TJournal's Vadim Elistratov Says It's a Political Time to Be Russian

Vadim Elistratov's battle against political polemics. Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

Vadim Elistratov (center) battles against political polemics. U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki (left) vs. Vladimir Putin (right). Images mixed by Kevin Rothrock.

What follows is a full English translation of an article by Vadim Elistratov that appeared in Russian on the website TJournal on August 8, 2014. Elistratov shares personal observations about the creep of politics in Russian daily life, saying the recent barrage of oppressive laws (regulating the Web, banning popular food imports, and so on) is changing the tone of the country's social discourse. Elistratov ties the situation on the Russian Internet to struggles in the offline world. For that reason, RuNet Echo is making the article accessible to English speakers. 

Vadim Elistratov, July 4, 2013. Facebook.

“You Never Can Tell” by Vadim Elistratov

TJournal’s chief editor explains why staying quiet about politics is wise, but is becoming more difficult with each passing day.

For the last several years, I’ve managed successfully to steer clear of politics. And the more I write on my own or at work, the clearer it becomes to me that I should leave this topic alone.

I’ve always seen politics as too fleeting an area of knowledge. It’s like a Wikipedia article forever being edited by two people of diametrically opposing views: what was written in black and white yesterday is being refuted today, and the refutation, in turn, will get another even more elaborate refutation the next day. While this discussion goes on, the essence of the debate fades into the background, leaving only the two people arguing and an endless tail of their screaming declarations.

That's why I’m often genuinely shocked to sit down with people who start arguing about events happening thousands of miles away, as if they were experts or eyewitnesses. After reading a few good books, maybe you can become a guru in photography, computer graphics, or cross-stitching, but there’s no way it makes you an authority on some unfolding political situation.

The only experts in such things are the people who participate directly. These people at least understand why they’ve taken the lives of others and risked their own, or why they’ve banned this or that and placed various restrictions on the citizens of their own country. And these people clearly aren’t interested in heated debates on social networks.

I’m not saying there should be a dark abyss in place of political dialogue, but our “people’s experts” are going too far almost every day. They speak categorically without leaving any room for doubt. They carry out entire investigations using nothing but photographs culled from social networks. And their generalizations equate whole nations with certain policy decisions, and individual opinions with the views of the public.

Moreover, this is happening not just with armchair analysts, but in the media, too. A perfect illustration is the recent story about Jen Psaki’s [orthopedic] boot—nearly the ideal model for most political discussion in Russia, where the search for a colorful delivery replaces the search for meaning. Any way you approach this, you’re sure to come out head-to-toe filthy, having used a dozen or so lies in your arguments, without even knowing it. We can only speak with conviction about the consequences, but never about the causes.

In the last few days, however, maintaining complete silence about politics has become incredibly difficult. Very soon, many people will lose the ability to write what they want in their beloved blogs, because their creations have grown too popular [mandating government registration]. No longer will people be able to use public Wi-Fi or write messages without wondering who else is reading. The situation in the world at this summer’s end has reached the point where “politics” is entering our homes and sweeping our favorite yogurts and cheeses right off the table, telling us to choose something else.

Admittedly, this bit about yogurts sounds ridiculous. Yogurts, yogurts, yogurts—it’s hardly an essential good (even here in St. Petersburg, where the shelves are packed with so many Finnish brands that the situation could be quite dire). Nothing all that terrifying has happened; someone will fill the yogurt void. The more important thing is what these yogurts symbolize: a thing we came to see as natural, which they’ve taken away from us—because “that’s how it has to be.”

And when we finally decide to ask why it “has to be” this way, we’re sent down this confusing path, where nobody, it seems, is really an expert. It’s these same yogurts that lead us to feel like we’re headed somewhere on a train that’s outside our control. And here the eeriness sets in.

This text is a full English translation of an article by Vadim Elistratov that appeared in Russian on the website TJournal on August 8, 2014.


  • Efrem

    “… our “people’s experts” are going too far almost every day. They speak categorically without leaving any room for doubt.”

    Another quote:

    “… you dare to let yourself go in the most unforgivable
    manner and offer advice of a positively cosmic nature with positively cosmic
    stupidity about how everything should be divided up … and at the same time you
    do things like eating the tooth powder…” (Bulgakov, The Heart of A Dog”)

  • mlpo

    Unfortunately, Vadim’s piece is to me emblematic of what has gone wrong in recent years. I have met other Russians like him. They view politics as something that doesn’t effect them and is best avoided. There are no right and wrong answers to political questions, only opinions. In a democratic society even those who are not politically active recognize that it is through political action that society makes decisions. Vadim, like many Russians, is finding out the hard way that politics matter and that while you can ignore politics, politics will not ignore you.

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