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Publikujemy angielską wersję wywiadu z profesorem Grigorijem Judinem, rosyjskim filozofem i socjologiem. Wywiad ukazał się w OKO.press:

Prof. Judin dokonuje w nim przenikliwej analizy stanu władzy i społeczeństwa Rosji pod rządami Putina w obliczu wojny rozpętanej przeciwko Ukrainie.

Zachęcamy do udostępniania tego tłumaczenia swoim angielskojęzycznym znajomym.

Tłumaczyła pro bono Natalia Heringa.

Photo: In the village of Syzganka in Perm Krai, pupils of the local Yunarmya—a patriotic youth organization—line up in the snow to form the letter Z. Source © Suksunsky municipal district

“The fixation on the purity of the nation, seeking out traitors—these are elements of Nazism. The public’s enthusiasm for participating in all this is still low. People are used to keeping their lives private, to being passive, to going to ‘Putings’ at the behest of the administration. Now, it seems to me, people are becoming more active—but out of horror. This is a typical moment in the development of a fascist state, when the passive masses begin to cooperate out of fear of becoming the victims,” says Grigory Yudin, Russian philosopher and sociologist, and professor at the Moscow State School of Economics and Social Sciences.

Two years ago Yudin predicted the war. Today he talks about it with ire— that the West has been doing business with a murderer for years, pumping money into the Kremlin regime, and turning a blind eye to what has been going on internally in Russia.

According to Yudin, Russia is currently experiencing a dynamic fascistization at all levels, and Russian society has effectively ceased to exist. “The Russians,” says Yudin, “know and understand everything, yet prefer not to act—because ‘while God can be brought down from heaven, Putin can’t be.’”

“The idea that propaganda brainwashes people and creates a different world for them is simply false. Russian propaganda works differently. The Russians do not believe in anything, not even in propaganda. The basic message of it is that you can't trust anything, propaganda itself included. It tells the Russians that everyone in the world always lies, and we must choose wisely which of the lies is most advantageous to us, which one makes us feel the most comfortable.”

Russian journalist Masha Makarova talks to Professor Grigory Yudin for OKO.press.

This is Fascism

Masha Makarova: How can you briefly describe what is currently happening in Russian society?

Grigory Yudin: To describe it in one word, it is obviously fascistization. We can see that the political regime which was built to be authoritarian and Bonapartist is rapidly mutating into fascism. The process is not over, it is undoubtedly ongoing.

What indicates that a mutation is underway?

For a long time, we’ve been observing an authoritarian system based on societal passivity. This system gave people the opportunity to improve their lives, take out loans, and pursue a career in return for complete political indifference. For Russians under Putin, the essence of common sense has been to not get involved in politics: “There’s nothing to win there—political matters are dirty and pointless, politicians only act in their own interest.”

You can think and even say what you want, but active political action is forbidden. It doesn't matter if you are for Putin or against him.

But now the rules have changed. You must share your country's view of key events, and if you don’t, you are a target of terror. There’s been a transition from authoritarianism to totalitarianism, with its homogeneous consciousness.

There’s a key triad in a fascist regime: the leader equals the society equals the state. In Russia, the equal sign between the leader and society was put in place a long time ago — just think of the slogan “No Putin, no Russia.”

As for the leader equals the state: after 2020 it’s clear that no one has the right to belong to the state without showing personal loyalty to the leader. And so, the gap between the state and society is closing. If you do not support the state’s policy, you cannot belong to the society—you are a traitor and a villain.

There is also a rapid ideologization occurring. Special lectures on "History According to Putin" are organized at universities, taught in schools and kindergartens—the regime is explaining why the war is necessary. The state controls knowledge, ensuring its assimilation.

We’re seeing severe repression at universities: the dismissal of professors, the expulsion of students, hearings during which authorities demand lists of people who don’t hold the right views, ending with criminal charges. Today, one can no longer silently disagree with Putin's insane vision of history. One can no longer stay on the sidelines.

How are the people reacting to this?

The fear in the atmosphere is very palpable. People prefer to cooperate rather than become targets of terror, and terror is part of the fascistization. The ordinary citizen, who did not care about anything yesterday, is suddenly cooperating today out of fear of being denounced.

In recent weeks there have been reports of at least two criminal cases about the spreading of “fake news" on the war in Ukraine by teachers who have been denounced.

