Myth and power, the two sides of the same coin

In Russia, political power has always come from the top and historically has had a sacred character. Before the advent of Communism in fact the tsar was considered holy, the elected and his portraits were hung in the churches. This dual nature, political and sacred, legitimized his power.

The Bolsheviks were inserted seamlessly into this tradition. In the materialistic conception in which God, banished from human history and politics, was not allowed to fill the void left by the tsar sacredness the Party created new landmarks. The monarch was replaced by Communist leaders and the population were served up new stories, what would later become the Soviet cultural mythologies.


With the adoption of Marxist ideology in Russia there was something like the early Christian phenomenon on the territories of the Roman Empire when the new religion was grafted over paganism, absorbing and transforming the existing myths and converting the old temples in new places cult. During communism it was built a new sacred and untouchable scaffolding, and the churches were turned into warehouses, administrative offices or even atheism museums. Behind these blasphemous metamorphoses not only it concealed the irreverent pleasure of the new leaders against the ecclesiastical institution and materialistic that the Bolsheviks were brooding contempt for religion, but also a clear desire to transmute the divine power in the political power of the Party. So, what once was the house of the Lord became the seat of the local governor or, ironically, the place where people was educated not to believe in any kind of god.

The tsars’ portraits were removed from the walls and in their place they keep accumulating new sacred symbols, new “sanctified” faces. Once again, the Bolsheviks did not invent anything, basically the country passed from Christianity Orthodox matrix to “a Russian Marxism”: more than the religious structure, the subjects and the rite changed.

img_2293pIn this perspective is no a coincidence that Lenin dead was made relic. His mummified body, it is still kept in the pyramid-shaped mausoleum at the foot of the high walls of the Kremlin on Red Square in Moscow, as if was a Pharaoh . Inside this black marble pyramid you can see the Father of the Revolution’s “the sacred remains”. It is to be contemplated in silence, in the dim light barely lit by the light of the case where the body is kept. There you walk quickly around with the guards inciting pilgrims-spectators not to dwell too much. The Lenin mausoleum is a real monument where you go on a pilgrimage: if the Tsar were the vicars of God, the supreme Bolsheviks chiefs were the vicars of communism.

The idea to embalm Lenin was Stalin’s idea, who in his youth had been trained as a seminarian and well knew the power that the relics have on the people. It was Stalin himself, later, to impersonate the omniscience and infallibility of the Communist chief, the dogmatism of the party and the hunt for heretics, all of Christian origin concepts, but well suited in the new structure of the state. The “Russian Marxism” in short, was not, but the reinterpretation of local messianic.

The idealization of the old political leaders is not old stuff, but it is more topical than ever. In order to provide a reference to a society, now distracted by the new values of globalization, the Kremlin is now on national feelings. It exalts the glories of the faded great empire leaving in a side less edifying topics, such as the deportations to the gulag and the queues for bread. They remember the great leaders and the great achievements, composing, piece by piece, a mosaic of images taken by a confused approximate idealized past.

Stalin, just as an example, has risen in poll ratings of the last years, in which it is remembered more for the glory of years ago than for his crimes. Today his good-natured grandfather moustachioed face can be found printed on magnets of souvenir shops, proving once again the Russian tendency to romanticize the past leaders.

dsc_1825pIt seems that here in Russia they could forgive everything to the politicians except the mortal sin not to give Russia the high-powered glory which its people think it merits. For this reason here the average Russian reserves low estimate to Gorbachev, a character that the European left has instead in respect. His crime was that he had helped to destroy a system without being able to create another equally functional and glorious. It had to give him time, they say in the West, but then it happened what happened in the country and hard wrist leaders ended up triumphing.

The moderates are too “soft” for a country alike Russia? Maybe it is so, as Putin is still proving a success and not only within the borders of the country. I was talking with many Russians and I still found strongly conflicting opinions about it. Some of them say that Putin is supported mostly by ignorant people who live outside of major population centres and who do not have other means of information than television. Others say that the president is what Russia needs “at least he reported in the country’s economic policy and growth” and above all, I would add, he has shaken off the image of a country adrift restoring its status instead in the world: the image of a great power that when it need it raises its voice and show its muscles.

The syncretism of this chauvinistic policy focused on nationalism after all it works in holding together a country traumatized by a long series of historical events with which it is not easy to deal with. By the brutal tsarist empire to the civil war between the Whites and the Reds, through the October Revolution and the shocking seventy years of Soviet made of ration cards, myths, deportations, wars, glory and decadence, Russia in just one century has passed through everything. Today it is a country open to the free market and subdued with reckless enthusiasm to runaway capitalism.

After all these dramatic changes, after the efforts to build a big dream, the bitter disappointments, the fall of so many myths and ideologies, even here most people just want to get distracted. People, perhaps driven by a suicide fatalistic instinct, tends more and more to lose interest in politics, which is perceived as something almost abstract, away from the daily chores of the people. The common man, disillusioned and tired, ends up abandoning the policy. After so much effort, after so many disappointments, after so many fairy tales, he just wants to rest and be distracted a bit. No matter what, just that it works, that it is an escape from reality. Nothing new: it’s the same thing that happens to us. But it is precisely at that moment, when he gave up, duped by distractions and false problems, that the common man loses.


© 2017, Cristina Cori. All rights reserved. Copyright ©

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