Street art in Russia depicts a monument to sunken ships in Sevastopol juxtaposed over the St.Basil cathedral in Moscow
“Krymnash” [Crimea is Ours] arose as a serious meme in March 2014, an expression of the patriotic pleasure Russians felt in taking Crimea and demonstrating the power of their country. But since then, it has become an ironic expression, one that recalls Soviet times, and people use it as almost a throw-away line – “our toilets don’t work but at least Krymnash!”
As a result, those who still believe in its original meaning now insist on spelling it out in two words and capitalizing both as “Krym Nash” [Крым Наш] in order to ensure that no one misunderstands what they mean, according to Mikhail Suslov, a scholar at the Uppsala Center for Russian and Eurasian Research in Sweden.
In an interview published in Moscow’s “Gazeta” newspaper yesterday, Suslov says that to the best of his information, “Krymnash” “arose as a serious meme as an attempt at describing reality,” even before the referendum there. “Crimea still was not ours,” he says, “but it must become so.”
It was first used, he says, by two rock musicians “not connected either with one another or with the political establishment. Their accounts allow one to assert that they were not Kremlin bots and that this was private initiative.” But the meaning they gave it was soon changed by Russians who used it.
“Literally a day after the referendum, the meme was redefined in an ironic way,” Suslov says, “and today, more than 90 percent of the uses of this meme are ironic.” That doesn’t “destroy” the meme but rather is “a means of expressing a point of view,” and it is typically a negative one.
Thus, when the ruble falls, people say “on the other hand, Crimea is ours.” And when the plumbing doesn’t work, they say the same thing – a point of view that “does not correspond to polls where the majority say they consider that it was necessary to unite Crimea” with the Russian Federation.
Linking all problems to something the leadership claims as a great success, the Uppsala-based scholar says, “is returning us to the mentality of the late Soviet period.” And it is an indication that in the minds of the population, “whatever happens in Russia, it will all the same remain an unsuccessful state and life will be bad.”
This can be seen in online posts and in the traditional media, Suslov says. “Ironically inclined users write ‘Krymnash;’ those who take it seriously now use ‘Krym nash. People who are for the unification of Crimea write that the liberals have perverted a good term and therefore one must write ‘Krym Nash,’ as two separate words and with capital letters.”
“The problem with this meme,” he continues, “is that it combines the concept of a great power with the concept of geopolitical power. One can define a great power in hundreds of ways: it may include the absence of corruption or good science, for example. But people who seriously use this meme cannot be happy unless Russia can dictate its will to its neighbors.”
In his interview, Suslov makes three other key points. First, he suggests that there has been a deterioration of the possibility of “civilized discussion” because of the ways in which what he calls “the geopolitical style of thought” has come to dominate Russian thinking in the wake of the Crimean annexation.
“In a democratic state, the individual feels himself to be a participant in the political process and considers that something depends on him. [But] if he feels that geopolitical laws rule, then nothing depends on him since these laws are larger and about civilization. Such an individual thinks he can only belong to one or the other side but not take part in politics.”
Second, Suslov says, Moscow’s invocation of “the sacred” with regard to the annexation of Crimea is fully understandable but is not without problems. “Sacralization is one of the means of legitimizing something,” but the problem is, for the Russian Orthodox Church, what is sacred in Ukraine is in Kyiv not in Crimea.
And third, Ukraine by its European choice has created a serious problems for Russian thought, one that is captured by Rene Girard’s ideas about “the monstrous double.” “In all ancient cultures,” the French scholar observes, “there are fears” about something very similar becoming something very different.
With regard to Ukraine, Suslov says, “we see this fear in popular literature and films. Now, Ukraine in mass consciousness is presented as a monstrous double which has changed its nature.” That explains both the direction and the intensity of Russian feelings about what is going on there.