At universities, students are asked to report professors who hold the wrong views. It turns out there are few students ready and willing to come out with accusations, but it’s enough if only one does. Conversely, some inform their professors which of their classmates is ready to denounce them. That's nice, but education effectively ends when some students report you, while the others spy on one another.

The social sciences and the humanities have basically turned into a propaganda campaign. Research topics now must be approved by governors.

The whole process is just beginning. We'll see what happens. In Russia, there is a great tradition of escaping the state and resisting coercion. Maybe this will work as a fuse.

Purges in Ukraine? The conscious imitation of Hitler

Is it still enough to show your face at government rallies (known as “Putings”) to express the required support to the authorities?

What’s necessary is participation in performances during which human bodies form the letter Z, the symbol of the “special operation.” Then, you need to post a photo from that event on social media, proving your loyalty. All the while, being threatened and intimidated just in case you wouldn’t want to participate.

Fascist symbolism and the use of human bodies to replicate it create an unequivocal association—just as the letter Z does. I don’t know whether Polish readers saw the image of the kneeling children who formed the letter Z this way. Or how children from a hospice were made to do the same.

Ludzie w czerwonych kurtkach w śniegu ustawili się w literę Z
Photo: In the village of Syzganka in Perm Krai, pupils of the local Yunarmya—a patriotic youth organization—line up in the snow to form the letter Z. Source © Suksunsky Municipal District
Widok z góry na podwórzu hospicjum dzieci ustawione w literę Z
Photo: Patients from a children's cancer hospice in Kazan, March 5, 2022; source © Angela Vavilova Foundation

Yes, it is all painfully reminiscent of fascist aesthetics . . . The same letter is used for threats, people find it drawn on the doors to their apartments.

Na drzwiach do mieszkania, czarnych, namalowane białą farbą wielkie litery Z i przyklejonas ultoka : Tu mieszka kolaborant
Photo: The apartment door of a human rights defender from the recently dissolved human rights organization Memorial chaired by Oleg Orlov; source © Memorial

For anyone who knows anything about the 1930s, it’s apparent there’s no coincidence when they see the aggressive symbols of war formed by human bodies.

So, is this a deliberate imitation of Nazi aesthetics?

There is no doubt—this is a deliberate imitation of Hitler. There is an overtly Nazi quality to the ideology we observe in Russia. This is related to the idea of ethnic cleansing promoted by Vladimir Putin and the people around him. This whole "special operation" project is described as cleansing Ukraine, dividing it into two parts — the clean, meaning the Russian; and the dirty, that is, the Nazi or Ukrainian.

Initially, it was thought that this cleansing would be possible by eliminating the "Nazi elite," but they found the situation to be even worse — it turned out that all of Ukraine is full of Nazis, and it’s necessary to systematically cleanse the entire society.

Is this what is happening in the filtration camps in the territories of the proclaimed people’s republics, as well as what happened in Bucha and other places?

Yes, of course, all the filtration efforts and all the atrocities that we saw in the suburbs of Kyiv are not military excesses, but planned operations which follow the logic of purges. The very principle of filtration focuses on the body—one person is dirty; the other is clean.

This is Nazism. Russian soldiers in Ukraine use the same rhetoric—we will let you live because you are clean, but we will destroy you because you are dirt. This is operational logic. Of course, on top of that, individual commanders are criminals themselves to begin with.

The so-called “denazification” means destroying everything that is Ukrainian—there are attacks on Ukrainian intellectuals, journalists, and teachers. They are sought out and killed. This is a planned purge. And I think we will still witness worse things than what we saw in Bucha.

Putin, in turn, speaks of the need to cleanse Russian society of criminals and traitors.

The fixation on the purity of the nation and seeking traitors—these are elements of Nazism. The public’s enthusiasm for participating in all this is still low. People are used to keeping their lives private, to being passive, to going to “Putings” at the behest of the administration. But now, it seems to me, people are becoming more active—but out of horror. This is a typical moment in the development of a fascist state, when the passive masses begin to cooperate out of the fear of becoming the victims.

How quickly can the transition be from the symbolic cleansing of enemies of the Russian state to their physical annihilation?

