14/03/2022

The wet snow

3 min
Wet snow
"Man likes to create and lay down paths, that is indisputable. But why does he also love destruction and chaos so passionately?"
Notes from Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The wet snow of Slavic literature is again the landscape of war. The infinite scenery of suffering, of vital agony, of the victory of corpses and death over the hope of the living. Once again, for so many young people, it is the scene of an incomprehensible war of which we should be collectively ashamed.

Once again we will have to take refuge in Russian culture, literature and music. To read its anti-heroes, men struggling between human goodness and human vileness. Irrelevant individuals overcome by circumstances and humiliated men. From Dostoyevsky to Tchaikovsky, we will try to understand the moral landscape, the Russian capacity for agonising suffering and wonder whether the last decades have been in vain.

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine we update not only the blood and warmongering verbiage, but the exodus, the agony of the soldiers' mothers and, above all, the scant value of human life. Also on European soil, the best of all worlds in which to live and which has suddenly awoken from its lethargy.

The end of history

As is evident, history has not ended, nor has the West won the Cold War. The evils of empire, of expansive nationalism, had remained in the underground, hibernating while the Russians got drunk on consumer society. Svetlana Alexievich in Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets masterfully explains how objects acquired the same value as ideas and words in a country where, in practice, money had not existed and "the reading of books substituted the lives we did not have."

The collapse of the empire devoured Mikhail Gorbachev and, for younger generations, the transformer became known as the name of a brand of vodka.

Yeltsin, overwhelmed by the reality of the transition, was replaced by Vladimir Putin in 2000, who had a reformist discourse, cutting taxes and expanding private property, which gave a semblance of order and potentially prosperity to millions of people who experienced the democracy that had followed the end of the USSR as corrupt, instable, poor and riven with crime. Putin has consolidated a new kind of authoritarianism, of inflexibility that crushes dissent, silences difference, stifles diversity. In words borrowed from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, "he understood very well that for the meek soul of a simple Russian, exhausted by grief and hardship and, above all, by constant injustice and sin, his own or the world's, there was no stronger need than to find a holy shrine or a saint to prostrate himself before and to worship."

Putin's invasion is madness for Europe, but it is a move consistent with his previous political and military performance, with his deep perception of a humiliated empire. Putin's first step in this crisis was the control of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow's military intervention in eastern Ukraine, which was supported by a permanent communicative campaign on the Nazification of its neighbour and manipulation of the West. In parallel, freedom of the press and of opinion continued being stifled, as was any kind of political freedom.

Thus it has reached what the Russian Foreign Minister calls "boiling point". For Russia, Ukraine's flirtation with the EU and preferential relations in terms of arms sales, considered defensive for some and offensive for others, is interpreted as having NATO at its doorstep. The question is whether Putin would have acted the same if NATO had not made these moves. Whether it is the chicken or the egg that came first. The indisputable fact is that it is Putin who invades and massacres a democratic, pro-European and independent country.

Putin does not take prisoners. He did not do so in Chechnya and he is not doing so in the Ukraine he is ravaging. Who can stop him? In Moscow there is no alternative, there is no organised opposition and no opposition capable of organising itself beyond the power of some of the oligarchs who control the big companies which resulted from the privatisation of the USSR's state assets. There is no political alternative, except for a very improbable Russian-style palace coup by the oligarchs.

Sanctions may be effective, but they will feed the Russian sense of humiliation and at some point a silver bridge will have to be put in place to provide a way out of the situation. War is a hell that survives its own end and today's scenario is Dantesque.

The end of history? Winning the Cold War? How deluded this all was: you can survive a war, but you can never win it.

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