid., Preface.
 By the way the presentation of them was made by editors themselves. Ibid., pp. 1-6.
 It could be a matter of discussion if she fell into this company.
I was impressed by the extraordinary use of the term “epistemic nihilism” (p.40). Philosophers would be puzzled when they read that this philosophical expression could also mean: “The authorities are not prepared to work with experts, who are in any case not well-trained for work in political and public administrative sectors. As a result experts have ideological or highly polarized opinions on state and public administrative problems.” To translate it in ordinary language: “Tchinovniki” are not able to influence experts sufficiently effectively.
Simply said: Rossiju umom ne ponjat. (It is impossible to understand Russia with one's mind.)
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