We already have criminal cases; the system of repression is working. As for physical annihilation, Russia has withdrawn from the Council of Europe—there is talk of reintroducing the death penalty. I'm rather certain it will be reintroduced, and that it will be used for purges. It is still difficult to say which groups will be affected by it. For now, I’d be more worried about the Ukrainians.

The Russians want peace of mind

Both the state-owned public opinion polling firm VCIOM and the independent Levada Center released very high approval ratings for the “special operation” among Russians. Can you trust the results of these polls?

How many Germans in 1939 would answer that they were against a special military operation in Poland? That’s an idiotic question. In relation to Russia, it’s also idiotic.

Polling makes no sense in the current situation—we are talking about a society where acts of terror are taking place. People are scared, frustrated. Everyone is afraid, but they cannot show fear. After all, you must convince yourself that everything is under control.

When you’re at work in the morning and you learn that you must support a “special operation,” and hear what awaits those who don’t, and then later in the evening a pollster asks you if you support the “special operation,” what will you answer? "I don’t support it"? That’s a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

It's not that there aren’t people who are against it, they’re just telling the pollsters that they do support it. In a state of fear, a person has other things on their mind.

These polls are another aspect of the violence against Russians, they are intended to intimidate. And that's exactly how people perceive them. These poll results cannot be treated as true votes or the honestly expressed opinions of the Russian people.

The Levada Center also speaks of a high level of support for Vladimir Putin. How is that possible?

Yes, his approval rating is rising, but so are the ratings of all politicians in general, including for Vladimir Zhirinovsky—and he’s not even alive.

It's called “yes saying,” people get a phone call and realize they need to say “yes.” That doesn't mean they don't have a different opinion. It means that they are terribly scared and at that moment only wanted to survive. “Do we all need to support Putin now? Ok, yes, we all support Putin. All politicians are good, I trust them all, just leave me in peace.”

You say the poll results can’t be trusted. However, it is important for Poles to understand whether the Russians do or do not support the war; they want to know how to shape their attitudes toward Russian society.

There is no part of Russian society that either supports or does not support what is happening. Simply put, there is no society. This is a fascist situation in which totality is achieved through violence. People don't concern themselves with expressing their support for something by tallying up votes. Forget about that. We are dealing with the fusion of state and society.

The most important thing to understand about the Russians is that they want peace of mind. To them, none of this is interesting, important, or necessary. “Nothing can be done to change anything anyway. If Putin decided it, let it be.”

Even now this is the dominant response: the protection of privacy. I am not judging if this is right or wrong, but most Russians right now just aren't very involved in what's going on.

This war turns into war of survival

Is the war in Ukraine Putin’s war, or a Russian war?

This is a very important question. I think it is firstly Putin’s war—but not in the sense that only Putin is to blame, and the Russians have nothing to do with it. That’s not the case. However, this is Putin’s war in one specific sense: no one but him really needs it.

Yes, there’s some marginal group that said, “Let's start a war, let’s conquer those lands.” The Russians, however, did not demand that Putin declare war. For the vast majority it was a complete shock.

Journalists keep showing me the results of the polls, asking why it is that the Russians support the war. My answer is that if Putin returned the so-called people's republics to Ukraine, the level of support for his decision would be the same as it is now. It’s a typical acclamation—“He decided, and we supported him because he knows better. What he has decided is his own business.”

That's why this is Putin’s war. If he decides to end it, the vast majority of Russians will say, “Thank God, finally.”

This is not Putin’s war in the sense that he alone is responsible for it. Of course not. Passive support, lack of interest, the desire for self-preservation, and indifference to the suffering of others is common throughout Russia and legitimizes the war.

People pretend all of this doesn’t apply to them. They repeat the wild statements of war propaganda, even if they don’t believe in it. They want to convince themselves of it. This, of course, is complicity. It doesn’t apply to all Russians, though. We do see a large group of people who are categorically against war.

Are they also responsible for what is happening?

All Russians bear responsibility, we shouldn’t dilute the blame. What is happening to us today is very similar to what happened in Germany. One thing the Germans have learned well is that if everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame.

First, there are specific people who make the decisions. Then there are specific people who serve the system but pretend to have nothing to do with it, for example the government's economic bloc. This is one type of responsibility.

Another type of responsibility is borne by those who go about their own business, who don't want to think about anything and want to be left in peace. Yet another is the responsibility of those who felt the dread of this situation forming, have spent years trying to warn the world of what’s coming, and are now trying to think of some way to stop it.

