By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia
At the everyday level, Vladimir Pastukhov says, it is unlikely that Russians lie more than people in other countries do; but in the public sphere, the lie is not criticized but rather encouraged,” making it “almost the norm of public politics not only in the eyes of the authorities but in those of the population as well.
There are many reasons for the official “condescension toward lies,” the St. Antony’s College historian says, including of course the attitudes of the Russian Orthodox Church. But the main explanations are to be found in the fact that “Russians have always viewed themselves as a cultural minority” forced to fight a stronger opponent (bbc.com/russian/features-42513156).
“In Russia, a lie is viewed as a weapon of the weak against the strong,” Pastukhov continues, “as a justified means of defense against overwhelming force.” The real problem [with them] is that Russians are often happy that they are lying” and thus view “the lie as an alternative truth.”
This may be one of the reasons why the word “pravda” doesn’t correspond with “istina” and why “in Russia it can be something which corresponds to reality and also something which doesn’t correspond.” Indeed, the historian says, “the just lie in Russia is valued above the unjust truth.”
“In Russia, they lie with missionary-like ecstasy,” Pastukhov suggests. And that is the basis of hypocrisy among Russians, “a manifestation of the feeling of incompleteness relative to the strong of this world, a slavish habit which has roots going back to serfdom.”
And it gets in the way of Russians adequately understanding their real relationship to the outside world: “While constantly talking about the greatness of Russia, many Russians in the depths of their souls do not believe in the ability of their country to defend its independence without using lies.”
After 1991, the lie was mostly a matter for internal use in Russia, but in the last few years, Pastukhov argues, it has spread to foreign affairs as well. “Certainly, some of the personal qualities of Vladimir Putin made this possible,” as can be seen when the lie returned in full force at the time of the sinking of the Kursk.
“The unwillingness or inability of Putin to resolve the crisis by telling the truth about what had happened led then to the first serious split of the post-Yeltsin elite” and opened the way to the destruction of Russia’s independent media, first electronic and more recently the print media as well.
Now, “the lie accompanies practically any Kremlin action, be it war with terrorism or prominent court cases,” Pastukhov says. By the beginning of Putin’s third term, “the level of lies in Russian public policy had reached critical mass” and led to a shift from retail lying to organized whole lying with trolls and so on.
“Present-day Russia adopted the tactic of the Komintern,” a tactic which “consists in the creation of artificial contradictions and the intensification of natural contradictions between Western countries and also between political parties within each of the Western countries in particular.”
The Kremlin uses lies both offensively and defensively, Pastukhov says, and today in essence “Russia does everything that it accuses the West of doing, from unleashing a cold war to the preparation of ‘color revolutions.’” The Russian people know what is going on but support their regime without “the slightest moral discomfort.”
Such a situation when a society is caught up in a web of lies from top to bottom is hardly unique to Russia now. “Something similar occurred in Russia at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.” Indeed, “this is one of the truest signs of the unavoidability of a revolution which will destroy this web of lying together with the entire old order.”
Churchill supposedly said that “there is no anti-Semitism in England” because “we do not consider ourselves more stupid than the Jews.” And lies will be driven out of the public sphere in Russia only when “elites appear who do not suffer from a sense of inferiority to the West or East and don’t therefore need the lie for salvation.”
By Paul Goble, Window on Eurasia