The Russians and their Dangerous Self-Delusion

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Russian expat Alexei Bayer, writing in the Moscow Times:

A year ago, at the height of the oil price bubble, I took a flight from London to Moscow. Once our final boarding call was announced, duty-free shops all over the terminal came alive with a flurry of activity. Moscow-bound passengers, already burdened with numerous shopping bags, grabbed last-minute electronics, perfume and jewelry and rushed to the checkout. Then, on the way to the gate, we were greeted by a man in a kind of butler’s uniform bearing a strong resemblance to the late British actor John Gielgud. His jaw set in a disdainful grimace, he kept repeating: “Thank you very much, my Russian friends. Much appreciate your spending your money here.”

I have no idea who paid him to stand there and whether his withering English sarcasm was part of his job description. It is true, however, that in recent years Russian visitors have developed a reputation for crass nouveau-riche consumerism. Although Russia no longer has world-renowned writers, artists or composers, wild Russian spending and partying have become legendary the world over.

There is nothing wrong with this, especially after 80 years of Communist shortages. What is funny, however, is that Russians insist that theirs is a deeply spiritual culture that contrasts with the shallow materialism of the West.

Most nations, like most individuals, have an overly flattering opinion of themselves. But in Russia, self-delusion sometimes borders on pathological. A recent BBC poll found that two-thirds of Russians are convinced that their country is regarded around the world as a force for good, while only 12 percent believe that foreigners see it as a threat to its neighbors.
This is clearly not how its neighbors view Russia, especially after the war in Georgia. And, judging by the company Moscow keeps in its foreign policy — the likes of Belarus, Venezuela and Iran — it seems more at home with international pariahs.

The wide gulf between reality and perception is a legacy of patently false Soviet propaganda, which portrayed the Soviet Union as a workers’ paradise where everyone was free, happy, prosperous and equal. We were told that the Kremlin’s foreign policy pursued peace and disarmament. It helped the downtrodden to free them from imperialist oppression and altruistically assisted fraternal Communist nations. By the 1960s, few people even bothered to listen to such nonsense.

There is an old joke about a family watching television, which broadcasts its standard fare: “In the Soviet Union, happy childhood is protected by the Communist Party, which gives Soviet kids the best preschool care and free education. They grow up happy, healthy and productive.”

Suddenly, little Masha bursts into tears.

“What’s the matter with you?” ask her alarmed parents.

“I want to live in the Soviet Union.”

The point of the joke is that the naive child has not yet learned to dismiss everything the government says as a pack of lies. But the reality was not that simple. Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels used to say that if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.

Even though Soviet citizens were cynical about the official propaganda, pervasive lying still distorted their perceptions. World War II is a good example. The simplistic, black-and-white Soviet version of events — that the Soviet Union was an innocent victim of German aggression and that the Red Army brought only freedom to Poland, Czechoslovakia and other countries — has never been questioned either officially or in popular mythology. Inconvenient facts like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the brutal treatment of the liberated countries and the wanton sacrifice of millions of Soviet soldiers and civilians do not seem to dim the national myth.

Russia’s attempt in the 1990s to become integrated into the international community foundered in part because of its inability to understand how its recent history was perceived in the West. Similar self-delusion shapes Russia’s relations with former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries, causing frequent international spats and bouts of mutual recrimination.

At home, too, the deeply ingrained influence of Soviet propaganda has been negative. Ordinary Russians have had it drummed into them how technologically advanced, industrialized and rich their nation has always been. They find it hard to understand the disconnect between their putative wealth and pervasive poverty and backwardness they see all around them. As a result, Russians tend to seek scapegoats for their dismal standards of living: They blame foreigners, ethnic minorities or 1990s oligarchs for stealing their wealth.

There is a widely held belief in Russia that Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President Boris Yeltsin dismantled the Soviet Union on orders from foreign secret services. Indeed, how else to explain the ignominious crumble of an empire that had routinely described itself as monolithic, powerful and destined lead the rest of humanity to the bright communist future?

