photo & text by nacrowe
much is being said about the state of the RUSSIAN government under VLADIMIR PUTIN's regime, especially in the wake of his recent invasion of neighboring UKRAINE and the senseless barbarism that has unfolded within public view. and rightfully so.
but what about the RUSSIAN people? what are their lives like under his regime? the recent book BETWEEN TWO FIRES: TRUTH, AMBITION AND COMPROMISE IN PUTIN'S RUSSIA (CROWN, 2020) by MOSCOW correspondent for THE NEW YORKER, JOSHUA YAFFA, delves deep into this question and exposes a compromised CIVIL SOCIETY whose participants are rendered complicit by their involvement with an ever more authoritarian state apparatus. specifically YAFFA reports on the coercive political squeeze rendered on RUSSIAN television producers, orthodox priests, humanitarian workers, CRIMEAN zookeepers, artists and historians under PUTIN's reign. within all these aspects of RUSSIAN life, their is a FAUSTIAN BARGAIN that pits ACCESS and INFLUNCE against OSTRACIZATION ostracized and EXILE. seemingly the most corrosive aspect of this state of affairs is how this bunker mentality fixes itself in the wider population, in which CYNICISM and a certain brand of NIHILISM takes root whereby you question the motives of all successful people, both domestic and foreign. when you have a population that has lost its sense of national cohesion, you have a weakened political construct that is easier to be controlled by an authoritarian like PUTIN.
which gets at the subtext i inferred through this book. to me this community corroding mentality and its related strategic breakdown of national identity seems eerily MAGA-esque. just reading about in detail about these various compromised aspects of RUSSIAN CIVIL SOCIETY and the corrupting influence of PUTIN's regime made me consider a future DYSTOPIA where DONALD TRUMP and his acolytes have dominated all manner of national discourse. where one is in a constant internal discussion of how to satiate an ever-shifting party line that has no rhyme or reason. where subservience and loyalty to the state is the only currency that matters.
i feel like i have lived this before in theocratic regimes in MYANMAR and KUWAIT as well as outright military dictatorships like VENEZUELA and NIGERIA. but these corrosive systems have known, discernible boundaries with philosophical underpinnings (all of which i disagree with). in RUSSIA and TRUMP NATION, its a lot more vague and mercurial in nature with the potential to morph the identity and moral compass of its population. to my ears this sounds like elderly ALBANIANS i met during my time as a PEACE CORPS volunteer, who wished for the return of an ENVER HOXHA-like regime to return and provide a sense of NATIONALISTIC pride and IDENTITY that a weakened CAPITALIST economy in a post-COMMUNIST world order couldnt provide.
i hear desperation.
and it is that sense of desperation that rings more true today given current events in EASTERN EUROPE. BETWEEN TWO FIRES is a deeply compelling book that i am not remotely doing justice and is well worth investigation for anyone compelled to consider the extent to which genuinely authoritarian governments corrode their populations sense of PURPOSE and IDENTITY. i know i will return to this book in the future. highly recommended.