Staunton, November 15 – For most of the last 30 years, Russians were divided by two images of the United States that had risen to the level of myths: democrats viewed America as “a shining city on the hill” that Russians should copy, while patriots viewed it as the source of all evil whose ideas must be opposed, Andrey Degtyanov says.
But now, in the wake of the American presidential contest and the conflicts in the streets of the US that Russian media have given extensive coverage to, the Russian analyst continues, the two groups have changed their positions; and this shift in both cases is certain to have far-reaching consequences for Russia itself (region.expert/america/).
On the one hand, the democrats now view the US as defective in fundamental ways, as having divisions between the masses and elites which give the lie to the mythology about America that Russians had accepted. And on the other, Russian patriots are now identifying with American rednecks and taking their side against elites.
That means that the debate between “the bright myth” about America and “the dark one” that had defined much of political life since the late 1980s has been fundamentally changed, with the supporters of the former in confusion and the backers of the latter no longer rejecting all of America but only American elites.
As a result, among Russians now, the old divide between supporters and opponents of their respective myths about America no longer work, the analyst continues, and the domestic divide in Russia is no longer defined by attitudes to the United States as one or the other side imagines.
One of the reasons Russian liberals ceased to believe in the applicability of the American myth to Russia is that they feared as much as the men in the Kremlin the disintegration of the Russian Federation and so were far more prepared to desert that myth because it rested federalism among other things.
Indeed, Degtyarov continues, many Russians who had accepted the myth about America as an appropriate model came to believe that “the path to an ideal America with federalism, division of powers and political freedoms for democratic reforms lay through a de facto unitary state and presidential autocracy.”
Consequently, they were much less able to oppose the patriots who have dominated the scene recently and who have managed to ensure that Russians today view their country as “’the anti-America.’” But until the recent US election campaign, Russians remained divided by the myths they accepted about America.
“Just why ‘the Russian world’ with its pretensions to a Byzantine inheritance and a thousand years of statehood could not make sense of itself outside of the American theme was not an issue that anyone was particularly interested in raising,” Degtyarov continues.
According to the Russian regionalist writer, “the heightened interest of ordinary Russian citizens in the US elections of November 2020 reflects the fact that the American myth has exhausted itself [for both sides] and [represents] crisis processes in the existing post-Soviet mentality.”
Those who had accepted the bright myth of America no longer view that country the same way, and those who had viewed the US as unalloyed evil now identify with the rednecks of the American mid-west. Neither group is inspired by its myth of America in the ways that it was, and as a result, the self-definition of Russians has become detached from these.
That detachment means that many more things are possible, good and bad, than appeared to be the case only a year ago. And it means that the way in which the Kremlin will play to “the deep people” in Russia will change, with their concerns defined less by their visions of America than by their feelings about themselves.
Window on Eurasia — New Series