Self-delusion not only tends to exaggerate Russia’s achievements and contribution to world history and economy but diminishes its standing, too. The Soviet media loved to repeat ad nauseam how the country was surrounded by enemies. Even today, many Russians sincerely believe that foreign governments secretly plot to dismember their country and get their hands on its natural resources.

This is why the Kremlin reacts so angrily to NATO’s eastward expansion or the installation of elements of the U.S. missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russia would have been a far more secure nation — and much more open toward its neighbors and partners in the international community — if it took a realistic look at its nuclear arsenal and understood that no military power on Earth would ever want to tangle with it.

32 responses to “The Russians and their Dangerous Self-Delusion

  1. Gary Marshall

    It is truly regrettable that the average Russian cannot afford to travel a few hours past the western border where the achievements of vibrant, democratic peoples are to be seen in such abundance.

    Gary Marshall

  2. ‘Average’ is such a hazy word. I think of myself as of ‘average’ and I can afford to travel more than a few hours past the western border. The countries of old democracies have their own problems that yet to affect them heavily (France for example). It is not to say Russia lives a better life, it is to say do not praise ‘democracy’ as a cult or something everyone strives to achieve at any cost since it is inevitable Good and Prosperity.
    The post itself is a collection of stereotypes that doesn’t almost have anything to do with the reality and the ‘facts’ displayed are nothing but short-sighted and subjective approach.
    P.S. Were there happy American faces after nuke missiles deployment on Cuba?

  3. Make Free Money!!

  4. @Gary Marshall:

    Modern day. Highly-civilized Europe. Vibrant, democratic peoples are showing their achievements (10 photos total):

    • Disgusting. I have seen the scenes like that. Especially in Britain. Really surprises me how supposedly civilized people can behave like that.


      1. Glass walls at the bus stop – they are safe and sound. In Russia they are smashed on regular bases.
      2. The bloody guy. Ask yourself, if you would risk pushing your photographic camera under the nose of a drunk Russian covered with fresh blood? ;)

      While people in the “Old Europe” can get wasted and behave like swine, they do not get nearly so aggressive as Russians. Different mentality. Knowing the limits. Hardwired respect for privacy of others. You can walk through an apparent havoc like this and still feel safe and even not involved. Normally no one will try to insult, hurt or attack you. Something you would hardly experience in Russia.

  5. trilirium-
    Very Informative photos!
    Like theres no football hooligans, street parties or stupid drunk people elsewhere in the world.
    Thats not the point of the article.
    Soviet (and nowadays Kremlin) propaganda and lies have made russians self-deluded.
    Its not surprising when media (and a lot else) is controlled by Kremlin.
    Don`t delude yourself.
    The difference is laughable how they see themselves and how they appear to others.
    It appears Alex above is one of THEM.

  6. 2BigBoy: what makes you think I’m self-deluded? Don’t you think there are better ways to persuade others in your point of view than keep repeating non-sense BS like mantra?
    JFYI: I’m not positive to the current government, I’m not zombied by ‘Kremlin-controlled’ media as I don’t watch local news, don’t read official newspapers etc. I’m just familiar enough with the history to be able to judge freely.
    Believe me, I have a LOT of friends in the West, I’m a frequent visitor of Western Europe countries, rarely visit the US – and thankfully the number of morons thinking the way you think is really small. I can tell you even more – the motto of this site – to record the rise (and hopefully fall) of the Neo-Soviet Union is nothing but crap. If you knew the history of subject better you would look much better. The type of power we have in Russia remains the same for the last 400 years regardless how it was called. What you see and feel now doesn’t have anything in common with USSR. You’d be surprised that Stalin times were much alike the Tsarist period taking into account the core state ‘management’. This justifies the point there’s nothing in regards to ‘current Russia’. There’s a hatred, foolish anger aimed at Russia as is.
    Go with a flow, BigBoy, the flow of your ignorance and stupidity.

