Denunciations are needed by the authorities to test the boundaries of the permitted and to accustom the disloyal and latently disloyal to live in fear. Informers serve as a surrogate for Soviet-type ideological watchdogs, who are absent in today’s Russia, and are encouraged by the system. Before the invasion, the favorite subjects of denunciations were “insulting the feelings of believers,” “propaganda of homosexuality” and “desecration of symbols of military glory.” Now, the main subject has become “discrediting the Russian army.”
Recently, one informer actually uncovered such “discrediting” in the performance of Cyrano de Bergerac
by St Petersburg’s Alexandrinsky Theater – based on the old play by Edmond Rostand (1897) – and the production was duly canceled
. But otherwise, Russian theatrical life is now back in full swing, and intellectuals are packing the theaters. Which again brings to mind the memory of how in 2011 in Cairo, engulfed by revolution
, Russian tourists fought their way through the myriad crowds of demonstrators to get to the museums, which were part of their tours. Consensus ripens and immediately overripens
The new normality in the form in which the regime understands it was on display at the St Petersburg International Legal Forum
, held in May 2023 with the participation of the main jurists of Russia – Minister of Justice Konstantin Chuychenko, Investigative Committee chief Alexander Bastrykin, and Constitutional Court Chair Valery Zorkin.
Some foreign observers saw the event as deliberately scandalous, a kind of outrageous parade and pretense. The speeches seemed to get more and more frenzied. Chuychenko: “Today we have deprived foreign agents of state funding, why not deprive them of funding and the opportunity to earn money at all?” Bastrykin: “The International Criminal Court, this pseudo-court, which has become an obedient tool of the Anglo-Saxons, continues to demonstrate political bias, inefficiency, and unprofessionalism.” Observers preferred to interpret these statements as something not meant seriously.
But the fact of the matter is that the front men of the event were not there to make noise. Their declamations are the new normal. It is precisely the language in which Putin’s nomenklatura now speaks to each other and to the nation. This language is in tune with the grassroots loyalist mythology and reflects the ideological consensus that now dominates in Russia since all other voices have been suppressed.
True, recently the authorities have begun to manipulate this consensus at their own discretion, which does not necessarily lend stability to the regime. Since late 2022, and especially since the spring of 2023, they have been trying to unify the whole set of everyday conspiracy theories and xenophobic, sovereignty myths. Most state and semi-state structures engaged in the promotion of ideology have probably become powerful enough to provide themselves with a front of work to squeeze out more and more state money.
There is now an attempt to ideologize upbringing and education at all levels, from kindergartens to universities. Compulsory classes on ideology have been introduced for schoolchildren – “Conversations about Important Things” and “Lessons of Courage.” Thousands of schools are putting up “Desks of Heroes
,” while “Faces of Heroes” appear on the facades. Beginning in autumn, the course “Fundamentals of Russian Statehood” will become mandatory for university students, the core
of which is the so-called “pentabasis,” a set of little meaningful recitations on sovereign themes. Boredom and mediocrity emanates from all these costly administrative undertakings. Having a strong foundation in the form of widespread sovereignty myths, the regime is clearly struggling with what until recently it did not try to do at all – constructing on that foundation some standard ideology set from above. Hastily devised unified rituals and texts intended for general memorization look like a parody of Soviet rituals and courses on “scientific communism.” Moving forward, state compulsion can only lead to the restoration of Soviet universal pretense.
Still, today the Putin regime’s ideological reserves are quite robust. It relies on stable core ideas shared by the majority of Russians and therefore has much scope for improvisation – it can continue the war with Ukraine or freeze it, even for a long time. This complex of ideas is good for many things. But not building coherent, normal relations with the outside world.