No More Utopias. What Kind of Future Should Russia Want?
May 8, 2024
  • Oleg Kashin

    Journalist and writer, runs channels on YouTube and Telegram (here and here)

Imagining Russia in 2032 on the tenth anniversary of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, writer and blogger Oleg Kashin paints a future that is neither bright nor bleak.
The original text in Russian was published on the Telegram channel Kashin Plus and is being republished here with the author’s permission.
Utopia by Thomas More, 16th century. Source: Wiki Commons
Morning, February 24, 2032. To mark the tenth anniversary of the start of the special military operation, Russian President Sergei Sobyanin lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the Alexander Garden near the Kremlin walls. The renovated memorial complex was consecrated the day before by the patriarch – next to the Soviet infantryman who fell during the defense of Moscow in 1941, an unidentified soldier from the Akhmat special forces unit is now buried, his remains having been discovered during the demolition of the Derzhprom building in Kharkiv and then transferred to the Russian side under the intergovernmental agreement on military burials.

In his speech, the Russian president notes that the memory of the heroes who defended the sovereignty of Russia and Ukraine is sacred and will always be so.

Recalling the events that no one is ashamed to call war, Russian officials stress that 10 years ago the special military operation succeeded in thwarting the plans of Western leaders to destroy the Russia-China political alliance – now serving as the guarantor of stability throughout the world – and bring into NATO Ukraine, whose people, having accepted a neutral status, have proven their desire for peace.

Since the Ukrainian Dream party came to power, the new Russia-Ukraine border was demarcated and the peace and amity agreement was signed, the authorities in both countries have been keen to avoid confrontational rhetoric and cautiously blame former Western leaders for the tragedy that started a decade ago.Additional agreements under the peace treaty provide for several loans to Ukraine over the next 40 years, as well as the joint development of a number of oil and gas fields in Western Siberia.

Additional agreements under the peace treaty provide for several loans to Ukraine over the next 40 years, as well as the joint development of a number of oil and gas fields in Western Siberia. The Ukrainian right-wing press calls these steps veiled reparations, but officials from both countries have repeatedly pointed out that mutual benefit is the foundation for the cooperation.

The special military operation has a formal end date, but it never took the place of Victory Day in the public consciousness and seemingly will not – in fact, the fighting stopped long before the conclusion of an official ceasefire agreement, and it took several more months for the troops to return to their bases in Russia.
The key date is forever February 24, a sad day (the dead are also remembered today) that causes some awkwardness.
New Harmony, Indiana, a village Robert Owen, a 19th century founder of utopian socialism, used as a model for a utopian community. Source: Wiki Commons
There is a lot of talk about the Ukrainian war in the media, films are made and books are written, but the unspoken social contract implies that arguing about whether it was worth fighting in the first place or whether Putin was right will not make anyone better off.

Analysts and historians write about the international context, screenwriters and writers prefer specific heroic episodes on small segments of the front, and the names of places – like Bakhmut, Avdiivka and Chasiv Yar – still sound like elements of some big and glorious story that it is not entirely yet time to tell.
Long-standing fears that veterans, faced with the reality of life in Russia, would trigger a new wave of banditry and everyday violence have generally not materialized. It has been a while since we heard about former Wagner soldiers, having come back from Ukraine, killing or mauling someone; in a few years’ time, they all disappeared, some went back to prison, some died, but the main thing is that there are not so many of them relative to the size of the country.

Meanwhile, ordinary veterans, mobilized soldiers, career military men – there are a lot of them. Some are armless and legless; others look like everyone else. Impressionable journalists write about some special expression in their eyes, but this is probably a matter of imagination. When there is a holiday and civil servants get together somewhere, many men have awards on their jackets – but these are bureaucrats; the rest keep their awards at home. No one is in the habit of wearing them, and no one asks them to – frontoviki, as the song goes, don your orders.

On social media and in the independent press, a lot is written about the lost generation – the expression is well-known, old, common, but it should not be taken literally; generationally these people range from thirty-year-olds to the oldest of the old.
The Palace of the Soviets, a symbol of Soviet utopia. Source: Wiki Commons
When Putin died and the authorities repealed a number of Criminal Code articles punishing political activity, as well as the laws on foreign agents and undesirable organizations, many thousands of people returned to society – from emigration, from self-isolation, from prison – with whom neither the state, much less the majority of the country now has any issue, but do you know what it’s like to re-establish relationships when you have lived such different lives?
You did not fight, did not weave camouflage netting, did not watch Solovyov and did not listen to SHAMAN; did not go to the exhibition of captured military equipment; did not go to Bogomolov’s plays; of the films from those years you saw only The Master and Margarita, and that in a pirated copy.

It is not that you will get beat up or even imprisoned; it is just that there is nowhere for you, and if there is some special expression in the eyes, then it is not the veterans who have it, but you – forever lost, forever unsure of yourself, and you recognize those like you by these eyes and, as you once did in exile, you try to stick together. You go to your concerts, read your newspapers, eat in your cafes and complain to each other about the rest of the country. Every autumn you look forward to a new Pelevin book. You avoid politics and consider it a dirty business. You have nothing against Sobyanin, but sometimes you remember Navalny.

Probably, everything will turn out completely different – it will be worse. But while the future has yet to arrive and you can still guess at it, it is worth remembering that the optimistic scenario is just this.
A good ending for everyone is when no one’s dream comes true, when every utopia remains a utopia, while the reality is, well, not amazing, but not terrible either, and it’s the latter that matters more.
If a historical shock does not inoculate society against utopia, then the shock will continue – we will know when it has passed by a widespread unwillingness to fight for any vision of the future and an appreciation of the present.

The time in which we live now – it, too, was once the future, and it turned out this way because few people were satisfied with the present.
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