  7. Rasha in the East is finished. Siberia, 80% of RF is going off by itself economically to China. No power will be wielded there by Moscovia soon. Already the periphery of rasha’s former colonies has gone West economically and militarily. Caucus emirate is just heating up nicely. Not just the name, but the size of Rashan state and power is on the skids. Most posters are now here to laugh at moscovia’s decline, and Savokian attempts to regain former despotism. Your pain is our pleasure. Please post and entertain us Russophobes some more.

  8. Hey, Alex, what makes you think we believe anything about your bio, get real, this is the internet, you can you be anyone with any experiences that you care to invent.

    A sharper knife in the drawer would have figured that people take statements like yours with a grain of salt.

  9. Penny, this is not my problem that you don’t believe my bio etc., correct?
    I can get real, no problem. I didn’t hesitate to use my real name on this blog, didn’t you?
    My location is St.Petersburg, I frequently visit Nordic countries and Western Europe, 1-2 times a year the US. Are we going to schedule something?:)
    I have never tried to persuade you in something. Just get the facts, not emotions or/and subjective approach without ever hearing the opponent, repeating your mantra about self-delusion. I’m absolutely open to talk, now’s your turn.

  10. Let me share my traumatic experience during my visit to the then USSR. The only thing I remember [I was a teenager] was a public toilet at Kursky Vogzal – WALLS COVERED WITH EXCREMENTS UP TO THE CEILING – YOU COULD SEE THE SHAPE OF HUMAN HANDS – that how the happy Soviet proletarians cleaned themselves – with their bare hands. An to top it all – There was a Lenin’s portrait hanging on this s@@#$y wall – VINTAGE RUSSIA!!!!! Believe me I still have nightmares.

  11. Gary Marshall

    Hello Trilirium,

    Thanks for the photos. Interesting to see that intoxicated young westerners have the freedom to act as boors and louts before and after cherished sporting events.

    As usual a Russian will fail to mention the majority of fans that did not indulge in such public spectacles.

    Now why not show us pictures of the miraculous transformation of eastern Germany since being transferred to civilized and enlightened western hands. Show us the same with all those former Soviet states west of Moscow now enjoying democratic prosperity. Show us the modern architecture of the smaller European cities.

    It all makes Russia and its cities appear as garbage dumps, does it not?

    Would you like to see a photo of a murdered activist lying on a street adjacent to the Kremlin, the seat of the Russian Government?

    All those police walking about and not one witness to the crime.

    How truly …… Russian.

    Gary Marshall

  12. Ответ на народ не ведитесь.

    Его посещают не только Русские. Это отличная пропагандистская и контрпропагандистская площадка для нас. Сайты типа ИноСми, Инопресса etc. , часто ссылаются на этот блог, он весьма раскручен и является определённым ресурсом. Поэтому неплохо бы ставить писак вроде Эндрю, Скота, Понни и других руссоненавистников в идиотское положение, антироссийский блог де-факто уже становится блогом пропаганды наших Русских интересов. А что до бизнеса, то пускай имеют монету, с нас не убудет. Главное что-бы блок работал на наше дело.

    • “I am Russian” here is writing happily that “La Russophobe” site is quite popular and so it can be used as a nice “counter-propaganda platform” to contribute to their “cause” of “Russian interests”.

      Get ready your spam filters for a massive influx of regular Putinist crap! ;)

      There is only one downside to this, as I can see it: “I am Russian” so far has demonstrated himself to be an exceptionally poor propagandist. :(

  13. Russian, I am not a Russian-hater as you have stipulated. I greatly admire the Russian people and their culture. I am an opponent of the current Russian government, which has elevated Russian Chauvinism and xenophobia back to the forefront of the nation’s politics much to the detriment of its people.

