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November 12, 2004 by AK

Overheated

I’m talking about Masha Lipman’s latest WaPo column, on Putin Fear and Fury in Russia. Toned down, it would make more sense. One quote:

But not all voices have been silenced. In fact, the crackdown and the increasingly authoritarian rhetoric have created a strong urge among liberals to express their frustration and fury. And they still find outlets that have not given in to fear.

To listen to Masha, it’s the end of the world as we know it. But the “crackdown” does not equal persecution so those who have “given in to fear” are chicken hearts, and those who have not are regular decent folks who aren’t even particularly courageous. Masha herself has been called “courageous,” although I don’t see that much boldness in working for the Moscow Carnegie Center and editing a journal with a tiny circulation while knowing you can always leave for the States or Israel if things turn really, really bad. Even worse than you make them seem to be.

But back to the “frustration and fury.” Are Russian liberals capable of fury? Hardly; but frustrated they should feel. They blew their chance big time, and here’s why. The Russian liberal (I’m going to draw a most indecent caricature) is typically an intellectual of sorts who believes in the free market without understanding much economics, and holds on to a blurry pool of social values resembling American liberals’ required minimum. That would be fine were she not stricken by one debilitating syndrome: self-hatred.

That does not mean she literally hates herself. The proverbial self-hating Jew does not hate all of his own self; he hates the fact he was born Jewish and can’t change that, and projects this hatred onto himself. Likewise, the self-hating Russian thinks being Russian is a guilty verdict and would jump out of her skirt to prove to the world she isn’t really Russian at all, but a thoroughly enlightened European or American. Her idea of European is perfectly modern and politically correct, providing the liberal sweetness to dampen her visceral racism.

One problem with the Russians who belong to this club is they often come to hate those Russians who don’t. Their eyes see double: a Russia of their own, which isn’t really Russia, they’d explain – and a Russia populated by Eurasian equivalents of rednecks and trailer trash. Now this vision alone is not quite delusory; I even share it to a degree – the problem is its implications. The Russian liberal blames the rednecks for all Russia’s failures, for their supposedly slavish mentality, for trusting Putin – then pronounces them incurable and proceeds to hate them, and the country for good measure.

To love a country or human in trouble, perhaps terminally ill, is a pain; a chronic pain turning acute every now and then. It’s also a sort of constant prodding: try to understand the object of your love. Who can demand pain? Or the mental ache of understanding? I won’t, either; end of caricature.

But I’ll get back to Masha Lipman’s journalism: I have found a piece she wrote on the US election — it may help understand how she feels about Russia, too.


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