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The painful loss of an illusion

September 24, 2014

Dmitry Sokolov-Mitrich

We loved America. I remember, we did. When we were teens, growing up in the early 90s; most of my friends the same age did not even question their attitude toward Western civilization. It was great, how could it be otherwise?

Unlike our grandfathers and even fathers, we did not mind that the USSR was falling apart, we did not view it as a disaster, as the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” For us it was the beginning of a long journey. Finally, we would break out beyond the Soviet shell into the big world — limitless and cool. Finally, we would overcome our sensory deprivation. We were born, maybe not in the right place, but certainly at the right time — or so we thought. It’s hard to believe now, but even the Orthodox Church coming out from under communist supervision was for us the same thing as the triumph of Western liberal values. The celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the Baptism of Russia and the first concert of the Scorpions in Moscow with their “Winds of Change” — was, for us, all part of the same thing.

Bob Dylan 2

The war in Iraq and even the breakup of Yugoslavia mostly escaped our attention, somehow. And it was not just that we were young and carefree. I, for example, was already trained in the international department of “Komsomolskaya Pravda.” I was monitoring the English Reuters feed that was full of Izetbegovic, Karadzic, and Mladic, but somehow did not take all these events seriously. It was somewhere far away, it was not in our area. And, of course, the war in the Balkans did not fit within any kind of anti-Western storyline for me. Croats killed Serbs, Bosnians killed Serbs, the Serbs killed both of those — why blame America?

In 1990 we voted for “Yabloko” democrats, went to the White House barricades on the side of democratic forces, watched the newborn CHANNEL and listened to the echo of Moscow radio. Our first journalistic articles always mentioned the “civilized world” and we firmly believed that it was really civilized. By the mid-1990s, the first Euro-skeptics started to appear in our ranks, but they were more in the category of devil’s advocates. I myself shared a dorm room with Pete the communist and Arseniy the monarchist. My friends from other rooms would see me off each evening with words of regret: “Bye, go back to your madhouse.”

The first serious blow to our pro-Western orientation in life was Kosovo. It was a shock; our rose-colored glasses were shattered into pieces. The bombing of Belgrade was, for my generation, what the 9/11 attacks were for Americans. My world views turned 180 degrees as did the plane of then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, who was over the Atlantic Ocean on the way from Ireland to the United States when he learned about the start of the American aggression — and gave the command to return to Russia.

In those days there was no mass state propaganda. The smart liberal hosts on NTV kept explaining that dropping bombs on a large European city is a bit much, of course, but Milosevic is the greatest bastard in recent history, so he deserves it, no big deal. Their “Dolls” satirical show portrayed the events as a good quarrel in a communal apartment, where a drunken neighbor torments “Miss Kosovo” and no one in the house can help, except for her lover with a powerful torso and the face of Bill Clinton. We looked, but no longer believed. It was no longer funny. We already understood that Yugoslavia was a demonstration of what could happen to us in the relatively near future.

Second Iraq, Afghanistan, the final separation of Kosovo, “Arab Spring”, Libya, Syria — all of this was surprising, but no longer earth-shattering. Illusions were lost: It had become more or less clear to us what the West was about. But despite that, after all, we all live on the same planet… The myth of “evil America, kind Europe” was still around; fears induced by Kosovo gradually subsided. The compromise went something like this: Yes, to be best friends with these guys is impossible, but we do have to work together. After all, who else is there to work with?

The parade of “color revolutions” seemed to be petty mischief until the last. But EuroMaidan and the subsequent fierce civil war made it clear: “The democratic process” — devoid of any rules and procedures and launched in enemy territory — is not a geopolitical toy, but a real weapon of mass destruction. It is the only type of weapon, which can be used against a nuclear-armed state. Everything is very simple: When you push the button and send a nuclear missile across the ocean, you’ll certainly get an identical one in return. But when you launch a chain reaction of chaos in enemy territory, you are not to blame. Aggression? What aggression?! This is a natural democratic process! This is the eternal desire of people for freedom!

We see the blood and war crimes, the bodies of women and children, an entire country sliding back into the 1940s — and the Western world, which we loved so much, assures us that none of this is happening. The culture which brought us Jim Morrison, Mark Knopfler, and the Beatles, does not see it. The descendants of Woodstock, and the participants themselves; the aged hippies who sang, “All you need is love” so many times, do not see it. Even the thoughtful Germans of the post-war generation of baby boomers, who tried so hard to do penance for the sins of their fathers, do not see it.

Mark Knopfler 1

It was a shock stronger than Kosovo. For me and for many thousands of middle-aged Russians, who came into the world with the American dream in our heads, the myth of the “civilized world” collapsed completely. The horror is deafening. There is no more “civilized world.” And it’s not just the shattering of youthful ideals, but a very serious danger. Mankind has lost its values, turned into a mob of predators, and a huge war is simply a question of time.

Twenty years ago, we were not defeated. We surrendered. We did not lose militarily, but culturally. We really just wanted to be like them. Rock-n-roll did more than all the nuclear warheads. Hollywood was stronger than the threats and ultimatums. The roar of Harley-Davidsons during the Cold War was louder than the roar of jet fighters and bombers.

America, you are such a fool! All you had to do was wait twenty years — and we would have been forever yours. Twenty years of consumerism — and our politicians themselves would have handed over our nuclear weapons; even shaking your hands in gratitude for taking them away. What a blessing that you turned out to be such a fool, America!

You do not even know us! We shouted these words, among others, toward the Kremlin just two years ago. Since then, thanks to you, America, the number of those who want to go out into squares has fallen dramatically. You talk nonsense about us, think nonsense about us; and as a result, make mistake after mistake. You were a cool country once, America. Your moral superiority rose over Europe after WWI and was reinforced after WWII.

Yes, you had Hiroshima, Vietnam, KKK and a closet full of other skeletons, like any empire. But for a time all that crap did not reach the critical mass that turns wine into vinegar. You showed the world how to live for the sake of creativity and artistic freedom. You made places into economic wonderlands: Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore. But you’ve changed a lot since then. It’s been a while since you wrote any songs sung round the world. You’ve squandered your main asset — moral superiority. And that asset has one very nasty property: It can not be restored.

You are starting to slowly die, America. And if you think I’m gloating — you’re wrong. A great change of epochs is always accompanied by a lot of blood, and I do not like blood. We, the people who have been through the sunset of our empire, could even explain what you are doing wrong. But we will not. Guess for yourself.

freedom statue grey

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