Staunton, December 29 – There is an old saying that in a democracy, everything that isn’t prohibited is permitted; in an authoritarian system, anything that isn’t permitted is prohibited; and under a totalitarian one, anything that is permitted is compulsory. Using that measure, Vladimir Putin is moving Russia today ever more in the direction of the last.
Three developments over the past few days – the demand that Russians express only approved views on social networks, that the Duma adopt a law banning samizdat and dissent, and, paradoxically, moves by the ruling party to commit itself to any particular program -- provide evidence for that conclusion.
In a commentary on the Snob.ru portal, Artem Rondaryev describes the first which has risen to new heights in the wake of the Russian military plane disaster over the Black Sea. Anyone who expressed anything but approved sadness or what is worse in terms of the future did not express exactly that sadness online has come in for attack (snob.ru/selected/entry/118815).
What makes this development important, he says, is that as a result, “the social networks are becoming an instrument for the confirmation of collective loyalty,” for ensuring that everyone adopts the same position on any issue and that no one can escape from taking that position without being condemned.
No excuses for not joining the chorus are acceptable to this new “loyalty police,” Rondaryev says. As a result, “the individual doesn’t have the right to privacy of thought and feelings.” He must become part of the masses and support by such “ritualized action” whatever the powers that be want.
“Social networks … are completely losing [their] recreational function: from now on, they represent a form of political live in which every last person is required to be involved.” Such “logic” is deeply authoritarian, and its spread in Russia has made it into “the only acceptable one.”
What is also disturbing is that it is not the state itself that is imposing this order but those who take it upon themselves to do so; and the more actions they take in this direction, which might ultimately involving imposing restrictions on “banning” one’s interlocutors online, the greater the risk of “real totalitarianism.”
The second development involves calls for Soviet-style laws against dissent including stripping anyone viewed as guilty of them of Russian citizenship and subjecting them to expulsion from the country. Several Duma deputies and various commentators have demanded that such laws be adopted to punish anyone who fails to have the correct view on the plane crash (rferl.org/a/russia-plane-crash-rynska-babchenko-reactions-outrage/28202296.html).
The editors of “Moskovsky komsomolets,” for example, demanded that Russians who in its words “take joy in blood” lose their citizenship and that non-Russians who do so lose the right to enter Russia (mk.ru/incident/2016/12/25/zakon-glinkikhalilova-nelyudey-raduyushhikhsya-katastrofe-tu154-nado-lishit-grazhdanstva.html).
And the third development, which some might see as pointing in the other direction, involves reports that the ruling United Russia Party is going to drop all pretense of having a program or an ideology (kommersant.ru/doc/3184993 and politsovet.ru/54120-edinaya-rossiya-otkazhetsya-ot-ideologicheskih-platform-radi-putina.html).
That might seem as opening the way for more debate about things, but instead, as one Russian academician has pointed out, organizations that lack a program or an ideology consist of subordinates who spend all their time trying to anticipate what their superiors want and then get behind that, thereby allowing the people at the top enormous freedom of action by depriving those below of anything to appeal to against the leadership (mk.ru/science/2016/12/25/akademik-yuriy-ryzhov-rossiya-stoit-na-poroge-zhutkogo-krakha.html).