Yes, we are all responsible, but it is a responsibility of differing degrees. The point is not to find everyone guilty and drown them in their guilt. Feelings of guilt are not constructive, but responsibility presupposes that the person who feels it will take action.

Have the Russians’ attitudes changed through the course of the war and with the discovery of the atrocities committed by the Russian army in the suburbs of Kyiv?

It seems to me that the situation is changing for the worse. At first, most Russians were passively supporting what was happening, as they always have in the past, protecting their daily lives.

But now I hear this statement more and more often: "Well, we probably shouldn't have gone in, but since we did, we should see it through to the end, otherwise Russia will be destroyed."

In other words, people identify with the war and with Putin, out of fear but also out of the awareness of the atrocities committed there by the Russian army.

This leads to a situation where the war ceases to be Putin’s war. It turns into a Patriotic War [as World War II is commonly known in Russia - Ed.]. Especially since there is already a strong narrative about the Patriotic War in Russia, which is now amplified even more by propaganda which says, “We are still waging that war.” This means that the Russians are being prepared for a patriotic war, an existential war, and that they will have to make the same sacrifices as 80 years ago.

Would the Russians accept an announcement of universal mobilization?

Until quite recently, I thought that Putin would find it unacceptable to make that political decision. But now I think the situation is changing. If things continue, after a time the Russians will accept and understand universal mobilization.

Russians don't believe in anything - everyone always lies

The popular view in Europe is that Russians simply do not know the truth and that they are susceptible to propaganda. And that when they do find out the truth, the Russian people will understand everything immediately and will react with indignation. Could that be the case?

That has nothing to do with reality. Believe me, the majority of Russians know about everything perfectly well, even if it’s buried deep inside them. The idea that propaganda brainwashes people and creates a different world for them is simply false.

Is the propaganda not working?

In Russia, propaganda works differently. Russians do not believe in anything, not even in propaganda. The basic message of it is that you can't trust anything, propaganda itself included. It tells Russians that everyone in the world always lies, and we must choose wisely which of the lies is most advantageous to us, which one makes us feel the most comfortable.

Propaganda provides a convenient narrative of war that allows one to defend oneself against everything: “It was a national security threat, we had no choice, we had to do it, it’s only a limited military operation, everything will be fine. Of course, there are victims. But that's not our army's fault, it's because of the Nazis.” All of this allows one to remain in a familiar reality.

“If it was the Russian army that was responsible for the slaughter in Bucha, what can I do about it?” Let me remind you that the number one thing in the Russian worldview is that nothing can be done about Putin. “God can be brought down from heaven, but not Putin. “What can I do? What can be done if the world is ruled by a villain and there is no way to stop him?” The situation is unbearable.

As more information surfaces about the atrocities, the determination to see the war through to the end increases: “If our people are the ones doing such things, there is no turning back, everything must be denied.” In an interview with Sky News, Dmitry Peskov [a Kremlin spokesperson - Ed.] recently admitted significant losses in the Russian military, and subsequently received a heavy blow from the Russian “war party” which demanded his head for not lying about it. This means that there is no right to tell the truth. If you are not lying, you are a traitor.

How can we get through to the Russians? Is it at all possible?

By giving them the opportunity to act. I believe that demonizing all Russians is dangerous, since they would start to think, “Aha, if everyone hates us so much, we only have one path, together with Putin. Either we destroy everyone with Putin, or we go down with Putin.” That is the most dangerous thing.

If a different course of action emerges that would make them feel safe without Putin, they would become more open to information. That is why a strong, unequivocal stance on Putin, maintaining a separation between Putin and Russia, is an important thing to be pursued. Because otherwise we will see Russians increasingly identifying with Putin, and that would be very dangerous.

During the second World War, Hannah Arendt wrote that when she heard Allies saying that all Germans were Nazis, she understood that Nazi propaganda had done a good job, and had achieved its goal.

Do you think there is a real threat that Putin won’t stop at Ukraine?

I think it is quite obvious that if he takes Ukraine, he will go for Poland because the balance of global power will have shifted. Hardly anyone in Poland has doubts about that. Putin is absolutely sure that NATO will not defend Poland. The French will ask themselves again why they should die for Danzig.