  14. @ Gary Marshall:


    “As usual a Russian will fail to mention the majority of fans that did not indulge in such public spectacles.”

    Oh, this was just this lying photocamera. Have seen and recorded nothing, except “boors and louts”. It was a camera’s fault, naturally.

    “Now why not show us pictures of the miraculous transformation of eastern Germany…”

    Surprisingly, the real east germans are not so happy about this transformation. There’s even a word — “Ostalgia” — to describe, what they are feeling.

    “It all makes Russia and its cities appear as garbage dumps, does it not?”

    Really? Look HERE:

    Modern-day Moscow, New Year’2009

    “Would you like to see a photo of a murdered activist lying on a street adjacent to the Kremlin, the seat of the Russian Government?”

    Come on, I like to look at it. :)
    Funny, how you treat this like a response to the photos with piles of trash lying in the streets. I guess, “murdered activist” is the only kind of trash you can think of. A pity.

    Finally, Mr. Ignorant Fool: Kremlin is NOT “the seat of the Russian Government”!!!

    The Russian Government is located HERE:

    So, go learn some basic facts about Russia before starting to troll again.

    • “Blah blah” – that is the best resume of your attempt for a typical flame attack.

      For example:
      You say sarcastically “Oh, this was just this lying photocamera” while the author of the post was clear in saying that no, it was the person who took and selected the pictures who gave the intentionally biased message. The same approach that you see on your television. Anyone who has some brain matter left understood that.

      And so on.

      Very childishly. And foolishly too, of course…

      • A little biased photos? Probably. (They are approximately 10000 times less biased, than the rest of this blog, anyway.)

        But, I’m afraid, it’s very hard to make such biased photos on the streets of Moscow, for example. Because streets are much cleaner, and people are behaving in much more civilized way.

        Because Moscow is, hopefully, no west, just to make it brief.

    • I am sorry, but your method of using those “Modern-day Moscow” pictures, made by digital photo artist and even with application of special lens filters to get the starry effect, to fight the claim about poor looks of cities in Russia, especially well proves the invalidity of your own arguments and also very well illustrates your methods.

      You are trying to fight reality with glossy propaganda art images made by artists.

      Soviets were doing this ever since 1917.

      Nothing has changed.

      Do you take yourself seriously?

      • Yes, these are professional photos, made by professional and with some special filters. So what? All the locations are absolutely real. Many of them are known to me.

        If the professional style of these fotos is what made you upset — you can take a look at unprofessional ones. Mine. :)

        Just for example.

        • This is pointless.

          It reminds me of the joke:

          Judge: Here are 5 eyewitnesses that saw you robbing the bank that night!
          Accused bank robber: But I have 50 eyewitnesses that did not see me there that night!

          The fact that you have some photos of a particular place prove nothing about other places.

          And – yes, comparing to the rest of Europe, which was not affected by the Soviet regime, most of Russia does look like a rubbish dump.



    Вы не правы. И без русских есть некоторое количество троллей, которые любят сюда захаживать, и куковать в комментах.

    Особо много влияния этой интернет-помойке уделять не стоит — но изредка заходить и малость осаживать ублюдков, на мой взгляд, вполне продуктивно. :)

  16. Согласен с последним – такое дерьмо в головах хоть из жалости надо иногда пытаться вымыть:)

  17. Trilirium-
    The real eastern germans? hehee ;)
    NO, Real Russian/soviet propaganda and BS thats firmly in your head!
    Its getting funny and thats exactly the point of the article to show how out of this world you are. Come back to facts, reality and common sense. I bet you still believe in communism too-
    Bringing equal poverty all over except nomenclatura who are more equal than others.
    Kudos to Alex that he has some of his own thoughts thou i don`t get what they are.
    Yes, its going on for 400 years so that justifies it all! Well, thankfully comrade Stalin polished it nicely, only 30mil own + others gunned down (it exceeded our Tsars previous record!). Bravo! Thats our “management” and its very old system. Your anger is so foolish! It came only third in our Hero contest cos yeah, there was SOME overreacting, maybe.
    Wow you pathetic village idiots. Not much changed over the time. Still moraly challenged. ;(
    Eat below, its your own this time-

    • @BigBoy: for a such a big boy, you obviously have a mind of 2 years old.

