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An Empty Country

Today, a huge part of Russian society is deprived of values. Instead, they are being indoctrinated with surrogates.


About Russia without values and their return


The war in Ukraine pushed the topics that seemed important before 02/24/2022 into the background. Now it brings them to the forefront. These topics include the moral foundations of family life, society, and the state.  They include political, economic, legal, cultural, and other norms that can unite Russians and give rise to their sense of identity, norms that can become the ideological basis of their decisions and actions. In a word, their values.

Today, a huge part of Russian society is deprived of them. Instead, they introduce surrogates.

And they’ve been arguing about it for years. In February, spears were still broken around the list of “traditional Russian spiritual and moral values” of the Ministry of Culture, which included the method of their implementation and control by presidential decree and special agencies. You can’t argue with them. You must value what they write down. And if you “quack” against them, beware!

But they “quacked” against them. And that signal, to everyone’s surprise, did not lead to admonition. Why? Surely the authorities have heard the ZIRCON sociologists’ warning: now there are no “nationwide”, “traditional”, etc., values in Russia except, perhaps, two: health (named by 76% of respondents) and family happiness (named by 62%).

Or maybe they remembered how the head of the department of the Institute of Sociology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Magun, noted three years ago that sociologists did not find in the Russian mass either special spirituality or a craving for catholicity. On the contrary, they care about business and personal benefits.

But the list of the Ministry of Culture included moral ideals and collectivism, creative work, and the priority of the spiritual over the material. Meanwhile, according to the Institute for Comparative Social Research, the majority called work a condition for success under the Soviets. That is what “the moral code of the builder of communism” inspired. But already in 2006, people considered education as a key to success, and 83% valued leisure. The first place took well-being and comfort (in 1986 – 31%, in 2006 – 55%).


Does the priority of the spiritual over the material underlie the identity of Russians? Who sees it without digging deeply and looking around too carefully?  And where is this value system evident? Maybe someone is building a life on this principle. But are they the majority?

Why is it on the list? To convince people of the secondary nature of their practical interests? Meanwhile, as Maxim Rudnev, lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, pointed out in one of his lectures, Russians value power and wealth much more than Europeans.

On the other hand, there are dignity, rights, and freedoms on the list. Many Russians name these among the important values says the report of the Center for Strategic Research, “Transformation of sentiments against the backdrop of the 2020 crisis.” First of all, young men and women want to live in a free and open world full of diversity and creativity.

They want to live, that’s what. And life, as a value, occupies the first place on the list. And, reading it now, you understand why the topic of values ​​is not in sight. Life as a common value sounds wild in war. There is a price for your own life. So, what are we talking about?

In preparing for the invasion, the authorities removed the question of values from the public agenda. What freedom do you have? What are the rights there? What kind of life is it if you have Kharkiv, Mariupol, Bucha, and death ahead of you? And who cares about the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, ratified by the Russian Federation, based on values, the first of which is life?

And then there was the war. No values. Forget it.


And suddenly, in its second month, a call to remember the “traditional spiritual and moral” rang out. In the text “Self-cleansing” (“Parliamentskaya Gazeta” 04/11/2022), the author, Alexander Shchipkov, “a notable philosopher and historian in a conservative environment,” insists: “the signing of this decree (on values) by the president will be an impetus for creative inspiration of the nationally minded cultural layer” and will help “get rid of the ‘fifth column’ in every humanitarian sector.” At the same time, “self-cleansing from traitors implies the return to the national majority of Russia of the right to vote and the right to independently decide their historical fate.”

Is this not an echo of Nazism? And not the fictitious Nazism which propaganda calls to “clean” Ukraine from. But the very real one, where the “nationally minded cultural layer” and its combat detachment, according to the “national agenda”, drive and crush all those objectionable to the “national majority”.

Is it a coincidence that on the day of the release of this issue of the Parliamentskaya Gazeta, as RIA Novosti reported, the head of the State Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, called for the deprivation of citizenship of those who, in his opinion, “act in a traitorous way”, i.e. standing for freedom and justice (included, by the way, in the list of the Ministry of Culture)? Obviously, Mr. Shchipkov and his “cultural layer” will have to change the list. In their register, there is no place for either freedom or life.


However, there is no Russia where they can have a place. More precisely, not yet.

There is a Russia without values. A Russia of censorship!  A Russia of beatings of peace supporters! A Russia of hundreds of cases under the article on “discrediting” the army (20.3.3 of the Code of Administrative Offenses)!  A Russia of the case of the artist Sasha Skochilenko, who faces up to ten years in prison for replacing price tags with pacifist leaflets.

There is a Russia of fear. Fear of mobilization! Fear of the withdrawal of savings! Fear of a new collapse of the ruble! Fear of the unpaid loan! Fear of the transition to “idle mode” in a country of shortage, depending on trade from under the floor, presenting “pre-war soap” for the New Year, the ability to darn tights, get medicines and spare parts, make connections in stores…

Millions of people remember “sausage trains” and food stamps when all this was familiar.  But do they want to live like this again?  In a series of lectures on YouTube titled “Why did the Russan leadership need a “special operation?” an economist, Igor Lipsitz, professor at the Higher School of Management at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, asks a reasonable question:  Russians, in general, already accustomed to living in poverty, are they ready for deprivation?

And in the context of values, this is not an idle question. For the values are rooted in everyday life, and practice, application, and deed lift them up.


But what kind of things are going on in Russia? Is it possible that “civilization is giving way to tribal barbarism,” as anthropologist Roman Shamolin writes? “Are we witnessing the final establishment of a culture of decline and completion”? Judging by Shchipkov’s text, it is possible. But is it the first time? The freedom fighters persecuted in the USSR at the end of the 20th century saw a “decline and completion” in the culture of the Soviet Union. And it fell and ended. But then came the culture of renewal and the flourishing of the arts, which the country has not known for decades.

It hasn’t disappeared yet. War and censorship did not kill it. It, although not all of it, has left geographical Russia and is acquiring its new image and language as the culture of the free Russian world. Kulturus, Slovonovo, and new creations confirm this. And this, as Nina Berberova wrote, is not exile. This is a message. And the messengers are returning.

They are returning to the borders of Russia, currently, alas, spiritually devastated, but the culture of revival and development will return values. And approve them. The values are known. They resound in the document of world humanitarian institutions and state unions: “respect for life, human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and human rights including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, pluralism, peace, non-discrimination, tolerance, justice, solidarity, and equality between women and men.”

However, perhaps the Russian culture of return will extend and enrich this list.

Denis Vetrov
Author of a number of books and many articles, researcher of the Russian emigration, civil society, and targeted information impact on mass audiences. Denis Vetrov is a pseudonym. The author is forced to resort to it in connection with the circumstances. We hope to change it to its real name soon.