Moving Backward: Russia's Moral Decay (Op-Ed)

Denis Sinyakov / ReutersBoris Nemtsov
Zhanna Nemtsova

The Public Opinion Foundation conducted a surveythis monthasking Russianstwo questions: “What was the main event of the year in Russia?” and What was the main global event of the year?

Noteworthy is that fully 40% of the respondents had trouble answeringeither question. And the most brutal political murder in modern Russia – the assassination of my father did not even figure in the responses. State-controlled television hardly mentions it, with the exception of the first few days after the killing, when commentators spoke of him in contemptuous tones.

But the problem is not onlythe silence of the Kremlin’sofficial propaganda. The problem is the condition ofRussiansociety. A Levada Center survey conducted in March of this year found that one-third of all Russians are indifferent to my fathers murder. That is a moralnumbnessbest conveyed by the popular Russiansentimentsof It does not concern me and That does not affect me. The well-known military journalist Arkady Babchenko refers to that type ofthinkingby his countrymen as infantilism. Perhaps he is right.

This attitudefinds expressionnot only inwidespreadapathy, but also inpeoplesinability torecognizeeven obvious causal relationships. It is understandable why some people cannot see the medium-term and long-term negative consequences of the annexation of Crimea, but it was not so difficult to predict thatconsumer priceswould rise as a result ofMoscowsfood embargo and theheftytolls imposed on trucks traveling on federal highways.

The political system that President Vladimir Putin has built robs the Russian people of the ability to think, analyze, ask questions, formulate positions or rememberthe past. It offers no stimulus for that: Putins Russia has no need of people who think for themselves. It has reduced competitionto a minimumin all areas, including the political field. And it is not always the smartest thatsucceed in this system.

It is a sad and potentially dangerous situation when the political playing field lies decimated and debates and discussions have been replaced with sometimes violent pressure from the authorities. That has also compromised the quality of the opposition itself and made it a truly heroic feat to even take part in the opposition movement in Russia. There are no democratic institutions and the activists are fighting for survival. Under such conditions, opposition figures have no chance to become public figures and the public has no way of knowing who is who.

People have short memories, and that makes life easier for Putin and his inner circle who are constantly confusing their facts. First they claim there are no Russian soldiers in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and then they admit to their presence. First theypromisenot to raise taxes and fees, and then they impose new tariffs onlong-haultruckers. Forgetfulness is a handyhumantendency, and the Kremlins television propaganda exploits it to the fullest.

This explains why leaders have no personal reputations and remain unaccountable before the public. Perhaps the social apathy and the publics lack of interest in politics is a defense mechanism, peoples way of responding to the flood of lies and aggressionfrom the authorities. Nobody can figure out where the truth lies, and so it is best not to evengo looking for it.

All politics in Russia are situational and as volatile as oil prices. Even loyal politicians and officials do not always manage to fall into line exactly as they should. For example, it is amusing to see how famed film director and die-hard Putin fan Nikita Mikhalkov gets outraged over the way his own patriotic show on state-controlled televisionis subjectedto censorship.

The authorities and the ruling elite are out for their own survival. That end justifies all means, including the tactic of keeping military tensions high at all times. As a result, Russia is increasingly moving away from humanistic values and toward a confrontationalrelationshipwith the world. But perhaps that is not putting it strongly enough: maybe Russia is moving towardtotalapathy. However, war is becoming the context for all otherissuesin life.

Russian journalists often ask me why I fight for a fair and impartial investigation into my fathers murder. For me, the very wording of that question is sickening because it shows that medieval values now reign supreme in Russia: nobody understands that it is not just I who needs such an investigation but all Russiansif this country is to ever move forward.

We must wage a long and grueling fight for human rights. If we simply give up that struggle and accept the fact that, in Russia, someone can just go and kill a prominent public figure, a statesman and leader of the opposition with absolute impunity, then we must also come to terms with the fact that the same thing could one day happen to any of us.

Todays opposition members are now at greater risk than ever before. I see the condescendingattitude showntoward the small handful of people whocontinueto struggle for democracy in Russia. I have grown accustomed to the eternal question: What do they offer? But just imagine if one dayeven that small groupwould no longer exist. Who, then, would conduct anti-corruption investigations, participate in even nominal elections, initiate investigations into wrongdoings by Duma deputies or provide support for political prisoners? No one,thats who.

My father long experienced that condescending attitude from others who behaved as if they were looking down on him from on high.And now he has been murdered for his views, for daring to express his position, for his unwillingness to beindifferent orapathetic. And suddenly, his absence is sorely felt.

Putins Russia has not brought a revival of spiritual values, as state-controlled TV tries to convince us. It hascausedRussias moral decay. And as long as Russians approach every problem through the filter of whether it will affect them personally, this country can move in only one direction backward.

Zhanna Nemtsova is a Deutsche Welle reporter and the founder of Boris Nemtsov Foundation For Freedom.

See also:

Russian Journalist Shlosberg to Receive First Nemtsov Prize

Nemtsov Murder Case Chief Asks for Sever Battalion Inquiry

Nemtsov's Daughter Wants Investigation Into Father's Murder Resumed

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