And if Putin fails in Ukraine, he will think that NATO is preventing him from achieving his military goals. Which means that he is de facto at war with NATO and must attack Poland, who is helping Ukraine.

I think the only way to do anything about it is to put up a solid shield so that Russians see that this war cannot be won. That they are dealing with a coordinated resistance from people who are not planning on reeducating anyone, nor imposing on anyone how to live—that they are only defending themselves against Putin.

This could be the incentive to stop fascitization in Russia and for Putin to lose power. The same thing happened with Hitler, only it must happen much sooner now. This is the time to do it.

Is there anything Vladimir Putin is afraid of?

He is afraid of everything; he is terribly scared. All he has left is fear and feeling threatened— that’s the problem. He was deeply moved by the fate of Colonel Gaddafi. We know that after the murder of Gaddafi, Putin was deeply shocked and declared that he would never allow something like that to happen in Russia. At the time the president of Russia was Dmitry Medvedev, and that was the main reason Putin decided to regain power.

He constantly feels physically endangered even in his bunker. He is paranoid. It is not worth seeing him as a fearless fighter. Putin rotates one thousand servants a month because he’s afraid they will do something to him.

Fighting Putin is like fighting God

You spoke of the passivity of most Russians, but is there anything Putin has managed to activate in them?

Putin really managed to fan the flames of resentment. It’s a very common feeling, not only among those who share his crazy notions that Ukraine doesn’t exist. The resentment and indignation systematically fueled by Putin knows no bounds. A very large number of Russians feel deep resentment, which cannot be appeased in any way.

Is this a resentment toward the West?

Yes, resentment, revanchism for losing the Cold War, feelings that “We’ve been betrayed; we were a great country that was ruined by Gorbachev and Yeltsin; the West tried to control us."

These feelings lead to a willingness to justify terrible things. It also results in a contemptuous attitude towards our neighbors in Eastern Europe: “This is our territory after all, but we lost it thanks to traitors.”

What place does Russian imperialism occupy in all this?

Russian imperialism exists, but it is not the primary cause of what is happening. Putin is a problem not only for Russia. Putin is a fundamentally important part of today's world order. He not only feels confident among the world's elites but is a key player among them.

The fact that he began to believe that he was the master of the world was made possible after he bought out the world's financial and political elites. He put his people everywhere, corrupted them, allowed himself and the oligarchs to use any means of enrichment possible, and contributed to the catastrophic increase of inequality in Europe.

He made these elites forget about the political interests of their countries, he offered them the same deal as he proposed to the Russians: “Get rich with me but stay out of my political agenda.” Putin understood the power of greed, and it helped him to exert control throughout a large part of the world.

The Russians saw perfectly well how after each attempt to oppose Putin inside Russia, Putin's partners in Europe were granting him gigantic new contracts. He became richer and richer, he had more and more resources to repress, while his oligarchs gained more new opportunities and became even more loyal to him.

People think, “How can anyone beat him when big economies like Germany will always support the regime and will endlessly pump money into it? It's like fighting God.” This is what makes Russians feel helpless. This is what we must do something about.

Nobody is obliged to help the Russians. But it is strange to expect them to act when they have to take enormous risks to protest, while in the meantime Putin gets billions of dollars from Europe.

When the Russians start to see that Putin no longer has serious support, that he is not all-powerful, it will have a much greater impact than sanctions have. Sanctions should lead to the understanding that it's over, Putin is no longer all-powerful.

Some say the West imposed sanctions to negatively impact the Russian people, to make them reflect on the reasons for it, and to ultimately make them overthrow the government. But your answer shows that it’s the opposite, the Russians will instead unite around Putin as a result.

I really hope that the West has not imposed sanctions with this stupid idea in mind. Since 2014, it’s clear that this is not how things work. Imagine that sanctions are imposed on Poland and people are told: "You either do as we tell you, or you will starve to death.”

It is obvious that people will start to resist. I hope the purpose of these sanctions is not to educate, but to defend—to stop Putin's war machine. That would make sense. If it stops the war, if it leads to an organizational collapse in Russia, it could mobilize the Russians to rethink everything.

Are mass protests in Russia impossible? Do the Russians even see them as a tool of exerting influence on the government?

