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A Web Magazine of Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

The Fate of Russophobia

The passing away of the 93-year-old Igor Shafarevich is an adequate occasion to remember Russophobia, his most famous popular work, and talk about the concept of that very concept of russophobia, irreversibly introduced into our social usage by the late member of the Academy of Sciences.

It is worth noting, nevertheless, that the flow of current events can almost daily be used as an occasions for such a conversation. For example, we could remember the recent death of the Russian ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin and the reaction to it by some representatives of the intelligentsia, as well as the ongoing scramble for St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg.

Russophobia has become part of the informational air we are breathing, which is poisoning its totality. Russophobia today, in the epoch of social networks, is one of the ready-made ideological guises that could be put on by any philistine. At one time my wife had a hairdresser-russophobe (not that Dostoyevsky's Smerdiakov was a distinguished professor).

Meanwhile, the treatise, completed in 1982, could not be addressed for obvious reasons to the wide Soviet public. Russophobia was not more available to that public than the journal Posev or the mysterious commodity "meat stew." Shafarevich published Russophobia in samizdat, and his addressee was the reader of that very type of literature. He didn't conduct a polemic with an empty-headed world observer, but with thinkers, members of those Augustin Cochin's "Societies of Thought" that gathered before the great revolution in France in worldly salons and Freemason lodges, and in USSR in intelligent kitchens.

The names of some of his opponents (Amalrik, Pomerants, Yanov) still resurface in some of the contemporary discussions, while others (Gorsky, Shragin) don't tell the reader much anymore.

The mentioned Augustin Cochin, the prematurely killed French historian of the beginning of the last century, became famous mainly thanks to Shafarevich. He cites Cochin while introducing the basic term of his Russophobia: "the small nation."

The mechanical translation of the term is a rotten business, however. We know this from the recent example of the foreign agents law, when a term, conscientiously translated and transferred from the American legislature into Russian, acquired essentially different, unfortunate connotations.

The same thing happened to the small nation. In Cochin, it signifies the entirety of the "societies of thought" - part of the "big nation," ethnically fused with it, but detached in the social and intellectual sense. Shafarevich was thinking about the same thing, but... let's hear what it sounds like!

It is clear, though: what is meant by it is some nation, different than Russian, small in size, but huge in influence. Who could that be, what do you think?

In general, this very term - hint, provocation term - would be sufficient for the interested people to include Shafarevich into anti-Semites. They rushed to declare Alexander Solzhenitsyn anti-Semite as well, and he never pronounced the word "Jew," only had a pretty short list of characteristic surnames in his book.

But Shafarevich did not stop at that. You could say that he succumbed to his on provocation. You could also say that he set out on the road of least resistance. You could even say he disseminated a conflict that was at the time characteristic of the academic circles on the society as a whole.

A fact is a fact, though: Shafarevich remains in the frames of ethnic neutrality only until the middle of his book. Starting from chapter six, he writes almost exclusively on the Jewish question. He talks about Jews in dissident movements, about Jews in the Revolution, and about Judaism as the principle cause of Jewish social Messianic movement.

The adversaries unanimously proclaimed Shafarevich anti-Semite No. 1. The contemporary columnist Gleb Morev even left us a tale of how Igor Rostislavovich, already a decrepit old man, impotently stares at Jewish kids playing in a sandbox near the Academy's summerhouses - assuming, apparently, that he felt uncomfortable seeing them.

These are, of course, anecdotal fables, and there is evidence that Shafarevich was far from being an anti-Semite in real life, but only a person who hasn't read Russophobia or hasn't picked it up in a long time can say this is not a book about Jews. It is a book about Jews.

And by doing that Shafarevich did a rather questionable service to the Russian national self-awareness, taking it to a false direction.

In fact, Russophobia talks about other types of nationalisms, such as Ukranian and Tartar, only in patter (Igor Rostislovovich seemed not to be aware in 1982 that there is a rising nationalism even in Moldova).

. . .

At the beginning of the 1990s, as we know, "Russia was sold," speaking in the language of the then-patriots, but this still wasn't done by the people who were expected to do it. It was done by another "small nation": the Soviet KGB, equally persecuting Shafarevich and his adversaries, Soviet generals, Soviet party workers, Soviet businessmen, also the "Soviet raspberry," which suddenly stopped saying "no" to the enemy (allusion to a Levinton poem - translator's note).

"The societies of sausage" were triumphant, not "the societies of thought."

By the way, it seems that to this date in media and social networks we've had a close-knit brigade which has to confirm the existence of a "small nation" in Shafarevich's sense, and to awaken in the "big nation" the long-gone and firmly extinguished feeling of anti-Semitism.

. . .

In fact, this clumsy background is hiding the true picture from the audience - the silent catastrophe of the Eastern European Jewry, which disappeared together with its towns, traditions, its language, its spiritual searches, its colorful types. The entire nation has disappeared in the water, like Valentin Rasputin's Matiora.

The nation, to which Shafarevich dedicated half of his book, is no more, and the disease of russophobia has not only not been healed, but it is progressing. The obduracy of the russophobes is growing. Moreover, the center of the social discussion is no longer the conflict between democrats and authoritarianists, not even between liberals and conservatives, but precisely between russophobes and the "big nation." Obviously, the sources of russophobia turned out to be more diverse than Shafarevich imagined them to be.

Nowadays the core of "the small nation" is found outside of the Russian Federation, on the border of the "Russian world," on the territory of Ukraine. In Ukraine, russophobia has triumphed, and it has became the official ideology of a country with the population of 40 million. In Russia, russophobes have rallied around the idea of the "solidarity with Ukraine," as with a country aspiring to tear itself apart from the field of Russian civilisation.

But it would be unfair to say, following Shafarevich's terminology, that Ukrainians have become the ethnic core of the "small nation." Since the times when Russophobia was written, the structure of the society has become a lot more motley, and today the "small nation," if that term is appropriate at all, represents a conglomerate of mutually supportive minorities, international in character, with some global floor above them, a global governing layer. And by the way, looking at the global cross section, that conglomerate is inclined toward anti-Semitism.

The landscape of that "small nation" can be seen every day on the news: LGBT, feminists, vegetarians, "ecologists", "contemporary artists", migrants from third-world countries. Each of those groups has their own right to existence, but their political resultant for some reason invariably turns out to be destructive for the society, and now and then obviously idiotic.

Possibly, if Igor Rostislavovich were alive and capable today, he would want to apply mathematical methods to the study of mechanisms in those informational mutations taking place in societies of various nations under the influence of that international society of minorities (or under the influence of other forces used by these minorities). But this is a new chapter, which will be written, it seems, by tougher and less intelligent people.

Igor Karaulov

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