Book | The Long Hangover: Putin’s New Russia and the Ghosts of the Past | Shaun Walker
What’s going on in Putin’s Russia?
The Guardian’s Moscow correspondent, Shaun Walker, recently wrote that, while World Cup soccer fans realised Russia is not entirely alien, there remains a dark side. It is a nation of huge inequalities, human rights abuses and an alarming willingness to forget the past.
Walker notes that it was evident during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics there was not much to celebrate in Russian culture beyond the end of the 19th century, besides the Olympics themselves.
The last century saw millions of victims of collectivisation, deportations and political trials, quite aside from the victims of war. The collapse of the USSR didn’t necessarily improve the lot of ordinary Russians who, instead of freedom, received chaos, while gangsters and former party officials made themselves obscenely rich.
Tellingly, Walker also finds in his conversations with Russians a loss of identity and purpose, which has led to nostalgia for the Soviet era. Russians don’t want to go back to communism, but Putin has tapped into widespread existential regret about the loss of Russia’s status as a first-rate global power.
Putin has revived nationalism, via a cult of the celebration of victory in World War II, to steer through the mess of new materialism, left-over communist infrastructure and competing loyalties. But Walker argues, for this supposedly unifying historical point to take hold much history (as in the Soviet era) has been distorted.
The majority of Russians are happy with this. In a way, who can blame them, considering the nation’s horrific history? All countries have degrees of historical amnesia and simplified national narratives – the West is not immune.
But, says Walker, Putin’s Russia stands out because the Orwellian rewriting of history is “at a different level”.
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