2 February 2022
Obscurantism and barbaric traditions have been moldering for a long time, but now they’ve blazed up full blast. For over a year, it’s been apparent that justice in the Russian Federation is being increasingly subordinated to the Kremlin bosses’ political interests. For over a year, it’s been apparent that a foul-smelling ideological brew concocted in the worst national traditions — pseudo-religious rhetoric and national arrogance — has been crowding out pluralism and becoming the state’s ideology.
Up until now, though, this has affected only individual regions, such as Chechnya, or individual social groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, and society as a whole has preferred not to notice the problem. Because if they notice, then something needs to be done. And doing something is scary and a lot of trouble.
Recent events have drawn Russian society’s attention to the savagery of Russian domestic and foreign policy. The threat of an invasion of Ukraine clearly has not found significant public support in Russia, and some have even spoken out in pacifist condemnation of the contemplated aggression. The defense of “traditional values” by means of legal prosecution for a photo of half-naked young women on the background of churches or for debatable statements on historical topics at first brought laughter, then perplexity, and now raise concern that these are not individual excesses but a well-considered policy.
THE NORMS OF BARBARIC JUSTICE ARE SPREADING HORIZONTALLY
But the cherry on top, of course, are the recent statements by Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Chechnya’s State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov. Suddenly everyone clearly realized that blood vengeance, beheadings, and lynchings are no longer the exclusive characteristics of the national life of a single North Caucasus region, that the threat of openly declared barbaric impunity has come to all of Russia’s inhabitants.
Many have been shocked specifically by Delimkhanov’s candor in openly expressing his utter contempt for a law that does not allow vigilante justice and murder threats. Everyone in present-day Russia is used to the right to tyranny being left only to the state’s highest-ranking officials. For many, for some reason, it was a surprise that provisions of barbaric justice are spreading horizontally — from one region to all the rest — and vertically — from the highest officials to the lowest.
What did the people who are today horrified expect when so very recently in Chechnya hundreds of people went missing and then people would occasionally find their beheaded corpses in some forest belt? Did they think this was a characteristic of their national life? What were they hoping for when Jehovah’s Witnesses were given prison terms and all of society was too listless to say anything? That religious fundamentalism wouldn’t affect secular life?
THE STYLE AND SENSE OF PRESENT-DAY RUSSIAN POLICY
They probably thought: we behave correctly and are law-abiding, we ask for permission for meetings and submit legal petitions to the president, we recognize ourselves as being foreign agents and seek justice in court — and therefore they won’t come for us. And how they’ll come!
A joyless but logical picture is coming together. Russian society is not going to avoid retribution for its years of cowardly inaction, senseless expectations, and unfounded hopes. For too long we have been telling ourselves that Chechnya is somewhere way over there and has nothing to do with us. That violence and negligence toward the law is in their national character. But does Delimkhanov’s threat to cut off shaitans’ heads differ in any way from Putin’s call to whack terrorists? What does national character have to do with this? And aren’t there plenty of Chechens who have given examples of heroic and sacrificial resistance to despotism?
The legal nihilism pouring so abundantly today on Russians’ heads is no caprice of political life, no excess of implementation of Kremlin intentions by hot-headed Caucasus guys. It is the very style and sense of present-day Russian policy.
Translated by Marian Schwartz