A recently released YouTube video entitled ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’ is a deeply telling panegyric to 19th century-style white man’s burden imperialism, which goes a long way towards explaining what is wrong with the mentality of many Russians today.
It’s a rare occurrence to see proponents of a worldview unironically putting out such a bold (and frankly racist) statement of agency, a statement which approaches Idiocracy levels of parody. One could almost laugh, if this clarion call to unapologetic national pride was not so blatantly supremacist and aggressive.
To put it all in a rather crude nutshell, everything in this part of the world would be crap if it weren’t for the Russians, and it’s crap again because Moscow’s petulant children forgot the benefit of kowtowing to their suzerain. That might sound like an exaggeration. It is not. In a typical display of Russian militaristic bravado, the highly-stylized clip begins with a so-called Little Green Man (slang for the crack Russian troops who took Crimea sans insignia) loading a clip into his AK-100 while the narrator proclaims that being an occupier is his manifest destiny.
Turning his eye to Yermak’s 16th century conquest of Siberia, the video goes full on Heart of Darkness by arguing that now they (whoever they might be) produce oil, gas and “other useful stuff, have “schools and hospitals” and can’t sell women for “a bundle of sable skins” – all thanks to Russian colonial expansion.
I guess one is left to assume that the benefits of 400-plus years of progress would have escaped the indigenous population if it weren’t for the Russians occupation. It’s also strange how putting a stop to selling women for sable skins is brought up as a justification, seeing that rape, enslavement and self-admitted genocidal policies were carried out against the natives, often, and rather ironically, due to the lucrative fur trade.
Serfdom was also being deeply entrenched in Russian society during the same time period, which is to say, Russia was actually moving backwards socially during this period of imperial expansion (legal amendments in 1649 and 1658 made the bulk of Russians slaves in all but name.) So they saved the people from selling their women into slavery so Russians themselves could sell them into slavery? Right.
The narrator moves on to the Baltics, arguing they were renowned for their high quality radio equipment, cars, famous perfumes and balms during Soviet times.
“I [Russia] was asked to leave them. Now they sell sprats, and part of their people clean toilets in Europe.”
That the financially robust Baltic states, one of which is projected to reach the economic level of the Nordic countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway by 2025 (and potentially become one of the top five most productive nations in the world) have been relegated to forage fish sellers and European toilet cleaners is frankly odd.
Central Asia is next, and perhaps an easier target given the authoritarianism and wealth inequality that plagues these states for a number of reasons. Seemingly reducing the five republics of the former Soviet bloc to one homogeneous mass, the narrator sidesteps any substantive issues by saying they are now being saddled with US loans and “growing Cannabis” (with the image of a pot leaf quickly being replaced with a white powder I’m assuming is heroine.)
Apart from the unforeseen possibility that Colorado has outsourced its pot business to Uzbekistan on the back of high interest loans, I’m not really sure what the narrator is getting at. Another contention, that many migrants now work in Russia in often desperate conditions, is true, though to blame them for the macroeconomic conditions that make some states net importers of guest laborers seems ludicrous.
The reductionist approach also belies the fact that Kazakhstan’s GDP per capita is nominally close to Russia’s, providing economic conditions which attract more Central Asian migrants than any other country in the world (apart from its neighbor to the north.) And what, pray tell, do Russia and Kazakhstan have in common? I’ll give you a hint:
In Ukraine, well you guessed it. Once upon a time they built things, and now all they can do is construct “revolution and dictatorship.”
So looking at all of the chaos that’s been unleashed by one of the worst geopolitical disaster’s of the 20th century, the narrator, whoever he is speaking for, is coming out of the closest (no, not that closet!)
“Yes, I’m an occupant, and I’m tired of apologizing for it. I’m an occupant by birthright, an aggressor and a bloodthirsty monster. Be afraid.”
The video, unsurprisingly, goes on to deride western hypocrisy, parroting the widely held belief that democracy does not exist, before reducing western values to gays, gays, more gays, and Conchita Wurst (as opposed to transparency, the rule of law, the protection of minorities, civil rights and the regular and predictable transition of power through free and fair elections.)
“I politely warn you for the last time, don’t mess with me. I build peace, I love peace, but I know how to fight better than anyone else,” the message, which is quickly dispatched to Barack Obama, concludes.
