As much of the world makes amends for social and political injustices of the past, Russia is lionizing its despots, raising statues to the worst of them. Behind this phenomenon is an ultra-nationalist brand of conservatism that seeks to take Russian politics back to the Middle Ages.
While much of the world is busy dismantling monuments to oppressors, Russians are moving in the opposite direction, erecting statues to medieval warlords who were famous for their despotism. Understanding this revival can shed light on the direction of Russia’s politics.
In October 2016, with the endorsement of Russia’s culture minister, Vladimir Medinsky, the country’s first-ever monument to Ivan the Terrible was unveiled in the city of Orel. A month later, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the ultra-nationalist Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, called for Lenin Avenue in Moscow to be renamed Ivan the Terrible Highway. And in July of this year, President Vladimir Putin christened Moscow’s own tribute to the tyrant, declaring, erroneously, that “most likely, Ivan the Terrible never killed anyone, not even his son.”
Most historians agree that Ivan lived up to his name; not only did he kill his son and other relatives, he also ordered the oprichnina, the state-led purges that terrorized Russia from 1565 to 1572. He also presided over Russia’s defeat in the Livonian War, and his misrule contributed to the Time of Troubles and the state’s devastating depopulation.
.. Joseph Stalin initiated the modern cult of Ivan the Terrible. But, since the mid-2000s, Russia’s Eurasia Party – a political movement led by the pro-fascist mystic Alexander Dugin – has moved to position Ivan as the best incarnation of an “authentic” Russian tradition: authoritarian monarchy.
Dugin’s brand of “Eurasianism” advocates the embrace of a “new Middle Ages,” where what little remains of Russian democracy is replaced by an absolute autocrat. In Dugin’s ideal future, a medieval social order would return, the empire would be restored, and the Orthodox church would assume control over culture and education.
.. Eurasianism, which was marginal in the 1990s, has gained considerable popularity in recent years by contributing to the formation of the so-called Izborsky Club, which unites the Russian far right.
.. Putin has referred to Eurasianism as an important part of Russian ideology
.. members of the Eurasia Party, who consider political terror the most effective tool of governance and call for a “new oprichnina” – a staunchly anti-Western Eurasian conservative revolution. According to Mikhail Yuriev, a member of the political council of the Eurasia Party and author of the utopian novel The Third Empire, the oprichniks should be the only political class, and they should rule by fear.
.. Cultural vocabulary is also reverting. For example, the word kholop, which means “serf,” is returning to the vernacular, a linguistic devolution that parallels a troubling rise in Russia’s modern slavery. Data from the Global Slavery Index show that more than one million Russians are currently enslaved in the construction industry, the military, agriculture, and the sex trade. Moreover, serf “owners” are also happily identifying themselves as modern-day barins.
.. Nostalgia for serfdom compliments the desire for a return to autocracy.
.. Putin’s tacit support for the Eurasian vision of a neo-medieval Russia invokes the historical memory of Stalinism. According to Dugin, “Stalin created the Soviet Empire,” and, like Ivan the Terrible, expresses “the spirit of the Soviet society and the Soviet people.” No wonder, then, that monuments to Stalin, too, are multiplying in Russian cities.
.. Neo-medievalism is rooted in nostalgia for a social order based on inequality, caste, and clan, enforced by terror.
The lionization of historical despots reflects the contemporary embrace of such pre-modern, radically anti-democratic and unjust values. For Ivan’s contemporary champions, the past is prologue.
Partisan outlets go with President Trump’s versions of events, even when they are demonstrably false. Mainstream outlets feel duty bound to report them, even as they debunk the lies.
.. the despot’s “object is to throw things into confusion that he may ‘ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.’ ”
.. So much of the journalism about Trump is negative because of what he does every day and because hard-working reporters and special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation regularly turn up embarrassing facts. Therefore, journalists feel obligated to make sure that everyone knows they can be just as tough on Democrats.
.. Looking “partisan” is a grave transgression. Trump and the Republicans try to paint this scarlet letter on the media almost daily.
.. Lord knows, Democrats have their problems. Their own politicians regularly point them out by way of scoring points in the party’s factional wars
.. Left-wing candidates did not fare particularly well because rank-and-filers aren’t interested in ideological warfare and are choosing on the basis of personal qualities — it really helps to be a woman this year.
.. And there’s nothing imbalanced about Trump’s sins dominating the news. It’s not the media’s fault that there are so many of them.
It turns out that in the tallest skyscrapers and plushest hotels of the most advanced economies, many high-profile men have been acting the part of feudal lords, demanding droit du seigneur from their vassals, the vassals in this case being their female employees and others wishing entry into their fiefdoms. Evidently there’s been a covert system of taxation on female advancement in the work world, with the unluckier among us obligated to render not just the usual fealty demanded by overweening bosses but varying degrees of sexual homage too, from ego-stroking and fluffing (which is gross enough), to being grabbed and groped, to the expectation of silence about full-on rape.
