"Everything is not so clear-cut." Mundane visions of the war
March 18, 2023
  • Alyona Solntseva
    Theater critic 
Alena Solntseva shares her impressions from conversations with fellow Russians about the Ukraine war and the situation in the country and the world in general. Her interlocutors tend to look after themselves and their loved ones, focusing on their own affairs without delving into disturbing and tragic news.
The original text in Russian was published in The Moscow Times  and is being republished here with small changes with their permission.

For a while now, I have not argued about the special military operation or politics in general with anyone but my loved ones, though I try to listen to everyone. And the less I agree with people, the more attentively I listen: I want to understand their worldview, what it is based on, how it is argued, and whether people want alternative information. If they do, you can keep up the conversation; however, more often they do not, so it makes no sense to argue. The problem seems to be that increasingly there is no sense in talking to people from either side, though there are not just two.

I recently wrote a Facebook post about what my friends think about the current situation in Russia. It unexpectedly triggered a very strong reaction, even though it seemed to me that there was nothing special about it – just a very common way of thinking that I had often encountered. Nevertheless, the post was commented on, reposted and discussed all day long as if it was the freshest and most unusual piece of news. It was as if I had discovered some super-secret knowledge about my compatriots. How little we know the world around us, and how poorly we imagine it.

My interlocutors: what do they think about the war?  

I must say right away that I am not trying to make sociological generalizations. In the post, I reduced several conversations into one – my interlocutors were diverse in terms of their situation and education, people who I know personally. They are active but not young, aged 40 to 55 years old, all successful in their careers, some owning their own business, some serving in the bureaucracy, some working at large private companies, though none are bigwigs. They make good money and feel confident. Generally speaking, we can call them the Russian middle class.

What they have in common is that they are all quite satisfied with life. They know how to rejoice. They have lots of energy and plans. They lead a healthy lifestyle, exercise, travel a lot, though now they travel mainly in Russia. The war with Ukraine has not affected what is most important to them – everything is basically the same as it was a year or two ago, except that they cannot travel around the world as much, though due to Covid it had already been limited before. I was surprised that they do not talk about political news among themselves and do not discuss the situation with Ukraine. Still, I decided to ask them about it anyway.

Sure, they all think things will stay like this for a long time. For years, maybe decades. It does not please them, of course, and they regret that the “special military operation” has dragged on for so long. However, they believe that the world is always at war, and that is rather its natural state. War is ultimately good for the economy, which is why politicians around the world go for it.

My interlocutors are convinced that the sanctions have proven ineffective, in the sense that you can get everything you really need, while resolving the logistical problems can even be interesting. All companies have their own interests, and some are already coming back to Russia, while others will be replaced by new ones from the East.

It would be a pity to buckle under the US, but if Washington keeps up its aggression we have something to counter it for now.
"No one with whom I spoke doubts that it is the Americans who are the true cause of the war. The world overall is always a struggle for influence and you cannot just retreat."
RT Editor-in-Chief Margarita Simonyan said in early March “No one will make a fuss over Georgia and (Russia) won’t send troops there, they’ll just knock out Tbilisi right away.”
Of course, it would be great if everyone stopped shooting, but in the current conditions that is unrealistic: Russia has already occupied new territories, and the US will not stop supplying weapons to Ukraine. The old relations with Europe and America will never be restored (or not for a very long time).

Sure, generally, life will get worse for everyone, poverty will rise, security will go down, and that is here to stay. So, we just need to minimize the losses. It would be great to have some stability – including on sanctions, to have them always be as they are now, as it is not hard to get around them. The IT industry is full speed ahead, especially since many restrictions have been lifted. Plus, competition does not hurt anyone. Sure, at this point it is not Microsoft, things cost more and work worse, but we’ll get it going in a couple years.

There are problems: personnel shortages; many first-rate specialists have left, and unlike ordinary programmers, they are not coming back. But that is nothing – we will teach new ones and finally create a long overdue truly sovereign economy.

Our political system, to put it mildly, is not ideal, but certainly no worse than the US. Nowhere is politics done in the interests of the people. There is no justice. Persecution, excesses and extremes are inevitable in any system. In Russia, the pendulum can swing far both ways. In the 1990s, there was complete freedom, but now the screws have really been tightened, so perhaps with time everything will come into balance.

Sure, a lot of stupid things are being done in the areas of culture and journalism – it’s a shame, but freedom of speech is a myth and restrictions are inevitable. Putting people in jail for a child’s drawing is absurd, though it’s still an isolated incident, an initiative of local authorities. [RT Editor-in-Chief] Margarita Simonyan, who is threatening to smash Tbilisi, is definitely not serious – most likely, it is a signal to someone in a big game, and no public figure says what they actually think.

Overall, people agree that our system is not great, but where is it great? “I’ve got a friend who...” starts a typical story of injustice that someone experienced in Germany, France or the US, where the law is flexibly changed in favor of corporations, against people, etc.
"The conviction that nowhere do the authorities act in the interests of society is unshakable."
Ukraine, the argument goes, is not acting independently, and people who would like to be with Russia there are being repressed. Still, we do not have real information, though generally no information is objective. There are propagandists everywhere manipulating facts in the interests of different systems.

Reactions to my observations

After the post went viral on social networks, there were lots of comments. I read many of them and divided the views reflected in them into three groups.

The general reaction of the first group was “how terrible!” It is people who think that the world is divided into two camps – those for the war and those against it. They were suddenly and bitterly struck by the fact that there are people who are more concerned with their private lives than their civic duty, which they believe means being outraged.

The second group refuses to accept my observations, claiming that drawing conclusions based on overheard conversations is unprofessional and silly.

The third group is people who acknowledge that the above opinions are indeed common among Russians, and they have repeatedly come across them.

Obviously, emotions always predominate on social media, but it is surprising that such opinions are seemingly being grappled with for the first time. As if it had not occurred to people before that if a country works, the trains run, communications function, retail is open – that all that is thanks to millions of people who do not have time to dive into the sea of Telegram channels, fish out information, verify data...
"It is easier for them to cancel out everything that contradicts their experience and their desire to live well, here and now."
One obvious reason, in my view, is the long absence of public discussions in Russia.

Once upon a time, I worked on television, producing a talk show. Our task was to look for hot topics and guests who would discuss them from different perspectives. At that time, the bosses of the channel were always demanding that we divide experts strictly into those “for” and those “against” and pit them against each other to make for lots of fun in the studio. We resisted and were eventually shut down. Now there is a lot of fun, maybe too much, though there are no discussions at all, only their imitation.

A public space with different opinions could give people the opportunity to present the whole range of opinions, to demonstrate the real complexity of the world. I am very upset that the expression “everything is not so clear-cut” has become a dirty word for liberal journalists… Intolerance to differences, to the presence of unpopular opinions within society, has killed debate. The complexity of the world has been reduced to intolerance, and in that sense, war is really becoming the only agreeable form of existence. And this is not just sad – it is monstrous.
Share this article
Read More
You consent to processing your personal data and accept our privacy policy