This intonation can be strained and hysterical or routinely bureaucratic – the main thing is that its collective addressee retains the conscious or subconscious capacity to doubt its sincerity. This element of semi-disguised self-revelation – like subliminal advertising – is always included in the propaganda magic shows, since its true objective is to maintain the general level of social anxiety, but in no case bring it to alarmist limits. The patriotic signal should be clearly audible, but not change anything in the existing socio-psychological soundscape. It should work like the usual sound of a morning alarm clock, going off exactly to let you know that nothing happened, that today is the same as yesterday.
The commonplaces used by the official discourse, such as “a new march on Russia” and “neo-Nazi scum from all over the world,” create a rhetorical landscape that is both dramatic and psychologically recognizable, almost comforting. Its pragmatics translates the current political situation into the format of a school lesson on the history of the fatherland, which supposes the correct answers in advance, since the events studied during this lesson ended in the past. Moreover, they not only ended, but also set out a persistent narrative matrix for future repetitions. A “new march” means “another” – and we know how the previous ones ended. “Neo-Nazi scum?” But 73 years ago, “we” already defeated Nazism, which incidentally came from the West. So, the situation, dear fellow citizens, is complicated, but manageable, as it does not contain anything fundamentally new: we just need to repeat what Russia has done multiple times to protect itself and its interests. And since an outward demonstration of readiness to repeat the victorious historical experience during the past 20 years has become a state-encouraged form of social inaction, the patriotic signal that continues to be relayed by the state sounds more like background noise than a message. In other words, it should disturb and soothe at the same time, plunging society into an atmosphere of a habitual routine consisting of a combination of aggression and passivity – triumph over all enemies experienced in a state of sleep. It is just that now the recipe for stability has begun to include a new seasoning called the “special military operation.”
On mobilization, unity and totality
When the “partial mobilization” was announced in September 2022, almost all Putin regime critics exposed the falsity of its definition as “partial.” I will not argue about how technically it corresponded to that definition and how much it was really limited to strictly defined social groups sent to the front. In this, literal sense, it really was not so much “partial” as “chaotic.” However, the official definition given to it – “partial” – reflects not so much the letter (it rather contradicts it), but the spirit of the mobilization that the Russian leadership is ready to undertake. Total mobilization, entirely controlled by the state (as has taken place under totalitarian regimes), is not on the horizon of possibilities – at least for now.