24 September 2021
by Aleksandr Podrabinek, human rights activist and journalist
The recent “elections” for the State Duma showed yet again the steady aspiration of the authorities to total control, even in what only resembles a parliament. In running the state, the Kremlin has been able to create a political-military regime with democratic window-dressing. True, in real life, the window-dressing is losing its persuasiveness. It is more and more difficult for the usurpers to hide with fabrications the arbitrary rule reigning in the country.
If a person who had not been in Russia for 20 years visited it today, they would be horrified by the political changes. The space for freedom has shriveled to that of the end of the 1980’s. It is rather difficult for us living in this country to evaluate such gradual changes. Partly because we are inclined to live with our illusions—likenesses of elections and a market economy, a funny parliament and counterfeit courts, the illusion of democracy in an authoritarian state. Our illusory life still makes us happy, although the authorities have noticeably become tired of pretending.
In the world there are enough authoritarian regimes that are permanently run by dictators or juntas. They are content with their role as proprietors of the country, they steal from the state budget, build themselves palaces, maintain a Praetorian guard, and execute opponents of the regime. They are primitively power-loving, do not require an ideology, and they worry only about the safety of their positions at the pinnacle of usurped power.
It seemed for a long time that the current Russian regime was just like this, that it wasn’t interested in anything but profit and corruption. But it looks like that isn’t the case. Their efforts to suppress civic freedoms exceed the level required to defend the authorities from society. It is no longer about the safety of those who illegally got their hands on running the state, but their intention to control all aspects of public and private life. It is about the recreation of a totalitarian regime.
Judge for yourself. What direct threat to the regime could come from religious organizations? None. In Russia, all the major and largest confessions have always cooperated with every regime, traditionally rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. And for what did they previously persecute Jehovah’s Witnesses, and for what are they persecuting them now? For the very same thing — they are not under the control of the state. It is impossible to manage them. The number of their followers in Russia is insignificant, on principle they are not interested in politics, and they do not present any threat to an authoritarian regime. But they are a threat for totalitarianism, because totalitarian power is held by total control and cannot allow any social, political, or religious group to be independent.
What threat does the LGBT community pose to authoritarian rule? None. Who, with whom and how one has sex has no relation to the regime’s stability. This is why, in simple and straightforward dictatorships, the authorities pay no attention to the sexual preferences of its citizens. But in a totalitarian ideological state, this is an islet of independence, a lack of control that is unacceptable. That is why, in the classical totalitarian regimes of Nazi Germany and the communist USSR, homosexuals were put in concentration camps and prisons. That is why in modern Russia a punitive all-out attack – both by legislators and law enforcement – on people of so-called non-traditional orientation continues.
What threat does a quality education at school pose to an authoritarian regime? None. Even if children grow up to be well-educated people, there is a huge gap between the amount of education one receives and political protest. But for a totalitarian state, educated people, especially those in the humanitarian sphere, pose a terrible threat. They easily escape total control and are able to create attractive communities for other people. For this reason, the current Russian government stubbornly imposes its own rules of ideological training and patriotic education on schools.
Symptoms of totalitarianism are becoming more and more common in Russia. The rhetoric of the authorities is more and more reminiscent of Soviet models. The Russian Foreign Ministry called the aggression against Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of World War II ‘a liberation campaign’. The government is determined to put the non-profit sector and the dissemination of information under its full control. Civil society organizations and media outlets that receive funding from abroad are considered politically suspect, are assigned ‘foreign agent’ status and are driven from their sphere of activity. And this is the case even when they had quite happily cooperated with the authorities in the past.
Cinema is restricted by distribution certificates, and not every film with an author’s interpretation of events, especially historical ones, will make it to the screens of cinemas, let alone television. Theatres are economically dependent on the Ministry of Culture and align their repertoire in advance with the ideological orientation of their bosses. Independent theatre collectives are subject to various forms of pressure through numerous government inspections and regulatory bodies. Book publishers are reluctant to publish books that could cause discontent in the Kremlin. Stage and other venue-type owners refuse to allow writers and publicists to give talks at the request of local authorities. And many refuse at the outset so as to avoid getting into any trouble.
Fear of authority is spreading throughout the country. Not before the law or laws, which, it seems, no one pays any heed to, but before the threat of arbitrariness on the part of the state. State terror is another sure sign of totalitarianism. This is our tomorrow if no forces arises to stop it.
Translators include Tyler Langendorfer