The Homo Sovieticus label
In the eyes of many liberal intellectuals, the archetype of the Russian masses is “homo sovieticus
” (Soviet man), described
by sociologist Lev Gudkov as “incapable of understanding more complex moral/ethical views and relationships.” For Sergei Medvedev, author of the prize-winning book Return of the Russian Leviathan
, Russians exhibit the “morals of slaves.” The Russian “mass consciousness,” he says
, is “embittered, alienated and provincial,” “undeveloped,” archaic and superstitious.” Similar comments by others abound.
One of the primary failures of Russian liberals has been their inability to overcome the gulf separating them from ordinary Russians. Rather than seeking the support of a population that they tend to despise, they have largely limited themselves to maximizing their own group’s support within liberal circles. In a book studying Russia’s leading liberal party, Yabloko, David White comments
that the party’s “electoral programmes have never been specifically designed with the intention of catching the mood of the Russian voter.” Political failure has been the inevitable result.
Liberal politics has also been marred by bitter in-fighting. At the start of the 2000s, there were two main liberal parties – Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (URF). The two regularly exchanged barbs. Boris Nemtsov, a leading member of the URF, denounced
Yabloko as “a party of the impoverished intelligentsia,” while Yavlinsky in turn stated that the URF “falls into the category of totalitarian and pro-fascist.” Yavlinsky has used similar language about imprisoned opposition activist Alexei Navalny, writing
that “Navalny’s political direction is populism and nationalism. If the mob follows Navalny, the country can expect fascism.” In return, Navalny has sharply criticized Yabloko. The party’s candidates, he told
an interviewer, were “unpleasant people.”
Part 1 of this series also noted that Russian liberalism has long been associated with Westernism, producing complaints that liberals lack national feeling.
Some Russian liberals object to this complaint, and contrast what they call their own “true” patriotism with the “false” patriotism of the Russian state and much of the public, this “true” patriotism being defined
by “a critical attitude to the state and a consequent defense of social and individual citizens against the state’s infringements of their rights and freedoms.” In practice, though, a “critical attitude to the state” often appears to the public not as patriotism but the opposite. Tatyana Felgengauer of the now-banned liberal Ekho Moskvy
(Echo of Moscow
radio station notes
that, “The average Russian does not like Radio Echo of Moscow
. They constantly blame us: claiming that we are the Echo of the US State Department, that we are not patriots, that we have sold ourselves to the Americans, that we are against Russia.”