Denis Grekov: "I see a bleak future for Russia.
Denis Grekov used to teach critical thinking at the now-defunct Liberal Arts Department of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. He wrote an anti-war post and then became the object of a denunciation by colleague Natalia Tanshina. He told Eyewitnesses about his "emergency" dismissal and departure, the risks of independent thinking in contemporary Russia, and the downward spiral that is primitivizing Russian society.
Tell us about yourself
- My name is Denis Grekov. I am a former senior lecturer at the former Liberal Arts Department of the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration. I am 46 years old. I now live in Warsaw and do what I used to do - I write my own blog, write analytical articles for various publications, teach as a private person, and teach people how to work with thinking.
Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?
- When I heard about the outbreak of war, I realized that something irreparable had happened. Something had happened that there was no turning back. I took the news very hard. [There was] a sense of tragedy, a sense of losing the future, a sense that the people who started this war were destroying not only Ukraine (trying to destroy it, to be exact), but they were also destroying the country in which I lived, Russia.
Why did you leave Russia?
- I have been writing "knee-jerk analysis" for quite some time and posting it on my Facebook blog. I wrote another post of an analytical nature with anti-war rhetoric, of course.
This post came under the scrutiny of one of my college colleagues, who wrote a kind of public denunciation on the subject in her patriotic public forum. After that, I was subjected to a very significant wave of abuse. I must say that she framed my post - framed it, that is, managed the perception of her audience in a certain way. Since the audience is rather artless, they took it all at face value.
But, on the other hand, my post was really anti-war, I really think that this war is despicable and that it makes absolutely no sense. Realizing that the resonance was very high, I was asked retroactively to resign from the university. I did this so as not to put my faculty and my immediate superiors in unnecessary stress and danger. My post was on May 8, it all started on the 10th, and I resigned on the 6th. It was a very quick dismissal, I had never seen anything like it before in my life. It was literally over in a couple of hours. I realized that it was time to leave, because already began this wave of imprisonment for words, imprisonment for price stickers in the store. I realized that the post resonated, and the resonance was just beginning. I realized that in this wave of incarceration, they could put me in jail, too.
I had a red line. I told myself that I would stay as long as I could teach. Now the red line had been crossed. I was not an activist like these great people who are doing legal aid now, supporting political prisoners. I didn't have a case that forced me to stay at all costs. And I understood that if they put me away, even for a few years, it would be much worse than if I left. Here I could do something. If they put me in jail, the only thing I can do is survive there somehow and wait for the end of that sentence.
Why do so many people in Russia support the war?
- It is poverty, it is a low standard of living, a lack of information hygiene skills and a lack of a reflective culture of thinking. It is the traumatization of our society.
In Russia, everyone lives within this morality of collective self-preservation, where the value of the individual is measured only in terms of how he can be successfully sacrificed to preserve this mass. And this is very bad. Critical thinking is a kind of individualism above all else.
As an expert in critical thinking, can you explain why it does not exist in Russia?
- Individualism in our mass and unfree society, living within a collective morality of self-preservation, is something that is perceived as an undesirable quality, as a threat.
Any independent subjectivity is perceived in this way - as an alien element. And people get used to giving up their subjectivity for the sake of inclusion in this mass. This is culturally ingrained. We even have such sayings: "Are you the smartest?", "Do you need more than everyone else?
The person who is critical of reality, has a clearly expressed own subjectivity independent, is perceived as a hostile element. He needs "more than everyone else," he is "the smartest," no one was ever going to ask him. This is the culture: the humiliation of man, his relegation to a part of the mass.
Would introducing lessons in logic and critical thinking help change Russia?
- It will help, but it won't get done. It's not about politics. The Liberal Arts department doesn't teach any ideology. It teaches you to think with your head, to be independent in your thinking, it teaches you professional skills and skills to work with your subjectivity and skills to think independently.
The worst political crime in today's Russia is to think for yourself. It does not matter what you think, the most important crime here is that you think for yourself.
What kind of critical thinking lessons are there in today's Russian schools? Critical thinking, even if it were called that, would not be critical thinking, but political information lessons of some kind, where critical thinking would be called explaining why they, these liberals, the West, or anyone else, think the wrong way, and not teaching the independence of one's own thinking at all.
Why does Putin need war?
- First of all, he has a twisted logic, even though they say he's crazy. No, he is not crazy.
His thinking works on the same principles as all other people, just not on the same grounds. He has some false story and a false picture of the world sitting in his head. But within this distorted picture of the world, he acts logically.
This is partly due to his detachment from reality and the fact that he is at the top of the pyramid without feedback. It is unlikely that he is fully aware of any characteristics of reality.
Secondly, he needs to retain power. Here these old men are afraid of losing control, so they think this is the best way to maintain control.
That's not what they signed up for - a three-day blitzkrieg. In his picture of the world, the beginning of the war was such a wonderful thing, with Russian troops marching victoriously into Kiev in columns, capturing Ukraine, and putting the whole world before the fact that Russia was once again a great empire. But it didn't work out that way, and that's precisely because it is very disconnected from reality.
What are you most afraid of?
- There are two types of fear: in the moment and metaphysical, permanent. In the moment, you can be afraid of a lot of things: getting sick, dying, violence... It's all frightening, but in the situation.
I'm afraid of losing myself and losing respect for myself. That was my main fear all the time, all my life. Look at the people in Russia, who have fallen victim to propaganda and heath-speech, who hate the rest of the world now instead of living their lives the way they want to. Nothing I have ever seen is more shameful and frightening.
How do you see the future of Russia?
- I see a bleak future for Russia. Everything that has "accrued" since '91 is being destroyed. All sources of possible development are being destroyed: economic, cultural, scientific, social. Demographic potential, already severely undermined by the 20th century, is being destroyed.
The quality of life declines even further. In general, it is a downward closed spiral, where one thing clings to another, a vicious circle. Russia is being rapidly primitivized and archaized culturally, discursively, and politically. This is the kind of "psycho-economy" of hatred in which it is impossible to create anything.
In this sense, Russia has no future at all. Unless a miracle happens in the coming months or maybe years, there is no good future.
Are you ready to go back to Russia if the regime falls?
- I have already lived through these hopes. I was also involved in volunteering in Russia, for seven years I invested, invested my life in the future of Russia, taught children, students. Of the years of my life, I invested almost half of them in social projects. The collapse of these investments is painful, and I'm not sure I'm ready to risk the rest of my life to continue investing in Russia's future.
The fall of this regime is not in itself an indication that things have changed. We have already seen how the rotten Soviet Union was the first to collapse in the nineties. And then the system reproduced itself through the decades, and is doing fine now.