Ekaterina Shulman: "Now all people are victims. The war has unified people by force."
Ekaterina Shulman, political scientist. We loved her for her optimism. And now, as the "concrete slab of war" has fallen on us, Ekaterina tries to look into the day after tomorrow – when the war will end with Russia's defeat: "We still have a civil division ahead of us. Right now society is in a state of terror. That is why it says strange things, and in the vast majority does not say anything at all..." But when Russia loses, when the younger brothers of those who came back from the war grow up, then there will be a real "resentment," not made up by television. And then the country will really split into those who think that the war could have been won if not for the knife in the back, and those who think that the war simply should not have been started.
Tell us about yourself
– Ekaterina Shulman, political scientist, lecturer.
Your first thoughts and feelings on February 24?
– Perhaps a few days before, it was clear that this was going to happen. The moment the announcement actually happened, at exactly 4 o'clock, practically "Kiev was bombed, we were announced," I was at my computer. I refreshed and refreshed the feed, waiting endlessly for what was about to happen. I remember that the first thing that let me know it was happening was a Facebook post by one of my old acquaintances back in LiveJournal that consisted of one word, "Bastards." I realised that this was it. And a short time later it became official.
I don't think our feelings have any special value, and what's more, I suspect they are more or less the same for everyone. At first it's like you don't feel anything. You tell yourself that there it is, it didn't go well, it didn't go well, it happened. And the consequences come later. However, they say there are two kinds of reactions to stress. Some people immediately, as it's called, fall off the wagon, and other people hold firm. But then they feel the effects of what happened. I'm more of a delayed reaction person. Neither one is better or worse than the other. There is no way to survive being hit over the head with a concrete slab without consequences. There will still be consequences, and they will stay. It's not going anywhere. This is now one of the basic facts of our biography. It's what they call forever. And this then, at some distance, seems to be one of the major injustices. Because, well, first of all, it so forcibly unifies people who have lived different lives, had different agendas. And now they're all war-affected in one way or another. But it's also such a black job of trauma in general. It wants to become the main thing in your life, it wants to define you. So that when you ask the question, "Who are you?" You answer, "I am the victim. I am a victim. I am a refugee. I am an invalid." Once again, in addition to being a great misfortune, this is deeply offensive.
But we will be able, in time, to return to some outline of our former personality. Experience, shall we say, is not eliminated. It doesn't go anywhere. It stays with us, it defines us. But we can gradually make it not the most important thing. So that it is not the core of our personality. It seems to me that this is something to strive for. It should not be the most important thing in us.
Why was war possible?
– In general, let us remember that long peace is the historical exception. Fighting with one's neighbor over land is the most characteristic, most common activity of any state. So, as my colleague the political scientist Vladimir Gelman likes to say, democracy is the exception, authoritarianism is the rule. Peace is the exception, war is what they call the default state. We are used to a different state of affairs. Moreover, there are indeed a number of objective trends that have made these exceptions less rare. Our whole trend of global reduction in violence, which we've talked about so much and should have talked about even more, because it does exist, is exactly a downward trend. Because people don't really understand the meaning of the word "reduction," they, of course, see completely different words. They see "annihilation," "disappearance," "passing away". They see that, so to speak, on the cover of this book it says, "There will never be wars again. Wars are becoming fewer and, as life actually proves, proves the correctness of this theory, they are becoming less and less profitable for those who make them. Again, on the cover of that book that said "Global Reduction in Violence," we can also read another inscription treading on it. It said why there is less violence. And it also said why those who start wars, lose.
State television convinces everyone that Russia supports the war. Is this true?
– That's why they exist, the Russian TV channels. That's what they get their money for. True, less and less they manage to justify this investment. They are not doing their job very well. They had a period of success in the beginning, in the spring and summer, perhaps. But starting in the fall, especially after September 21, after the announcement of the mobilisation, both their viewability and their level of trust has decreased quite radically. So, it is getting worse and worse to deliver a coherent and convincing propaganda message. But without going into too much detail, I have to tell you this: there is no such thing as "support" in unfree societies. There is no support, you see? There is no necessary resiliency. In a non-free society, there is nonresistance. And this is precisely the quality that has been fostered in Russian society for decades. On the whole, we can count on this, to put it neatly. Civic passivity, division, atomisation, and intimidation are all very effective tools, no one would argue, especially in an information society. You beat one person, lock one person up, scare a hundred thousand people, and therefore, scare a million people. And frightened away a million to the point where they all split up. So that's it, that's what it gets so far. Support is action. Support is an active position. It requires subjectivity. In an unfree society, citizens are not subjective.
