An Inhabited Island
by Boris Vishnevsky
Translated from the Russian by Dave Essel
“I say ‘Well done’ that they gave Saakashvili one in the kisser”, stated my uncle in a satisfied way as he sat opposite me at the dinner table loaded with party fare for his son’s birthday. “That’s propaganda speaking,” responded his wife with a note of scepticism. But it was a minority voice: most of those present held to the view that while Putin and Medvedev are, to put it mildly, not a bed of roses, at least they did right this time. Attempts to explain that the picture of the events in the Caucasus presented to Russia’s television viewers was radically out of line with reality met with little success. For the record, the members of the gathering (your traditional democratic voters), had never voted for the Communists, for United Russia, for the LDPR [Zhirinovsky’s party], or United Russia. But still they had this most peculiar way of looking at things…
A month ago, in conversation with [well-known Russian science-fiction writer] Boris Strugatsky, I compared the situation in our country with the world presented in the film of Inhabited Island which Fyodor Bondarchuk is currently shooting.
Please forgive the multitude of quotes from the book.
A giant network of towers transmits signals which act on the nervous system of every living being in such way that every living being within coverage loses the capacity for critical thought. “Thinking people turn into believers, more particularly into dumb, fanatic believers against all the real evidence their eyes deliver”. This field “sucked out from millions of souls all and any doubts about what the newspapers, leaflets, radio, and television ranted about”. Twice a day, the giant “vacuum cleaner was set to full power and for half an hour humans ceased to be human”. The only danger came from people who were non-receptive. These exceptions were called the malformed. The broadcast didn’t work on them at all and all the radio waves did was to cause them intolerable headaches. These malformed constituted only a tiny percentage of the population, about one percent, but they were the only conscious people in a kingdom of sleepwalkers…
So I said that in Russia today most of the population, when it comes to the Russo-Georgian war, have been behaving as if such transmission towers are being run in full-power mode and only a handful of ‘malformed’ have desperately tried to escape the torrent of official lies… “People are so constituted that they first hear what they actually want to hear,” Boris Strugatsky said. “In order to dispel lies and to make sense of what is happening around us, a quite different mentality is required. One need to know how to seek out, find, and analyse information. One needs to be ‘malformed”…
Yes, one does. But the ‘malformed’ are tiny in number. Furthermore, many whom we would previously have thought were of that number are today behaving as if they have ceased to be (at least in matters pertaining to the five-day war in the Caucasus).
People who found the inner strength to resist the mass hysteria of autumn 1993 with its cries of “Crush the snake!” [the attempted coup d’état], who refused to paint anyone as “red-brown” who did not agree with Yeltsin’s right to cause chaos in the name of reform, who demonstrated against the war in Chechnya and did not let themselves sink into the mire of military psychosis in autumn 1999 [‘terrorism’ in Moscow and war in Chechnya], who were not affected by Leontiev, Sokolov, Dorenko [TV presenters], have let their guard down today, unable to withstand the intensity of the transmissions.
“You just don’t understand!”, they say to me. “Russia simply had to intervene!”
“But why bomb Gori and Senaki, and occupy Poti?” I respond to their question with another.
“If aircraft are coming from somewhere to bomb our army, we need to destroy their military infrastructure!’
“Are you saying that we declared war on Georgia?”
“Georgia was making war on South Ossetia!’
“How can you make war on a part of your own country?”
“The Ossetians didn’t want to live side-by-side with Georgians.”
“So that’s why Kokoity chose ethnic cleansing, drove all the Georgians out of South Ossetia, and burnt down Georgian houses?”
“They started it…”
A dialogue with the deaf: arguments do not get through to them.
They bring up “Tskhinvali raised to the ground” (when anyone can see on satellite photographs that this is a lie: if anything was raised to the ground, then it was Georgian villages), the “genocide” undertaken by Georgia (for which there is no evidence), the “two thousand killed” (another lie which has been exposed repeatedly), the “bestial behaviour of the Georgian occupiers”, the “lies in the Western media”, and the “American marionette Saakashvili”. Not to mention of course the “sacred right of nations to self-determination”. I can bear it no longer: “I’m all for that right as well – but where is the nation in this case? Thirty thousand people, a third of whom are Georgians who have now been driven out of their homes, ruled by a ‘government’ composed in the main of former Russian military personnel and chekists living on Russian handouts, contraband, and the production of moonshine. You call that a nation? And I don’t recall that the Kremlin being very keen about that particular right in Chechnya, where crimes were committed that make a pale shadow of anything that happened in South Ossetia…”
It isn’t worth explaining to my interlocutors that you can’t just go out and occupy part of another country under the excuse of “defending” fraudulently created “Russian citizens” who inhabit the place, that it is wrong to bomb towns and loot them, that it is out of order to set up guard posts in someone else’s country and that one should not lie through one’s teeth about the facts.
It’s pointless to try to tell them about the railroad branch line restored by the Russian army purportedly to carry gravel to Olympic building sites in Sochi. This line was used to carry the tanks which Abkhazia used (and note that no one had ‘attacked’ them) to seize the upper reaches of the Kodori Gorge where only Svanis and NOT Abkhazians had lived from time immemorial.
