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ЕС-Россия » Публикации » Еженедельная колонка » The Wall: the second edition

Георгий Бовт

The Wall: the second edition

11 Ноя 2009 — Георгий Бовт, Независимый журналист
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It is hard to believe that only twenty years ago many Eastern European countries were cut off from Western countries and living in fear of aggressive invasion. The West also lived in fear – of Soviet tanks invading from the East, fear of a Third World War and of nuclear annihilation. Only twenty short years since Europe was torn between the capitalist West backed by the USA and socialist East with the mysterious and mighty Soviet Union lurking behind its East European satellites.

And then, all of a sudden, the whole Eastern bloc collapsed. It happened so instantly, within only a few weeks, that future historians will be surprised at how the bloc could have managed to survive for several decades after the Second World War, so unnatural seems the communist system in hindsight.

Nevertheless, nobody can boast today that they foresaw the current state of contemporary Europe and the EU all that time ago; to foresee the continent transformed to such a great extent that even to travel across it (a troublesome experience in the past) has ceased to be a problem at all. Younger Europeans can hardly imagine that their contemporary way of life would have been regarded as miraculous by their senior, post-war predecessors.

But looking back at the events of early November 1989 one could also become surprised at the naivety of most politicians of the day when they expressed their hope for a “common future of Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals”.

They believed, as did many commoners, that the very fact of breaking down the Berlin Wall would create a new kind of Europe entity, based on common shared values and corresponding institutions.

Today it is difficult to figure out when exactly those hopes failed when thinking about Russia. Was it during the early years of Boris Yeltsin’s rule when democratic and pro-market reforms seemed to be faced with not only many pro-communist Russian politicians and representatives of the political establishment, but also by ‘people in the streets’ for whom democracy and market economy by themselves were not “self-evident” truths. Or did the disillusionment come hand in hand with the presidential elections of 1996, when the reelection of Yeltsin for a second term had been achieved at the cost of selling out the whole Russian economy to a small group of corrupt oligarchs? Or was a new Wall between the West and the East built because of today’s Russia, finally shaped under the rule of Vladimir Putin when it became crystal clear that contemporary Russian society was being built upon a system of values which had little or nothing in common with those of Europe. It is probably this area of contradiction where there is a marked lack of convergence which has led to the construction of this new, invisible, but no less real Wall between the West and Russia.

This wall can not be seen on the surface of the Earth. It has not been constructed of concrete, and nobody would shoot someone trying to get over it. Few people even try to look behind it, so there is no need to shoot. Not only because this wall is stronger or higher than the emblematic Berlin Wall, but because this wall is present in people’s minds. The contemporary rulers of Russia have managed to raise a population that is not only politically obedient and passive, but also that doesn’t seek alternative ways of life for themselves and their country.

In today’s Russia it is not difficult to find alternative, objective and non-official information. There is no comparison with the times when those seeking such information had to hide radio receivers as they tried to tune into The Voice of America, the BBC, or Radio Liberty. Now everyone can turn to the Internet or other independent sources of information if they are not fully satisfied with the official propaganda broadcast by TV. But the problem is that the majority of Russian people are not interested, they do not seek such information. There is no use for any sort of alternative, neither political, nor informational – and, for many, little sense in it. In other words, there is no demand for freedom and human rights, not only because these rights and freedoms are suppressed by the authorities, but mostly due to the fact that most people feel comfortable in their current miserable condition. They are not used to alternatives of any sort, they are not used to other ways of (free) living, they are not used to independent, critical thought. They live with another sort of fear – the fear of freedom. To them that freedom is more risky, more scary. It offers a more adventurous and more unpredictable way of life than that they are used to. So, they prefer stability to risk, they prefer a miserable (safe and predictable) life to oen that is rich in (unsafe and unpredictable) opportunities.

That sort of wall will be much harder to breach – even if the people were to come together to bring it down themselves.

In a poll provided by VCIOM, just before the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall pollsters asked the Russians what they knew about this historic event. The results were shocking to foreign observers. Only 24% of Russians knew that the Berlin Wall had been erected by the USSR and the GDR to prevent people from fleeing from the socialist East to the capitalist West in their thousands. 10% were certain that it had been constructed by Western Germany. 58% had no idea who took the decision to build it. In fact, only 19% of those interviewed saw the wall as a symbol of the cold war.

How many of those people can truly understand what its fall meant? And how many of those can appreciate those freedoms created by the new geopolitical situation – not only in Europe but for Russians as well. Unfortunately, only 20 years on it appears that there are few in Russia who feel that they need this freedom, that they feel comfortable to live without the wall and all that it ‘sheilded’ them from…

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