Is there a split in Russian society?
– We'll see that later. It could be a difficult situation. The situation will be dire either way. We were a society with some, even many healthy tendencies, but we were an unhealthy society. You couldn't call us healthy.
Both in terms of the demographic situation and the demographic dynamics, that is, the state of things. And because of how this state of affairs has changed. And, in general, in terms of health directly, and in terms of the distribution of values, okay, we're still okay. And the other thing is that we don't really convert these values into behaviour, and the whole point of studying values is exactly that. Because they influence people's behaviour, what they do. It hasn't been very healthy, but there have been trends of improvement. For example, some increases in life expectancy, general humanisation, decreases in violent crime, decreases in alcohol consumption. There were some healthy trends in our social development. If they had been allowed to develop further, then in general by the change of generations and the natural accretion of this layer of civilisation, we would have passed the fatal threshold, after which degradation becomes not so much impossible, but more difficult. But since this concrete slab of war has been brought down on society, we would be dealing with a very grave situation on a very large set of parameters. We will get a huge number of severely traumatised people. Plus their relatives, their families, their environment. We will have younger brothers and children of the mobilised who will spend the next 10-15 years growing up in an atmosphere of poverty, isolation, national defeat and national humiliation. And then, there are variants, depending on how strong this isolation will be. How healthy or unhealthy will be the situation inside the country. But these years will not be easy and happy, so to say, for anybody. These people will grow up in this system of coordinates. They will become adults in their turn. They will, in all likelihood, have a ressentiment. A real sentiment, not one that is told from the television, but one that is, as they say, bred and borne out of their own experience. And this generation is slightly more numerous than the generation that is now, so to speak, young and mature. These are the people who were born from the mid-twenties to 2014-2016. So we still have a civil split ahead of us.
Right now society is in a state of terror. So it says strange things. Or the vast majority says nothing at all. Being in a state of active panic or in a state of silent panic, so to speak. All of this will unfreeze at some point, to the question of stress reactions. Some people react immediately, some people react later. Societies are big organisms. They're more likely to react afterwards. So there's a civil split, a mutual dislike, a split between not even those who are there for, who are against. Just the issues that are being discussed now will cease to be so important after a while. And here is the split between those who think that we were stabbed in the back, betrayed, and they did not let us to win, and those who think that the main evil is that we started the war in the first place. This can give an interesting political picture.
You know, we have a lot of Hitler waving in public right now, but Hitler was an idol of the young, and he grew up on this wave of resentment. Between World War I, which ended badly for his country, and the one he himself actually started, his popularity was genuine, not passive. He was not popular with pensioners and state employees. He was popular with students, high school students, intellectuals, the bourgeoisie, the peasantry. Lots of people. This is what he grew up on. This is the soil that nurtured him. That's why I think so much about the coming 10-15 years and about this generation that will have to live in it.
What are your dreams?
– A person in my position can only dream of going home. Naturally, that is the main thing. And of the opportunity, the window of opportunity, to resume the work that has been so forcibly interrupted. Our common work, of the entire educated class over the last 20 years, is to nurture civilisation. We have been doing it. Each in his or her place. From those who taught to those who opened restaurants. That's an element of civilisation, too. A lot of things will have to be, well maybe except for the restaurants, they're doing fine for now, will have to be restarted. You know, fortunately, these jobs aren't so easily destroyed. Yeah, it looks like some kind of excavator bucket slices off that top layer and all that's exposed is broken bricks and worms of some kind. It doesn't really look like that. And the outward impression doesn't quite match reality. Institutions are hard to break down. Even when they changed the head there, they painted a big letter Z on the facade and it seems that students are only busy snitching on professors. In fact, while maintaining the structure and some of the existing traditions, it does not give, again unfortunately, active resistance.
Here's asking the question, "So why haven't these achievements of civilisation protected themselves?" They can't. The unarmed do not defend themselves against the armed. It is impossible. You can't stand up to an armed state. But you can, shall we say, survive a lot and retain some foundation on which you can then adjust more quickly. I think that the past 20 years have done this primary work of civilisation, in the cultivation of a literate urban population that is not engaged in physical labor, that is not concerned with the problem of physical survival and that does not like direct violence, to put it gently. It doesn't save us from war. But it will help us later. In that sense, I would ask everyone not to devalue their own work. Right now you feel like it's all, what they call, nullified. That's really the word of the year, or maybe the word of the quinquennium. But then you'll see that's not quite true. The roots in the ground last a long time.