Russia, of course, was not the entire USSR and not all Soviet citizens were Russians. Furthermore, it was party policy throughout the USSR’s history to transmute existing national identities into a sense of belonging to a supranational ‚Soviet people‘. This was part of a general endeavour by the state to eradicate any organizations or groupings independent of its control. The central politicians could not afford to let Russian national self-assertiveness get out of hand.

But what on earth was Russia? And what was Russia’s part in the Soviet Union? These are questions which were much less easy to answer than they superficially appear. The borders of the Russian republic within the USSR were altered several times after 1917. Nearly every redefinition involved a loss of territory to the USSR’s other republics. The status of ethnic Russians, too, changed under successive political leaderships. Whereas Lenin was wary of Russian national self-assertiveness, Stalin sought to control and exploit it for his political purposes; and the Soviet communist leadership after Stalin’s death, despite coming to rely politically upon the Russians more than upon other nationalities in the Soviet Union, never gave them outright mastery. Nor was Russian culture allowed to develop without restriction: the Orthodox Church, peasant traditions and a free-thinking intelligentsia were aspects of Mother Russia which no General Secretary until the accession of Gorbachëv was willing to foster. Russian national identity was perennially manipulated by official interventions.

For some witnesses the Soviet era was an assault on everything fundamentally Russian. For others, Russia under Stalin and Brezhnev attained its destiny as the dominant republic within the USSR. For yet others neither tsarism nor communism embodied any positive essence of Russianness. The chances are that Russian history will remain politically sensitive. This is not simply a case of public figures whipping up debate. Russians in general are interested in discussions of Nicholas II, Lenin, Stalin and Gorbachëv; and the past and the present are enmeshed in every public debate. Since the end of the USSR, the discussion has intensified about the identity of Russia and the Russians as well as about why the Russian Federation developed as it did. This has been a topic of constant dispute among Russia’s politicians and intellectuals as well as abroad. What kind of country is the new Russia? One trend of analysis has postulated that Yeltsin replaced the potential for orderly progress under Gorbachëv with sheer lawlessness and chaos, perhaps ending with a pseudo-communist restoration led by Putin. Other commentators have argued that the Yeltsin administration, warts and all, rescued Russia from the political and economic turmoil that characterized the last years of communism. For yet others, it was only when Putin ascended to the presidency that the Russians were able to experience a degree of progress in state and society; but this is challenged by those who see his Russia as a Mafia state.

—Robert Service, The Penguin History of Modern Russia, (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 2020), xxxix-xl.

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double haters

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In dubiis

I

Es dringt kein Laut bis her zu mir
von der Nationen wildem Streite,
ich stehe ja auf keiner Seite;
denn Recht ist weder dort noch hier.

Und weil ich nie Horaz vergaß
bleib gut ich aller Welt und halte
mich unverbrüchlich an die alte
aurea mediocritas.

II

Der erscheint mir als der Größte,
der zu keiner Fahne schwört,
und, weil er vom Teil sich löste,
nun der ganzen Welt gehört.

Ist sein Heim die Welt; es misst ihm
doch nicht klein der Heimat Hort;
denn das Vaterland, es ist ihm
dann sein Haus im Heimatsort.

—Rainer Maria Rilke

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George Galloway is slandered with base insult

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The theory of totalitarianism, even in these looser applications, falls short of explaining the range and depth of resistance, noncompliance and apathy towards the demands of the state. The USSR was regulated to an exceptional degree in some ways while it managed to elude central political control in others. Behind the façade of party congresses and Red Square parades there was greater disobedience to official authority than in most liberal-democratic countries even though the Soviet leadership could wield a panoply of dictatorial instruments. Informal and mainly illegal practices pervaded existence in the USSR.

The unofficial, unplanned and illicit features of existence in the Soviet Union were not ‚lapses‘ or ‚aberrations‘ from the essence of totalitarianist state and society: they were integral elements of totalitarianism. The conventional definition of totalitarianism is focused exclusively on the effective and ruthless imposition of the Kremlin’s commands; this is counterposed to the operation of liberal democracies. What is missing is an awareness that such democracies are by and large characterized by popular consent, obedience and order. It was not the same in the USSR, where every individual or group below the level of the central political leadership engaged in behaviour inimical to officially approved purposes. The result was a high degree of disorder from the viewpoint of the authorities – and it was much higher than in the countries of advanced capitalism.

—Robert Service, The Penguin History of Modern Russia, (Great Britain: Penguin Books, 2020), xxxii-xxxiii.

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I, like Erdoğan, am especially interested in how the marine corridor may work

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Kit Klarenberg

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The Voice of America

:

Biden Meets Italy’s Meloni, Announces Gaza Airdrop

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, March 1, 2024.

Biden announces the Gaza airdrop while meeting an Italian leader who Italians (in my personal experience a student at the Freie Universität and a coworker) say is called in Italy, very literally, a fascist.

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Sometimes I read the news and I feel like a kid again.

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Do I respect the Prime Minister? 🤔

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Robert Moore, itv:

There is now talk of the US starting air drops of food and medicines early next week.

But to many humanitarian relief experts that will seem absurd. Air drops are a method of last resort to reach inaccessible populations in remote areas. Gaza is surrounded by US allies, with a major Israeli port just to the north.

Wouldn’t air drops be a symbol of American weakness, showing it has no leverage over the very country it funds and arms?

Air drops would also lead to a bizarre spectacle in the skies over Gaza. US-built war planes, operated by the Israeli Air Force, would be dropping US-made bombs and missiles, while at the same time US cargo planes will be dropping food for the victims of those bombs.

That would neatly sum up the contradictions of current American foreign policy.

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