I am actually an optimist. And I continue to hope for positive changes in Russia. However, some circumstances make me doubt them.
It is common to compare Putin’s Russia to the late USSR. And to say that the seemingly unshakable regime will one day quickly and unexpectedly collapse like a house of cards.
However, the situation has changed. In the USSR, there was a counter-elite – a potentially oppositional, influential intellectuals that, as soon as the authorities let go of the reins, took over the influence on society.
During perestroika, the Soviet creative intellectuals provided public support for the so-called democratic forces in their struggle against the Communist Party and prepared the collapse of the USSR.
In the smoking rooms of Soviet research institutes, the specter of future revolutionary change roamed in the smoke of cheap cigarettes. This is not just a metaphor. I will give an example close to me. My father Vilen Eidman and his nephew Boris Nemtsov worked in the theoretical department of the Radio Physics Research Institute in Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod). Even in the days of “stagnation” the atmosphere there was more than liberal. And the matter was not limited to free talks in the smoking room. As it turned out, in this modest scientific department a real “personnel reserve” of future revolutionary changes was literally ripe. Four out of about ten employees of the department became deputies-democrats (two – to the Congress of People’s Deputies of Russia (1990), one – to the Gorky (then Nizhny Novgorod) Regional Council, another – to the State Duma of the Russian Federation).
Soviet intellectuals could influence the “deep people”. They was respected. It was prestigious to be a scientist, a writer, even a journalist. The title of doctor and even candidate of sciences was a source of piety. And academicians were simply celestials. Now all of them are trampled in the mud.
I remember handing out Nemtsov’s election leaflets in the early morning at the GAZ gatehouse in 1990. Unhappy, hung-over workers eagerly took them, loudly berating the Communists and speaking respectfully of the young candidate of sciences, who “may be a Jew,” but “is a head”.
Now this is simply impossible. The intellectuals are completely discredited and have lost the respect of the population.
There is no counter-elite. There is no one to move the ruling bureaucracy. The main rebel is the criminal Prigozhin, the leader of a gang of murderers.
Unlike the Soviet intellectuals, the creative hipster milieu that replaced them, to which the bulk of active oppositionists belong, does not enjoy the authority of the majority of the population.
It cannot form an influential counter-elite that would enjoy the support of the “deep” majority. The bandits are now influential and respected. Young liberal, educated citizens, hipsters and creators, pacifists and feminists are strangers in this country. I am afraid that only the second and third in the current ruling elite are able to seize power from the first persons. Even after the fall of Putin, Russian oppositionists won’t get anything.