There are many people in Russia who are against the war. They would like to do something, but don’t believe their actions could lead to anything. It is not a question of cost. Many people are ready to make serious sacrifices when inhumane things happen in a neighboring country and when their own country is also being destroyed.

People are willing to take risks. But what can one do? Go out on the street and what next? We saw what happened in Belarus in 2020.

When the war started, people in Russia also took to the streets. For them to come out en masse, they must see that this can at least make a difference, that Putin is not all-powerful, that the German chancellor will not sign another gas contract with him after the protest.

The rhetoric of the West is changing now, personal sanctions are being imposed on Putin's close circle, on his daughters. Is it too little?

The rhetoric is changing, but the foundation has not changed. Everyone in Russia knows this perfectly well. For example, everyone says that "international corporations are leaving Russia". But which ones, and where do they go? On closed storefronts there are inscriptions "we will reopen soon". What do the Russians think? That Putin will conquer everyone, and everything will be fine?

The same is true of large companies that at first claimed to leave Russia, only to resell their production system to their Russian representatives, who in turn tell their customers: "Don't worry, everything will be just like it used to be.” What are the Russians supposed to think?

The situation has not changed. Putin's interests are still being lobbied by the same people around the world. In Russia, they see that in the U.S., Poland, and in the Baltic States there is a certain determination to stop it, but in other countries there isn’t.

Some of the West’s actions seem impressive at first, but then Russians begin to think: "Putin's about to bite off a piece of Ukraine and everything will be over soon."

I think that this is what could happen and what financial circles are waiting for—let the war end as soon as possible so business will continue as usual.

Identifying Russia with imperialism plays into the hands of Putin

Is a civil war in Russia possible?

Yes, absolutely. How does Kharkiv differ from Belgorod [Russian city not far from the border with Ukraine - Ed.]? Russian-speakers are currently at war there against Russian-speakers. Why can you bomb Kharkiv and then think it won't happen in Belgorod?

This is not a war between Russia and Ukraine — let's not repeat Putin's nonsense. It is a war of two different ideas about the world. A huge number of Russians support Ukrainians and oppose Putin. War may come to Russian territory.

This is how empires collapse, they cannot come to terms with their territorial losses, they want their land back, and then they suffer even greater losses from civil wars.

You say that the war in Ukraine is a war of different ideas about the world, but maybe it is also a war of generations?

A great generational conflict is brewing in Russia, we can call it a cultural conflict. It is true that Putin enjoys the support of an overwhelming majority of the older generation, which gives him a mandate to do whatever he wants. This is understandable, as they are the most in need of a feeling of security.

A retiree in Russia feels isolated and scared, and needs the reassurance that Putin offers. They are also sensitive to the picture Putin is painting — a picture of the late Soviet Union enhanced by consumerism. It is an ideal world, but it is not a world where other generations live.

Putin is the most radical representative of that older generation. He doesn't use the internet. The people around him don’t use the internet either. There is a huge cultural gap — one part of society is integrated into the modern world, while the other lives in the world of the late Soviet Union with its Cold War.

This is, incidentally, a marked difference to the situation in Nazi Germany. There, in the language of the historian Lev Gumilyov, the passionate driving force with the most creative energy and charisma were the young people. Russia is instead ruled by a gerontocracy — they want to stop the future, to force young people to return to their world.

In recent years, there has been a need for a different political style in Russia. One of the reasons Putin started the war was because he felt he was losing momentum at home.

There has also been a split on all key political issues. Young people in Russia do not understand the style of the men in greasy jackets who go to Ivan Ivanovich to get things done. Therefore, they distance themselves from politics. “If politics is something disgusting and boring, then I'll do something else.”

The popular view in Poland is that no matter which generation comes to power in Russia, there is an overarching Russian mentality or gene that will lead to the building of an authoritarian regime. Even if Navalny is in power. Do you agree with that?

No, Russia is by no means doomed to authoritarianism. Various things have happened in the history of Russia. It must be understood that the current concentration of power is not typical of Russia. Russian culture at its most influential —Tolstoy, Nekrasov, Turgenev, and even Lenin—speaks of resistance to tyranny.

The strongest Russian thought that is known all over the world is anarchism. Russia has a long republican tradition. Yes, there are also heavy autocratic traditions. But younger generations have entirely different needs. That gene, the organic attachment to it, is gone.

