Sometimes it all comes into focus. Beneath the unending static of distraction, the esoteric musings, the multifarious political analysts attempting to dissect motivations, worldview and strategies, a far more simple image takes form upon standing back from the fray. Some are very rich, some are very poor, some want things to stay that way, and thus seemingly indefatigable human ingenuity and creativity is put towards creating multilayered worlds of symbolic meaning to obfuscate far more bare bones truths.
In excavating the strange world of Russian politics and every manifestation of social trauma, in digging through the origami propaganda messages where mouths seemingly crease into smirks and sneers at the same time — double-exposures in prime time — a very simple narrative can take hold.
For Putin to live like this:
People in Syktyvkar have to live like this:
And then, with or without irony, officials build a monument to the Ruble in the heart of the city; a neo-byzantine stele to their own profligacy.
But it doesn’t stop there. In order for Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu to allegedly live like this:
People in Kazan live like this:
For Putin’s press secretary to spend 350,000-euro per week on a yacht like this:
Your grandmother might have to live like this:
And for officials to spend $200 million per kilometer on a road in Sochi that ends up looking like this:
The road between Russia and Belarus will produce a contrast like this:
In writing Russia’s Strange Prophets of Doom, the at times oppressive realities of urban decay were informative both personally and anecdotally. The unrelenting blight and pollution, the seemingly endless stretches of steppe dotted with human settlements replete with post-soviet ruin porn, these are the realities that drive even nominal patriots to dreams of Mediterranean shores.
It is easy to see that the end of the world isn’t a fantasy, it’s right outside your front door. There is also a quiet desperation which bubbles beneath the stoicism; your mental armor to block out the filth, the bleakness, the desperation. People wrap themselves in blankets of distraction, navigating every iteration of eyesore with eyes locked on feet, pushing past sooty-snow and filth to find warmth and cleanliness locked away in the rows up rows of glowing tower block lights. Then there is the crime, at times bordering on anarchy, the instability from the lack of rule of law; the television glow singing yet another hymn from the church of murder.
No, fifth columnists, Atlanticists, and every variation of conspiratorial cabal fighting to keep Russia on its knees can only provide so much subterfuge. Americans didn’t steal the money for your roads, your schools, your nursing homes. Brussels isn’t the reason crowdfunding campaigns are needed to buy grandmothers firewood in the most resource rich nation on earth.
Obama isn’t the reason why some have a license to kill, to steal, to do everything that ill-gotten wealth can buy. It was you Russia, it was always you.
And until you can learn to heal yourself, to face your challenges head on, beyond the self-satisfying fake empire and false pride, beyond the resentment, beyond the need to be right, beyond the need to wonder if “in other places it was more terrible”, beyond the infinite feedback loop of the “whataboutist” question-word clause, there will be forces who would rather burn it all than somehow, someway get on with life. And, in turn, there will be lives in which it truly seems better to just burn it all.