Monday, March 23, 2009

The Silence of the Silenced

Interviewed in the Finnish political weekly Nykypäivä, the Russian dissident Oksana Chelysheva sees a change taking place in Russian public opinion under the impact of the present economic crisis. In particular, she is at pains to challenge some of the perceptions about Russia that are widespread in the West (my translation):

To foreign observers Russia can easily seem like a political monolith. The power may lie with the Tsar, the Politburo or the Prime Minister, but the forms and methods by which that power is exercised are always the same: central control, concentration of power in the hands of the state, and an emphasis on external threats.

Chelysheva believes that trying to interpret Russia in terms of its “submissive” national character is an oversimplification. The article continues:

She does not accept the argument that however authoritarian Putin’s regime may be, it represents stability compared to its predecessor, the government of Boris Yeltsin, which combined freedom with social chaos.

“It’s true that in the Yeltsin era there was chaos, but one could talk about it. Now there is a chaos which cannot be mentioned.”

Another misconception widespread in the West live is that the vast majority of Russians are satisfied with things as they are.

“The Russians haven’t fallen silent about their lot, they've been silenced. There is a certain difference.

Many people in the West believe that while the dissidents are right in principle, in their support for democracy and freedom of speech they represent only in a small elite that is composed of the Russian intelligentsia.

Chelysheva does this accept this view either.

“The situation is exactly the opposite. It’s not the intelligentsia who are criticizing the Kremlin, but ordinary people.”

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