Wed, Jan 03, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Why prominent Russians are resurrecting Ivan the Terrible

Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste and clan, enforced by terror, and the lionization of despots reflects these values

By Dina Khapaeva

Even Russian officials speak approvingly of modern slavery.

Valery Zorkin, who chairs the Constitutional Court, wrote in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper, that serfdom has long been a “social glue” for Russia.

Another medieval term — lydi gosudarevy, which translates as “servants of his majesty” — has also returned to favor among high-ranking bureaucrats.

Nostalgia for serfdom compliments the desire for a return to autocracy.

Prominent Russian intellectuals — including filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov, journalist Maksim Sokolov and Vsevolod Chaplin, a Russian Orthodox cleric — call for the coronation of Putin and petitions of support are gaining signatures online. Significantly, the protests against Putin’s regime in 2012 have since been interpreted not as a protest against Putin himself, but rather against the social order to which Eurasianism aspires.

Putin’s tacit support for the Eurasian vision of a neo-medieval Russia invokes the historical memory of Stalinism.

Dugin says “Stalin created the Soviet Empire,” and, like Ivan the Terrible, expresses “the spirit of the Soviet society and the Soviet people.”

No wonder, then, that monuments to Stalin, too, are multiplying in Russian cities.

Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste and clan, enforced by terror. The lionization of historical despots reflects the contemporary embrace of such premodern, radically anti-democratic and unjust values.

For Ivan’s contemporary champions, the past is prologue.

Dina Khapaeva is professor of Russian at the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Modern Languages.

Copyright: Project Syndicate 2017

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