.. historians have written extensively on the importance of gossip and its venues, such as coffeehouses, in fomenting previous revolutions
.. Every revolution has its weapons of choice—once it was muskets and guillotines, this time around it’s “sharing” and media exposure. It wasn’t heads that were rolling, it was careers: contracts yanked, deals canceled, agents quitting, e-mail accounts shuttered.
.. When the Times recently compiled the names of twenty-four prominent men accused of sexual harassment, it did rather bring to mind the spectacle of heads on a pike in a public square
.. If recent events tell us anything, it’s that power is a social agreement, not a stable entity. The despots had power because they did things that were socially valued and profitable, but the terms of the agreement can shift abruptly.
.. Social upheavals like the current one—chaotic and improvised, yet destined—happen when certain echelons retract their consent to existing conditions and make new demands. Gramsci calls it “war of position.” Toppling power isn’t about storming the Bastille these days, it’s about changing the way people talk and think. If our upheavals come dressed in different garb, creating a crisis of authority for those in power is still how the world changes.
.. But speaking of unlikely agents, that one of the more significant battlefield wins recently was achieved by a former Miss America, Gretchen Carlson, is tough for those who’d prefer their feminist victories to come from women with better feminist credentials.
.. Unfortunately you won’t learn any of this from Be Fierce—you don’t get $20 million without a nondisclosure agreement.
.. It’s from Sherman we learn that Carlson secretly recorded her meetings with Ailes on her phone for a year and a half—including his remark that the two of them should have had sex long ago to resolve their differences, spoken sometime before she was fired (after an eleven-year stint as a newscaster) and sometime after she lodged complaints about the climate of sexism at Fox, for which Ailes labeled her a “man hater” and demoted her.
.. The less job security you have, the worse it is; fast food workers are especially vulnerable.
.. Women who come forward are likely to be passed over for promotions and good assignments, or find their jobs mysteriously eliminated.
.. On rare occasions when a boss-harasser is actually fired, the woman who brought him down often gets treated like a leper by his allies. The majority of those who report harassment end up in different jobs, which makes it understandable that, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 70 percent of women who are harassed don’t report it.
.. Have a plan before you go to HR or you’ll find your options predetermined; you may have a mandatory arbitration clause in your employment contract you don’t know about
.. Trump himself boasts of barging into dressing rooms in the Miss Teen USA contest to gape at unclothed teenage girls. Upon purchasing the Miss USA franchise, he says, he “made the heels higher and the bathing suits smaller.”
.. The “idealized pedestal” Miss America gets put on is itself a form of disempowerment, Carlson eventually came to realize. True, and if you flip to your local Fox affiliate, you’ll see the same compliant femininity distilled to its purest iteration. Like beauty contestants, the women of Fox are hired on the basis of looks, then laminated into near mannequins.
.. The point is that the way Ailes expected “his” women to dress makes clear the role they were expected to play: receptacles
.. If those who signed on had difficulty speaking out about harassment in the workplace because they felt shame regarding the trade-offs they’d made—and many have said that they did—shame is what women are meant to feel in this equation.
.. The convenience of misogyny is that men are spared from hating themselves because they have women to hate instead.
.. You want to know when to tell someone to shut up and when to jump out of a moving car.
This would also involve the ability to distinguish between force and power.
.. Those who didn’t buy into it seem to have fared better. The actress Lupita Nyong’o recalled several encounters with Weinstein in an essay for The New York Times. When he trotted out his familiar moves, she refused to play the expected role: when he asked to give her a massage, she turned the tables and gave him one instead, consciously putting herself in control of the situation. When he tried taking off his pants, she walked to the door, not giving him the satisfaction of seeming intimidated. And he backed down. She seems to have understood that Weinstein may have had power over her career, but he didn’t have power over her, and making that distinction gave her more options for negotiating a bad situation.
.. Anthony Weiner has been the public face of the sexual tic for some years now: a man of demonstrable intelligence under the sway of a compulsion so intellectually disabling that after a string of previous life-wrecking exposures, he still allowed himself to be set up once again, this time by a fifteen-year-old. Anyone could have seen from ten miles away that it was a frame—anyone but Weiner, that is. (The girl later said she was trying to influence the course of the 2016 presidential election, which she probably did—James Comey reopened the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails after seizing Weiner’s computer once his new friend turned him in.)
.. feminist Dorothy Dinnerstein’s The Mermaid and the Minotaur (1976): the problem for men is that they had mothers.
.. Mother-dominated child-rearing, thought Dinnerstein, is the reason behind men’s loathing of women and everything culturally inscribed as female
.. men can’t give up ruling the world until women cease to have a monopoly on ruling childhood. To push Dinnerstein’s speculations to an even gloomier place: do mothers take out on their sons the abuses they themselves have suffered at the hands of men?
.. Online feminism is itself a playground of bullying and viperishness, most of it under the banner of rectitude.