Dissidence and Division

In her Minding Russia blog Catherine Fitzpatrick discusses the conflicted nature of the political opposition in Russia, and points out that it is indeed entirely natural:

Long ago I said to myself — hey, it’s their country, they are going to do what they want and I’m not required here except to show solidarity as appropriate to what is appropriate. I think the frenzy that people like [Kevin] Rothrock get into over the Russian opposition is in part driven by the notion that if only they can incite enough indignation and even hatred, they will actually shame or compel people into changing — either the opposition themselves, or their default supporters. They likely truly believe that Putin needs protection.

So hey, I get it about the opposition.  They’re no angels; they have some iffy pasts; they are not effective; they fight among themselves; blah blah blah. But you know something? So do people in the State Department, about what to do about Russia — which strategy to use. And so do people in the European Union — there are huge splits over the issue of whether you coddle or curb Russia, or whether you foster capitalism or socialism, and how, and the role of religion or the secular state. So it’s not as if the rest of the world is in fact any better about the central problem at hand here, the figure of Putin, which is a construct of “the Kremlin,” as in “that fortified place”.

The post raises some basic issues about political and individual resistance in societies that are either totalitarian or are moving in the direction of totalitarianism. Meanwhile, the spectacle of Western indifference or hostility to opposition movements in Russia is not a new one: in a comment I noted that such lack of faith is frequently grounded in the often fragmented character of the opposition itself : after all,

there were similar divisions in the former Soviet dissident community – for example, between figures like Bukovsky, Brodsky, Venclova on the one hand and Etkind, Sinyavsky/Tertz, Medvedev, etc. on the other, though many other such splits existed. Some of the differences were probably personal, while others originated in issues of background, philosophy and outlook. Despite the superficial Western public perception of a unified Soviet dissident movement, the internal divisions were reflected in differences of approach among Western reporters, journalists and commentators, just as they are today where the Russian opposition is concerned. As Fitzpatrick makes clear in her post, however, now as then the divisions don’t really matter: what matters is to “not break faith with people being sent to the GULAG”.

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