Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Russians Responding to End of Empire as to Any Other Loss, Moscow Psychologist Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, July 9 – As they have struggled with the end of empire, Russians have been going through the stages of a process familiar to anyone who has lost something: denial, anger, and grudging acceptance of what has happened and what the nature of the new reality is, according to Moscow psychologist Lyudmila Petranovskaya.


            In an essay on the portal yesterday, Petranovskaya, who has attracted wide attention for her involvement with international adoptions, says that this pattern is “curious” but hardly unexpected given the enormous changes in many aspects of life that Russians have experienced over the last 25 years (


            When the Soviet Union collapsed, she argues, there were so many “other problems” that “the shock from the collapse of the empire was compiled with the shock of the collapse of so much else that it was difficult to deal with it as a separate thing.” As a result, “the stage of denial” lasted 23 years.


            Over the course of this period, Russians found it almost impossible to view Ukrainians as a separate nation, she writes.  As a result of this attitude, she continues, “the chief victims of the stage of denial were Russian and Ukrainian border guards” who had to deal with Russians who couldn’t imagine that there could be an international border between them.


            The Orange Revolution of 2004 was a wake-up call for many Russians, the first indication, “albeit naïve and inconsistent,” of the emergence of the Ukrainians as a separate and distinct civic nation.  But if Russians could deny that, they could not deny the results of the Maidan, and consequently, they responded as people often do to change – with anger.


            Some Russians were able to avoid falling into this trap, but far from all.  And this pattern was not simply the result of a widespread Russian acceptance of the end of empire. Instead, she argues it reflects in some cases the rise of individualism and the weakening of any broader identities and the desire of many to recover a membership in something larger.


But whatever the combination of causes, Petranovskaya says, the rise in anger represented a real threat. When an individual is angry, it isn’t safe to be around him. When a large country is, the dangers are all the greater. The first can attack with his fists; the second can attack with tanks.


As the anger of Russians over Ukraine has grown, she suggests, the next stage in the process of adapting to the end of empire has emerged: one that involves bargaining and a search for enemies, along with attacks on just about everyone, including “as usual the Jews,” who are “accustomed” to that.


One could observe all this “simply with professional interest,” the psychologist says, “if people were not dying in the process.”  But the next stage is beginning to show itself, and that is “the stage of depression,” one in which the problems of the Russian economy will combine with this process and lead to drinking, suicide, or simply a decline in health.


In the short term, she cannot foresee “anything happier” for Russians.  At the same time, however, she suggests that Russians remember that in some respects many Ukrainians are going through an equivalent process, although their trajectory is likely to be easier and better because they are gaining something even as they are losing old Soviet-era verities.


Further down the road, however, she says she hopes, Russians will pass through this stage of depression and complete the cycle by accepting the loss of empire, by acquiring a new identity and a new plan for their lives which will be “subjectively experienced as a rebirth or a recovery after a serious illness.”


And that in turn will be accompanied by “a revival of interest, joy, and faith in oneself,” albeit in one’s “new self in new conditions.”  Once that happens, then “there is a chance that Russia will finally part with its imperial phantoms and begin its path as a normal, strong and healthy country.”


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