As Long As They Pay Us…

It is important to understand that Russian intellectuals, as well as the whole Russian humanitarian community, are fully responsible for the monstrous events of recent years. The principles on which the Putin regime was built were not hidden from the very beginning, and the ominous prospects for Russia under this regime have been clear since at least 2008 when Georgia was invaded. Meanwhile, the educated class of Russia time after time chose the strategy of collaborationism and built its well-being in morally unacceptable circumstances. It was incapable of either reflection or solidarity.

In 2022, when Russia finally and unconditionally passed the point of no return, the Russian intelligentsia seized on the saving concept “this is also a war against Russian culture”, “we are the same victims of this regime.” However, after the disgraceful year of 2014, the intellectuals of both Russian capitals continued to hold exhibitions funded by the state, hold festivals and research on state grants. Intellectuals of the Russian emigration still came to Russia with presentations of their books (as if Thomas Mann or Erich Maria Remarque visited Nazi Germany from time to time to chat with friends). During a debate with a Russian colleague from the Higher School of Economics about the impossibility of teaching in an institution whose leadership directly serves the economy of Putin’s Reich, and in return receives colossal preferences from the regime, I heard an extremely sincere answer: “As long as they pay us, we will show them a fig in the pocket”.

You guys have proved yourself. And the terrible crimes of Bucha, Mariupol, Izyum, the bombing of peaceful cities and villages in Ukraine, committed by your state with your conscious connivance, cannot be canceled or corrected now. I don’t know what you will do with this mental burden, and I don’t know if you have the strength to comprehend the entire centuries-old history of collaborationism in Russian culture in relation to new and new forms of dictatorship. But the sooner you tell yourself the truth, which lies in the absolute regularity of what happened and in no way coincides with the thesis about the “criminal Putin regime”, the sooner your country’s recovery will begin. Assuming that such a recovery is still possible.

Emotions of War, War of Emotions

Like with every prolonged emotional experience, with war, we make a journey. Extremal journey, that happened to us, but still shapes our personal road with many stops and discoveries. “We saw destruction and losses, we couldn’t accept the immediate transition from life to the death of our friends, but… we met real solidarity, real friendship, and sympathy” – the WWII veterans often said. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and victim of Nazi concentration camps, called this acquisition a “preserved community of spirit and life”, and accepted it with gratitude. His final book, published posthumously, was called “Resistance and Submission”. In this name we hear the challenge of his time, putting the human being at the center of universal contradictions.

The horrific experience of war multiplies conflicts. Intimacy between people is tested and often fails. Traumatized consciousness seeks balance and the spirit that has seen the abyss, seeks support. Force of love, the appearance of God, acquires in its light a primordial meaning. At the same time questions to God and the universe sound in their unbearable concreteness. Why did the bomb kill children in the morning square of the Ukrainian city? Why women in occupation became victims of sexual violence and civil men were killed just for having some symbols on their clothes or bodies? Just for being themselves? The border between your own experience and the experience of others, your compatriots, becomes fragile. Our psyche enters the territory of risk and instability, the territory of unbearable sympathy. And as never before you feel as a part of the collective body, a body of your nation – which suffers, dies, and recreates itself.  After all the books you read, you used to correlate this feeling with medieval grotesque thinking – but now you are not sure, that the middle ages ever ended.

War is a stolen time. While putting you into the brutal past, it steals your individual timer. You could live youthfully – but feel old. Could have individual calculations, but have a common one. You stop making plans, and one day find yourself homeless even if you still have a home.  Hesitating in nowhere, you see that your everyday rituals, small stops in time, lose any sense. The past with its “madeleine cakes” no longer seems to be yours. You would run into yourself, but need an open space… just there you don’t feel so small. Truly religious people can feel such time as sacral, mystically open… for others – it is just absolutely catastrophic.

War is always a crash of humanistic thinking (although this philosophy recreates itself almost in a magic way). Meeting a world with no progress, where people are ready to kill each other again and again, you periodically get overturned by individual kindness and sacrifice. But all your daily feelings stay on the bottom of sadness – and too often you just don’t want to be a human.

