7 December 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
Source: Radio Liberty
Nature has given the ordinary human being five senses. Soviet power, as the joke then went, brought out a sixth sense in people: profound and full satisfaction. The present-day Russian regime, not joking, is cultivating a sense of resentment for being insulted. Being insulted is our everything! Insult is the banner of despotism, the fuel that keeps our ungainly cart trudging into a dark past. Do you think Vladimir Putin was making a bad joke in 2000, at the dawn of his presidency, when he said that anyone who insults us won’t live three days? No, this is something fundamental, old-school, impossible to extirpate and, sad to say, not exclusive to him.
It’s funny, but it’s the people who took his promises to de-Nazify Ukraine in a few days close to heart who feel insulted by Putin today. Bloggers who support the regime, military correspondents in pro-Kremlin publications, and television propagandists feel duped. They consider the surrender of Kherson, which Russia captured in the spring and which had already been declared the new region’s administrative center, a betrayal, and they are out for blood. Their reach doesn’t extend to Ukrainian generals, so they’re demanding a purge of Russian ones. So that someone pays for the insults inflicted on honest patriots. Preferably with their life. One TV anchor simply demanded that someone be shot for the Russian army’s retreat in Ukraine.
They’re insulted at the military command and the mobilized men who went to war and suddenly discovered they were being killed there. If at first they were insulted at the lack of uniforms, body armour, and first aid kits, then now they’re complaining that the commanders are abandoning them to their fate and not removing them out from under artillery fire. The Internet is full of plaintive appeals, but they only pity themselves. Not a word about the murdered and dead Ukrainians. Soldiers’ mothers—individually and collectively—are going to every Russian office with complaints that the command is not taking proper care of their children. Their appeals are all over the Internet. Wives and mothers are collecting signatures and sharing their insult at the regime, to which they voluntarily supplied their sons as cannon fodder.
The regime nurses its own insults as well. But these are global, geopolitical insults, not simple human ones. They are laughably sorry for the collapsed Soviet Union. They are very much insulted over the Warsaw Pact’s demise and NATO’s expansion. They’re insulted that some former Soviet republics have already joined NATO and others are frantically eager to go that way, while at the same time looking anxiously over their shoulder at Moscow. It’s also very insulting that Kyiv wants to be friendly with Brussels, not Moscow. Truth be told, it is this insult that is the reason for the eight-year confrontation with and military invasion of Ukraine. Added to the insult over their lost former might and extensive lands is their jealousy of other more successful European partners. Our brothers did not choose us, they sent us packing and for a long time to come. That’s what’s the matter! Insult, jealousy, and envy. I don’t think anyone in the Kremlin really needs new territories and people. There they are thinking least of all about the interests of the country, in whatever distorted form they understood these interests. They are moved by an irrational sense of insult and a thirst for vengeance. They want to punish everyone who has ignored or undervalued them.
The model for this kind of political behavior has been demonstrated by Ramzan Kadyrov, who demands public apologies from his offenders. Putin is acting in the exact same way, but on a different scale. That’s the whole difference. In essence, insult is the point of departure for the formation of a political culture of resentment—an ideology of inferiority, impotent envy, dissatisfied vanity, spite, and the creation of the image of an enemy whose imaginary intrigues explain all failures and defeats. This is so obvious in present-day Russia that resentment is finding a place in legislation as well, especially in the latest innovations. Named as enemies of the state are “foreign agents,” LGBT activists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, a mythical “fifth column,” and critics of the political regime and armed forces. It is they who are being declared guilty for all the failures of authoritarian policy. Special laws are being issued to fight them, and the “enemies” themselves are having their rights infringed upon and are gradually migrating from civilian life to prisons and prison camps.
The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche considered resentment to be the defining characteristic of the morality of rebellious slaves. He was the first to put this concept into circulation, but he could scarcely have guessed that in the twenty-first century the morality of slaves would become the defining characteristic of state power.
A problem not as yet obvious to the Russian state is that one day they are going to run out of traditional “enemies,” but the ideology of resentment will linger on and demand new victims. Then random people will start falling under the axe of repressions, as well those in structures of state governance who constitute competition for their less successful colleagues. In essence, nothing new, we’ve already seen all this. Unfortunately, the mistakes of the past are little studied, especially by those who preferred soldiering to history lessons in school.
Translated by Marian Schwartz