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From Democracy to Freedom. The Main Task of Political Changes in Russia Is To Disparage the Plebeianism of the People and the Authorities Alike


October 31, 2011

By Alexei Melnikov

The thesis in liberal political circles that there is insufficient democracy in Russia is something that is obvious in itself. But the main problem, on the contrary, is the absence of aristocratism and elitism, the blending of genres, persons, and institutions.

Everything is subordinated to a kind of uniform standard based on the power of money. On this altar scientific conscientiousness, the talents of journalists, and political reputations are sacrificed. And when some kind of moneybags ascends on the political horizon, a significant part of the political community begins to shake its little wings in excitement, in the hope that the golden dust will settle on them.

In point of fact, it was in this that the main content of the "Prokhorov phenomenon" and other similar appearances of big money in Russian politics lay. This is why the general picture is painted in a single colour with different hues -instead of freely flourishing complexity, we have the emulation of plebeianism in the very worst sense of this word.

With the exception of individual colourful persons and a scattering of expert organizations that are seriously studying the phenomenon of power, the institution of political culture is entirely absent. In its place is a quivering substance in which yesterday's expert easily passes into the hypostasis of a propagandist of this or that political party, and then, without shaking down his soiled feathers, once again paints himself as a respectable representative of the community for which the main interest is the truth. As if, after a bout of drunkenness, he had straightened his tie over his stale shirt, wiped his spectacles with his handkerchief, smoothed down his tousled hair with his five fingers, and gone back into decent society.

Examples are numerous. It is possible, for example, to offer to the public today, with a serious air, the cinders and exhaust gases of the bureaucratic system in the form of so-called Just Russia as an opposition to this same system, festooning this propaganda thesis with names and events. In such a way that it resembles some kind of strange antique trophy. That is to say, to sell one's political bias to the public in the guise of expertise and independent analysis, and on the following day, to return to the writing of expert articles about the regional and other elections. Moreover, in the same publication, on the neighbouring page.

Another similar shoddy institution for Orwellian proles is the TV political talk show. This is not journalism, it is not a conversation of experts, and nor is it an argument between politicians and experts; rather, it is something glossy and inane, with a predetermined result and inevitable applause from the studio audience.

There may be different varieties -a glamorous grandmother-type lady and a Putinian journalist discuss a "fantastically political" something-or-other; a stocky, short-haired little peasant with the manners of the hero of criminal Odessa from the TV series "Liquidation" talks almost like a kid; an anchor with the eyes of a drunken herring "acts as judge and jury," dividing his guests beforehand into the bad and the good. Or, for example, now we see a director from an amateur theatrical group writhing in hysterics "like a witch on the Sabbath," now it is a political scientist doing the same, now it is a fragment of the Soviet past on "trial" with votes cranked up via call centres.

What are these programs capable of teaching? The problem is not even that solo performances are given on them by "specialists in all subjects," which means specialists in nothing. The problem is that even the interesting academics who find themselves in this format are forced to swim in the limitless liquid porridge of political pop culture.

And what is achieved in such a case? The example of what kind of freedom can the "elite" show to the democratic lower strata? None at all! They are absolutely one and the same thing - the upper and lower strata are created from uniform democratic material, of which there is indeed no shortage. The problem lies in its abundance, in the fact that this material knows everything, that it is ready to interfere in everything and to organize everything in the best way. And what it has organized can be seen in the example of Russia -here the mob reigns everywhere and in everything; here the ideal of an ochlocracy has been realized.

On the Culture channel the other day, the philosopher Fedor Girenok said, in connection with the works of (philosopher, historian, and essayist) Georgy Fedotov, that freedom cannot be universal -that it is always private, always for the few. This is an idea that, at any rate, is interesting, and that, in its topicality, is absolutely repugnant to the radical Russian demos, which regards itself as free only by dint of its frondism (Ed. carping criticism, selfish opposition, rebelliousness, general malcontentedness).

But even if you believe that freedom is the privilege of the few, that it is elitist and aristocratic, it must be actively affirmed in opposition to the Demos that is "crudely thrusting itself forward," like Aristophanes' centaurs (noted for their animal lust and uncivilized behaviour). Unfortunately, there is not so much of this in Russia as is needed. And this is why the main task of political changes in Russia is to disparage the plebeianism of the people and the flesh of their flesh -the authorities, and to affirm models of culture and complexity. From democracy to freedom.

Alexei Melnikov is member of the YABLOKO party


See also:

The original publication

Elections to the State Duma 2011

Freedom of Speech


October 31, 2011

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