Russian imperialism is not necessary—in Russia there are different people, different traditions, different trends. I remember that when we spoke with Alexei Navalny in Warsaw, he told me that he felt very sorry for the Poles after the tragedy in Smolensk, when a large part of the Polish elite perished [In April 10, 2010, a plane carrying Polish political elite to Katyn in Russia to commemorate 20 000 Polish officers murder by Soviet NKWD in 1940, crashed near the Smolensk airport, killing all the passengers and crew - Ed.]

Considering that Kaczynski's party has never been a great friend of Russia, I think it can be understood that this expression of sorrow was not a statement by a Russian imperialist. What is important to Navalny is respect for his neighbors, for their history and their view of their shared history. There are many such people in Russia.

It is currently an advantage to Putin to connect Russia with Russian imperialism. In this matter, the Russians feel hopeless—they feel they have to follow Putin to the end and either lose or win with him. This must be understood, it is extremely important.

The world after the war will become a much worse place

Was there a line crossed after which Russia was able to start a war with Ukraine?

It was Putin who started the war. The Russian people did not demand war. It’s a question of the evolution of the Putin regime. It was constructed in such a way that it eventually had to produce a war.

Why do I speak about this with such irritation? Because everything has been in plain sight. We have been talking for years about the fact that the Germans committed suicide when they began trading with a man who is a murderer. Why did they think that if he killed others, he wouldn’t kill them? This was all known in advance.

At one point, Putin was doomed to conclude that the whole world was against him, and if he didn't subjugate it, the world would destroy him. So, he finds himself now in an existential situation which he imposes on the whole country.

It must be understood that previous regimes which were shaped in the same way also achieved the same result—the Second Empire in France or the interwar regime in Germany, which ended with Hitler's rise to power.

All of them eventually invented a military threat that came out of nowhere, and in the paroxysm of defense against the enemy, decided that they had to conquer everyone around them.

It is the standard story of overestimating external risk, and the reluctance to accept that the country itself has diversity within it. Such regimes always fail.

So, this is the direction any country can go, it’s not a special "Russian way"?

Yes. Especially a country addicted to resentment, that is, to former empire. This story is not only about Russia. For the last two years I have been saying there will be war. I came to that conclusion based on an analysis of such regimes, not because of "Russian culture."

Such political systems arose in different countries, and all led to the same result. Yes, Russian imperialism is what this package is wrapped up in now, but it is not a uniquely Russian problem.

Do you see any chance for Russia in this hopeless situation?

I don't see any good scenarios. The worst-case scenario is one in which Putin succeeds, and the world order begins to change. Of course, neither Russia nor Putin will benefit from this because Putin has nothing to offer the world. However, after evil triumphs, the world will inevitably become a much worse place.

Russia will lose if Putin fails. It has ruined relations with its closest neighbors forever, has dealt a catastrophic blow to its economic and cultural attractiveness, it is now associated with brutality, and the Russian army is associated with rogue, ineffective force.

It is also a symbolic blow. Russia is no longer a country that ended a war. It is the country that started one.

I want Poles to understand that no tsar ever had the power that Putin has now in Russia. And this applies to the entire country — everything is hierarchical. There are little Putins everywhere, people rush to them to get things done.

But at the same time, in Russia, many people think differently. There are a lot of them, they are more progressive, they are the future, they see that this is a war of the past against the future. And of course, they will take responsibility upon themselves.

As we have seen in other imperial examples, the collapse that may occur in Russia ends with a very painful transformation followed by the establishment of a republic. The Russia of the future is a republican country, and it will have to deal with the consequences, rethink and reinvent itself.

I see such an opportunity for Russia, although it’s unclear where we’d start. We're still falling. The lower we fall, the less of a chance we will succeed, and the greater the chance that Russia will be completely destroyed.

If that happens, if Russia turns into a series of endless conflicts, believe me, Poles will not like it.

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Masza Makarowa

Masza Makarowa (1987) - Rosjanka, dziennikarka, współpracująca m.in. z telewizją Biełsat. Absolwentka historii na moskiewskiej Szanince i współpracowniczka zlikwidowanego stowarzyszenia Memoriał. Poza dziennikarstwem pisze o historii getta warszawskiego i o historii i współczesności Birobidżanu, gdzie spędziła trochę czasu.

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