Russian Intelligentsia, Loyal Experts, Putin’s Court [excerpt]

Kremlin and Saint Basil's File Photo

(Institute of Modern Russia – Russian media roundup, August 26 – September 1, 2017)


In this week’s roundup, Sergei Medvedev discusses the shortcomings in the Russian intelligentsia; Konstantin Gaaze juxtaposes Putin’s “court” and the country’s “Politburo 2.0” system; Lilia Shevtsova classifies Russian experts and intellectuals who support the current regime; Vasily Zharkov explains the public support for Russia’s aggressive foreign policy; Alexander Rubtsov highlights the link between ideology and business in the country. If you are interested in receiving this weekly roundup in your mailbox every Friday, let us know at….

Republic: The Silence of the Lambs. Why the Intelligentsia Is Afraid to Support Navalny or Stand up for Serebrennikov

Historian and journalist Sergei Medvedev discusses director Ivan Vyrypaev’s open letter on the Serebrennikov case and the shortcomings in the Russian intelligentsia.

Speaking out in support of Serebrennikov and advocating for non-violent forms of resistance to the state, Vyrypaev’s letter is worthy of admiration for its sincerity and purely ethical message, but it also illuminates a major problem in the Russian public sphere: instead of civic action, politics is replaced with ethics, and protest is reduced to passive observation and commentary.

The primary bearer of this kind of ethical protest is the intelligentsia, which is both dependent on-and highly critical of-the state.

Despite the absurdity and potential consequences of Serebrennikov’s accusation, his case will not be a watershed moment for Russian politics; just as countless other opportunities for protest have collapsed.

An analogous situation can be observed in the intelligentsia’s attitude toward Navalny. While he is the only national-level opposition politician capable of reforming the current system of power, a large part of the educated class refuses to support Navalny because of ethical claims about his supposed nationalism or dictatorial potential.

At the heart of the intelligentsia’s ethics lies a refusal to act, whereas Navalny’s ethics could lead to actual change and the destruction of the educated class and its self-sufficient ethical discourse. Aware of what the Bolsheviks did 100 years ago, this is what the intelligentsia fears most.

The problem of the Russian intelligentsia, according to Medvedev, is the lack of professional, ethically neutral politics. It took European civilization a long time to evolve from Machiavelli’s claim that political life is beyond morale to Max Weber’s definition of politics as a vocation.

For too long, the intelligentsia has been involved in ethical discussions, leaving pragmatic politics aside. As a result, the country’s political life has been taken over by cranks and crooks.

The phenomenon of Navalny, like that of Serebrennikov, signals a choice for the intelligentsia: Will its pursuit of ethical correctness result in its emergence as a political entity, or will Russians be limited to writing letters to their leaders and creating petitions on in a vain attempt to bring about change?

Republic, Молчание ягнят. Почему интеллигенция боится поддержать Навального и Серебренникова, Сергей Медведев, 28 августа 2017 г.

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