The people under the influence of the transmissions (not from towers now but from Channel One, Vesti, Izvestiya, Rossiskaya Gazeta, Komsomolskaya Pravda, and the Russian News Service) are impervious to such arguments. They believe the lies in the official Russian media against the evidence available to their own eyes. More to the point, they are unable to see this reality. They live in a virtual world. One in which “Russia is rising from its knees”, is a country surrounded by enemies, and where the the cursed West is at the root of every unpleasant problem. No matter that this is the same West to which they travel for their holidays and dream of sending their children and grandchildren to be educated and then stay on to work…
Sadly, public attitudes are more distorted than they have ever been. For the ‘malformed’ –those among us who have somehow retained the strength not to give way to mass madness – these are very difficult times. Because we feel desperately lonely even in a crowd of our fellow-citizens (despite realising why this is so). But we need to stay strong. Not spout rubbish, like [National Bolshevik Party chairman and MP] Eduard Limonov (who warmly supported the the Kremlin’s moves in the Caucasus and criticised liberals who thought otherwise), saying “isolation from one’s own people is far more dangerous than isolation from the world community”. Not go madly patriotic, like Sergei Dorenko, who declared that “for the first time in years, I am not ashamed of Russia, for the first time in years I am not ashamed of the Kremlin, for the first time in years the president has done what I would have done in his place”.
We should not be surprised that Limonov supports the Kremlin’s actions, that’s par for the course and we have seen it before. One only has to remember how back in 1995 he came out fully in favour of Russian military involvement in Chechnya, saying “for the first time in his presidency, the president has taken steps to ensure stability, to protect our frontiers, and to unite Russians in the Russian state”. He went to to propose “the introduction of censorship for the mass media in all matters concerning the situation in Chechnya and a total prohibition, on pain of severe punishment, on Russian journalists attaching themselves to Dudayev’s forces and reporting from their side, and the dismissal from their posts of any military personnel or civilians for opining that the government’s, president’s or Russian army’s actions in Chechnya were criminal”.
Dorenko, of course, has already received a rebuttal by my friend Andrei Piontkovksy in Grani.ru: “Why does he say ‘for the first time’? He used the selfsame words, with the same tone of dignity and fairness, on air in his reports from a blazing Grozny, when he was as a TV hatchet-man for Berezovsky. He was on-side back when Basayev was marching into Daghestan, when the buildings were blown up in Moscow and Volgodonsk, when Grad missiles flew and Putin was carried to power”…
I am prepared to join on the same side of the barricade (though I may not necessarily do so) those standing against the Kremlin’s actions in the Caucasus.
However, I will most certainly take my place on the opposite side of the barricade against those who actually support them.
What a great article!
“enemies surrounding us” and the “accursed West” sounds just like what we heard during sovok times.
The only thing missing is — “enemies of the people,” which were everywhere during Stalin’s times, and who were promptly shot.
The only question I have is – what about all the “holy orthodox” stuff that is used to justify assorted actions?
Didn’t that come up in the conversation?
I am wondering if Russians have a special DNA that makes them susceptible to “transmissions”. You think that a nation that went through the Stalin Terror 7 0 years ago, would have learned a lesson, Never again. But that is not the case. How many people must be murdered before Russia will erect the barriers to stop the “transmissions” from the Kremlin.
I like your idea of “special DNA”. Because yes, after 70 years of commie rot (e.g. wonderful successes of industrialisation while millions die of famine, “life’s getting better, life’s getting merrier” during the purges, and “the people and the party are one” on billboards all over the country during the Brezhnev era – a million other examples could be adduced) has, by natural selection, left living a people capable of pursuing their lives whilst holding dichotomous ideas. This makes them quite extraordinarily gullible.
One can see this in non-political fields as well: in Russia, crap advertising easily wins customers, crackpot religions effortlessly gain adherents, people go to witches instead of doctors, etc etc.
I do sometimes think that we re looking here at a group from whom the ability to discriminate has been bred out.
That is why this article struck a note with me (and with my wife, who is clearly a ‘malformed’: it was she who insisted I translate it despite being busy with the Nemtsov white paper).
I notice that the original is now off the server.
LA RUSSOPHOBE RESPONDS: Thanks! We will look into it.
No, original is still on the server. Kasparov wouldn’t allow anything like this. On the contrary, there is another ingenious article uploaded on kasparov.ru titled “If only…” http://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=48E0F775D0EC7.
I would urge Mr. Essel to translate this one as well. Anyone who reads La Russophobe and understands Russian should read this piece too as it is certainly worth reading.
Yet another great article from grani.ru by Lev Rubinstein titled “Old Fables on Essentials”. Again, I’m urging everyone able to understand Russian to read it.
“То, что иррациональная ненависть есть обратная сторона потаенной страсти, знают все, кто хотя бы шапочно знаком с азами психологической науки. “Быть Америкой” – мечта стыдная, тайная, глубоко зарытая в плотном ворохе патриотической риторики. Но до Америки никак не дотянуться. Ни догнать, ни перегнать. Ни по мясу, ни по молоку. Ну в крайнем случае по ракетам и по поголовью мужчин в военной форме. Никак ею ни стать – сколько спутников ни запускай и сколько ни трынди про свое величие и двухполярный мир.
А потому и приходится вновь и вновь говорить самим себе, что “говно твой виноград”.
Реальной Америкой – где сила и свобода умеют работать друг на друга, а не исключать друг друга, – видимо, не стать. А потому надо придумать другую. Ту, которой нам уж никак не надо. И ее придумывают.”