Moving forward from this restless point, what would you like to take with you in the unknown future?

–       some naivety, and waiting that the heart can be reborn again and again;

–       order of thinking, and the belief that awareness converts facts of reality into mental experience;

–       sense of harmony, the irrational background of human happiness.

Then, when the war ended, and a new orderliness will streamline the land for the next decades, we will say with hope:

We passed through deep despair. We save ourselves as people.

Old Newspaper, Eternal History…

Svetlana Bunina

June 28, 2022

A few weeks ago I came across the Bulgarian newspaper “Утро” (“Morning”), published in Sofia on October 7, 1912. A historical release with Tsar Ferdinand’s Manifest to the Bulgarian Nation (Манифст към българския народ), where he announced a War against the Ottoman Empire. Created on October 5, the Manifest urged to fight for the human rights of the Christian population in Turkey and called this campaign “right, great and sacral”. What the Tsar didn’t say, was that according to the national conception of “Great Bulgaria”, the intended borders of the country should include Moesia, Thrace, and Macedonia, making Bulgaria the #1 country in the Balkans. What he didn’t say also, was that Russia, supporting this war, hoped to take possession of Constantinople and let lose the Austro-Hungarian Empire in its Balkan influence.

The newspaper accents, that Bulgarians met the war with great enthusiasm, and the allies of Bulgaria – Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro – have the same determination against Turkey. However, it happened, that just in a year the Balkan union fell apart because of the exorbitant territorial claims of its participants – and Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro united with Turkey to fight Bulgaria. In 1914 demoralized Bulgaria (so-called The First National Catastrophe) took the side of Germany and Austro-Hungary, while Russian Empire supported Serbia.

The First Balkan war was a prologue of the large conflicts in Europe in the XX-th century. It set the base for the Second Balkan War, WWI, and – indirectly – WWII. It largely explains the background of the Balkan tragedy at the end of the century and still speaks even now, in the problem of Macedonia, which is blocked entering the EU due to the Bulgarian veto.

Let’s look at the top figures of the military campaign, which started in 1912. The newspaper provides ascetic, severe portraits of the heroic leaders of the Balkan Union – Tsar Ferdinand, kings Peter I of Serbia, Nikolas I of Montenegro (in the newspaper he is called Nikita by mistake), and George I of Greece.  However, nobody of them owned history and couldn’t predict the way it will turn. Tsar Ferdinand lost his power in 1918 after The Second National Catastrophe, which befell Bulgaria during WWI. King George I was shot in Thessaloniki in March of 1913, and his long successful reign was changed by the decades of critical instability in Greece… Serbian king Peter I died in 1921 after several years of exile… he is still popular in Serbia, although his national project of the Kingdom of Serbians, Croatians, and Slovenians was clearly unsuccessful. King Nikolas died in exile, totally forgotten, but before his death was deposed in Montenegro, which became a part of the Kingdom of Serbians, Croatians, and Slovenians. Russian tsar Nikolay II was executed by Bolsheviks. The Russian Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Austro-Hungarian Empire all ceased to exist.   

Reading this superficially bold newspaper (what is newspaper rhetoric if not apotheosis of superficiality?), looking at the map on its first page, where the proud reader had to note new battles and future conquests, this thought immediately comes to mind. Can we rid ourselves with the ancient strategy of territorial conquests, and be done with the brutality of the national greatness? Too many pieces of our common land is watered with blood. And if somebody still monetizes these categories, and endangers human lives and the stability of the whole world, our meaningful solidarity has to be a coordinated and resolute response opposing him. We need to choose this solidarity every day – to develop our countries in peace, to make an unfalsified history of people.

Front page of the Bulgarian newspaper “Morning” October 12, 1912.
Bulgarian Tsar Ferdinand’s Manifest to the Bulgarian Nation (Манифст към българския народ), where he announced a war against the Ottoman Empire. October 5, 1912.
Map of the Balkan Peninsula, 1912.
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Portraits of national leaders of the Balkan Union 1912. Pictures from the left moving right, King Peter of Serbia, King Nicholas of Montenegro, King George I of Greece, Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria.