Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Case of Mass Schizophrenia

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

Now, in addition to the new and old New Year's, we have the new and old November holidays." This is the joke I heard even before the official celebrations had died down over People's Unity Day on Nov. 4 and official denunciations of the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution on Nov. 7 had fully quieted. During Soviet times, there was a wealth of such critical witticisms in response to various public holidays created by Communist leaders suffering from varying stages of senility. With the advent of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost, however, the jokes dried up. But now, I think this type of folklore is flourishing once again.

In fact, last week was rather comical with its overblown holiday celebrations. When President Vladimir Putin met with a group of young people, he urged them to study history and, in particular, to take an interest in the origin of the word "Rus." This comment once again left Russian and foreign observers at a loss as to Putin's intentions. The point is that one of the most widespread versions of the word's origin is that Rus is the name of a Scandinavian tribe, and that the citizens of Novgorod called on the tribe's leaders to come and establish order in their city. The first tsarist dynasty of the Ruriks later emerged from this. Could Putin have intended this as a subtle way to communicate his sympathies toward the West, despite all of his anti-West rhetoric of late?

But on Nov. 7, all the major television stations gloated over the fact that only 5,000 Communists turned out for the 90-year anniversary of the October Revolution rather than the expected 50,000. In addition, a documentary film was shown presenting those events not as a revolution, but as an upheaval that resulted entirely from collusion among the Triple Entente member countries and Germany.

Only two days later, celebrations were held for the 90th anniversary of the police, and Putin paid tribute to this event by appearing at a concert shown on state-controlled television. On the same day, a documentary film by Leonid Mlechin was shown on the Moscow city government-controlled TV Center about Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Cheka secret police force and an idol for many people in today's law enforcement agencies. The film featured horrifying stories of concentration camps that Cheka agents erected and mass shootings carried out without trials or investigations.

Looking with an objective eye, it becomes clear that the ruling elite has adopted mutually exclusive points of view. But do you think Russians are the only ones to have done so? Remember when Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko voiced his opposition to the erection of a monument to the Russian tsaritsa -- Catherine the Great -- in Odessa, even though she founded Odessa on what at the time was barren land, thus giving modern Ukraine what would become one of its few world-famous cities.

If you visit any of the former Soviet republics, you will find that the elites and the citizens are suffering from some kind of mass schizophrenia. They search for their national identities based not on their own positive values and customs, but as defined by their enemies. Maybe Putin had this collective insanity in mind when he referred to the collapse of the Soviet Union as the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century."

But if we were to look at the collapse of the Soviet Union as the crumbling of millions of minds, then it could be called the greatest psychiatric catastrophe of the 20th century instead. And as bad as that is, it sure opens up a lot of good ground for jokes.

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa, a magazine for publishing business professionals.