Kevin Rothrock from Global Voices contacted the alleged creator of the video, a man going by the name of Evgeny Zhurov. Zhurov is emphatic that the professionally produced video was independently made, saying claims of Kremlin involvement are an absolute “lie.”
“These people want to destroy the ‘myth’ about a guy who works ‘for an idea,’” Zhurov said.“They want to make all my work look like it was part of some government contract.”
I for one believe whoever is behind the video is an ancillary point. That the Kremlin would make (or at the very least finance) such a video in a world of internet troll farms and organized-state hysteria is par for the course. What’s more important is the fact that the maker of this video has his finger on the pulse of contemporary Russia. In line with their educational curriculum, many Russians believe in a reductionist view of history which hinges on external invasions of Russia, but ignores numerous instances of Russian aggression against its own neighbors.
It is within this narrative that the myth of the peaceful but ferocious Russian was born. The revelatory part of the video, of course, is that it couples Russians belief in their peaceful nature with its highly militaristic culture, which revels in the idea of being feared. For those who visit Russia, the obsession with power is stark. Some have likened it to a sublimated prison culture, and even in Soviet times, prisoners themselves called the labor camps the ‘small zones’ and the country itself the ‘big zone.’ And this obsession with power manifests itself in virtually every interaction.
When the face of Russia’s domestic propaganda effort Dmitry Kiselyov warned “Russia can turn the US into radioactive dust” last March, he was speaking directly to the Russian id that can resentfully only find parity with their former Cold War rival in its ability to destroy it (and be destroyed in turn.) Russia is a shadow of its former Soviet incarnation, but due to its nuclear arsenal, it most be feared and respected, or so the logic goes.
I already mentioned its reduction of Western values to one gigantic gay pride parade, though there is something interesting in its interpretation of Soviet History. Russians both view the Soviet Union as a Russian imperialistic project and as a commonwealth of brotherly nations coming together for a utopian vision of the future. Many Russians deftly navigate very convoluted waters in which all of the evils of the Soviet Union are blamed on outside anti-Russian forces (often Jews), while at the same time believing that all of the accomplishments of the Soviet Union were in fact Russian accomplishments.
The videos portrayal of the former Soviet republics and Siberia itself as backwaters that would have been nothing if not for Russia’s beneficent occupation is a widely held belief. Jim Kovpak, an amateur historian and author of the popular blog Russia Without BS, summarized this mentality in an article entitled ‘See, this is why nobody likes you.’
“It goes something like this. Russian wants to rant against some former Soviet nationality. It doesn’t matter if its their ‘Slavic brothers’ like the Ukrainians or non-Slavic nationalities like Uzbeks, Tajiks, or Georgians. With the most condescending and patronizing tone, they remind the target of their rant how great they had it under the USSR, or in the case of this article, the Russian Empire. Typically no distinction is made between the two.
The story is that Muscovite Russians selflessly endeavored and bled to give these people various “gifts” for which they were ungrateful in 1991. Basically it’s the equivalent of a right-wing American telling black Americans that they should be grateful for slavery, or better said a British person lecturing India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan about how great they had it when they were the jewel of the British Empire. The difference being, however, that in the US or UK views like this are often met with sharp criticism, often all across the political spectrum. In Russia they are mainstream and encouraged,” he wrote.
That these views are mainstream and encouraged is obvious in the stellar popularity of ‘I am a Russian Occupant’, which has gathered over 5 million views and 111k likes in some two weeks. One of the most telling aspects of many Russians is that they are supremacists who are enraged that they might be viewed as inferior, anti-PC bigots who will jump at the slightest mischaracterization of their own people, self-proclaimed lovers of peace who are militarists obsessed with power and respect, patronizing colonialists who are deeply resentful that neighboring nations do not respect the paternalistic yoke.
These contradictions are the source of a great deal of internal strife that manifests itself externally, as the pressure of cognitive dissonance rarely dissipates of its own accord. And often, the psychic fault lines between reality and delusion create tremors in the real world.
It would be easy to dismiss this clip if it weren’t so telling. After all, it is the worldview it depicts (a false belief that it is Russia’s “birthright” to keep their backwards and rebellious children in the fold) that drove the Kremlin to rip Ukraine apart rather than let it choose its own path. Taken in that light, there is nothing funny about ‘I’m a Russian Occupant’ at all.