In periods of rapid change, those who were comfortable in the old world inevitably emerge as political force, Sergey Ilchenko says. And today, these modern “Luddites” not only are threatening the future of their own countries but helping to save Vladimir Putin who has made a bet on the past because regimes of his kind have no future.
Events as diverse as the desire of some Odesa residents to have Russian tourists come to their city and spend money, the interest of European corporations to go back to “business as usual,” and the British vote to leave the EU are all aspects of this “Luddite” impulse, the Kyiv commentator says.
In all struggles of the past with the future, Ilchenko argues, “the old world doesn’t want to leave. It passionately works to defend itself.” This has happened again and again. “The Luddites,” to cite only the most emblematic example, “destroyed machines hoping to return to the comfortable medieval shops and customary hierarchies.”
“The dark mass of Russians of the model 1917-1930 killed everyone who stood between it and a return to the peasant commune strengthened from above by universal serfdom rules. Psychologically, such an arrangement was very comfortable,” the commentator says. “’Society’ and ‘the bosses’ decided everything allowing the little guy to avoid worries about tomorrow.”
Moreover, it gave the masses an excuse when something went wrong: after all, it was the bosses who decide everything and thus the people at the bottom bore no responsibility. Such an arrangement was “one of the main values of the USSR” and it is again “one of the most important values of contemporary Russia in the form of ‘stability.’”
“Waves of resistance to the new inevitably arise in any era of change,” Ilchenko says. “Today on an enormous space, including the former USSR and parts of the Near East are being affirmed the realities of a new world.” But many are “categorically” against this. They oppose change in their own societies and reach out to “backward tribes” abroad who share their fears.
These two worlds, one looking forward and the other looking past, which are “competing today cannot coexist in one space. They will always be at war – cold, hot, economic, ideological, hybrid and who knows what else. Between them, there cannot be ‘peaceful coexistence’ – they exclude each other absolutely in all aspects of life.”
“One of these systems is based on the vertical of power and the transfer of authorities from top to bottom. Here the main value is the vertical [structure] itself,” one in which “those above are living gods and those below are nothing” and where “in exchange for personal freedoms, the system gives guarantees in the form of a very predictable future,” one like the past.
Such a system is “very stable” at least in the minds of many because people are able to avoid “difficult decisions” and any “need to change themselves or to adapt to rapid changes” in the world around them, the Ukrainian commentator continues. Thus, the main support for such systems comes from below, from those who “suffer from changes more than others.”
The other opposing system is based on “horizontal ties among formally equal property owners. At the basis of this equality is a recognition of any property as ‘holy and untouchable.’ All other rights and freedoms of the human personality are the result of this recognition. This is what contemporary Western democracy is.”
But in Europe today and not only in Europe, there are millions of people frightened by change and want to stop it. What can they do? Erect borders against outsiders and try to restore the way things used to be so that they can be comfortable. And to that end, they want to reach out to others who share their fear of change and who want to “preserve the old.”
There are millions of such people in Europe and elsewhere, Ilchenko continues. They powered the rise of Hitler and Mussolini, and their fear of the future has in no way gone away or their willingness to reach agreements with like-minded leaders like Vladimir Putin. But ultimately, such agreements will fail because of the incompatibility of the two systems.
“If we describe the situation of Russia and the West in terms of conflictology,” he says, “we see a zero-sum conflict,” one that “can end only by the defeat of one of the sides: however much one side wins, the other side loses. No firm peace without the final defeat of one of the sides is possible in such a conflict.”
Of course, there can be temporary armistices, but then “the war will restart.” Thus, “when people in Russia say that the West wants to destroy it, they are right. But Russia in its turn wants the destruction of the West. Because the values and way of life of Russia and the West are incompatible in a common space.”
“Russian society is ideologically sterile” because only democracy–but not a system based on a flight from the future–can permit itself various groups, including those who “demand its destruction, but by democratic means.” But in totalitarian societies, “everything is simpler and harsher,” as was true in Nazi Germany and is true in Russia today.
And those in Europe today who think they can compromise with Russia are in exactly the same position as those who thought they could compromise with Hitler, the Ukrainian commentator says. They do not understand that the current conflict cannot be resolved without the defeat of one side because it is an existential one.
“Today, Ukraine is fighting for its survival both as a democracy and as a nation.” The Ukrainian army is fighting, but behind the lines is emerging “’an everyday separatism,’” the reflection of the survival among some Ukrainians of a desire to avoid taking responsibility and having the bosses decide everything.
Their behavior is appalling, Ilchenko says. Those who think it is perfectly fine to have Russians come and spend money in Odesa fail to see that this is just as strange and awful as imagining “Japanese tourists in the US two years after Pearl Harbor!”
Ukrainians are “as before balancing one step from defeat,” Ilchenko says. “Yes, Ukraine has not surrendered and is fighting. And not only at the front … But the results achieved by us to date are unsatisfactory. The system of democratic values in Ukraine although it hasn’t been defeated has not won either” and that opens the way to defeat.
If that happens, “we will be thrown back to Russia and swallowed by it becoming yet again a colony of Moscow.” Consequently, “the most unforgivable illusion is the illusion of the possibility of peace now. That can’t happen until the current Nazi Russia is defeated as Nazi Germany once was.”
It can’t happen until “Russian society from top to bottom is punished for its present-day militarism and passes through a full cycle of de-Nazification. Only then will it be possible to think about peace and compromise and only if this de-Nazification will be thoroughgoing and successful.”
“There cannot be a dialogue between firm supporters of the two mutually exclusive systems of value,” Ilchenko argues. “Dialogue is possible only with those who vacillate in their choice of values.” There are many of these in Ukraine and not only there but in many Western countries as well.
Consequently, “unmasking the lie about the possibility of peaceful coexistence with present-day Russia must become not only a propagandistic but all-cultural task,” he says. And Ukrainians must “also bring out vision of the situation to the rest of the world. We must … declare “there is no alternative to the struggle with Nazism that has raised its head in Moscow.”
Indeed, he concludes, the threat of this Russian state with its desire to go backwards rather than forwards is “much more serious” although in many ways quite similar to the horrors of the Islamic State that most people around the world have already recognized as an existential threat.
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