      Yes, I know what east germans think. I know some of them personally. No, they are not happy about they present life.

      No, I don’t believe in communism. I believe in political systems, which work.

      30 mln “gunned down”? You’re an idiot.

      Just looked at this link. Authors name — paul Goble? The pathetic cretin, so much loved by this blog’s owner? As for me, this is a clear indication, what his rant does not deserve to be read.

      Finally, don’t bother to answer. Obviously, you’re not able to understand your opponent’s arguments. Further discussion is pointless.

      • Actually the total number murdered by Muscovites exceeds 60 million from 1917-1991.

        And thats just a medium estimate.

        As I was taught at uni “ask not what Communism has done to Russia, ask what Russia has done to Communism”

        Same old Russia, nothing ever changes.

        • Oh, you even have a link! :)

          Thank a lot. Quickly browsed through all these tables, looked at the sources quoted. What do you expect? Right. Conquest, Solzhenitsyn, even the Antonov-Ovseenko. :)

          Everything is clear with this *research*.
          To trashcan.

      • Dear trilirium,

        I agree with your comment:

        *30 mln “gunned down”? You’re an idiot.*

        If Big Boy qualified his statement by saying 30,000,000 Ukrainians, then he would be approaching the truth, because others were killed also!


  18. I’m with you buddy. It was a mere trifle like 20 million or so. All those detractors talking about 60 mil. But look at the achievements tho. The success of communism, and now Putin’s tremendous achievements that follow in the great commie leaders’ footsteps.
    You know what I like about people like you from the 1920s? The short little postscript at the end of their bios. “Arrested in 1937 durng Stalin’s purges. Tortured and shot without trial. Rehabilitated by Khruschev after 1956.”
    I heartily wish you a similar fate. Perhaps if you’re one of those 20 mil, your attitude will change a tad, eh?
    Please don’t bother to answer. I’m not at all interested in your opinion until you spend a couple of month by the parasha.

  19. Russia is an evil. Evil cannot be negotiated with. We see that Russian lust for power and profit knows no bounds and Russia failed to stand by its early commitments in many a respect. It’s high time to take on Russia. I think a regime change in Moscow will make a whole lot of a difference and should solve all the problems. The US Air Force can can do that job nicely in the name of democracy and freedom.

    And back to the article – Yes, it gets tricky but Putin is a whimp showing increasing signs of a delusional state of mind. Something must be done about it, the US Air Forcecan can do that job nicely in the name of democracy and freedom.

  20. “Yes, I know what east germans think. I know some of them personally. No, they are not happy about they present life.”
    Heh, are you serious, neo-soveticus?
    There`s people who miss CCCR but are they majority? I also know some and OSS-s and their opinions, so what?
    If some people fancy hitler and they don`t like democracy you can multiply it to all germans as opinions of the entire nation? Laughable.
    Which political system works? Putins powervertical? ;)
    “30 mln “gunned down”? You’re an idiot.”
    If you don`t get that it was metaphor for violent death and theres no difference either its 20, 30 or 60mil you are sociopath as proved already.
    IT`S A LOT!
    Read the link i posted.
    In our world you are product of abortion, in russia you can be well respected member of “society”. Thats a BIG difference.
    “Paul Goble? The pathetic cretin”
    Point out why he is cretin.
    Because he shows how pathetic you, morally challenged are?
    My advice to you, you village idiot- do some reading from well respected (not kremlin respected) enclycopedia about stalin great terror and MAYBE we can have discussion here or maybe not.
    We are the liberators of Europe!!! RuSSia!

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