chapter  12
54 Pages

Making the public patriotic: Militarism and anti-militarism in Russia

ByVALERIE SPERLING

By the end of the 1990s, Russia’s government could recite a litany of woes. Probably topping the list was a collapsing economy in which GDP had shrunk by 50 percent since 1991, unhappy laborers and pensioners experienced extensive wage delays, crime was rising, and unemployment appeared to have become an intractable problem. The collapse of the Soviet Union a decade earlier placed the nation’s superpower status solidly in the past. The state had lost control over the rebellious region of Chechnya; Russian troops had been withdrawn from the area in 1996 in defeat after what many perceived as a needlessly bloody affair botched by the military, only to return in 1999 for the second round of a brutal conflict. In a nationwide public opinion poll in early 2002 asking what “in the modern life of our country” gave rise to feelings of pride, half of the respondents to this open-ended question provided either no answer or responses deemed “not pertinent” (net otveta, otvet ne na temu), and an additional 20 percent stated that there was “nothing to be proud of,” making that the most popular answer.3 Patriotic pride had been eaten away by shame. As the new millennium began, the Russian government launched a campaign to reinvigorate its citizens’ sense of patriotism – a campaign firmly anchored to the Russian military.4