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How to analyse the historical drama going on in Russia – and how to understand it?

Ukrainian flag in public transport in Helsinki.
Helsinki, Finland - March 5, 2022: Helsinki Regional Transport Authority support Ukraine. Ad screen in the metro train
Written by Editors

Ukraina-tiedote 4/2022.The attached free magazine (pdf) on the war in Ukraine and its background is so far only available in Finnish (click on the image to open the file). However, here are two articles on the Ukrainian war in English. The article below is edited from Matti Puolakka’s speech to members of our association on 19 May 2015. It is now more topical than ever.

The most important task of the New History Association is to publish Matti Puolakka’s philosophy of history and carry out research work based on it. We have not taken a public position on world politics except at a very general level. Russia’s brutal attack on Ukraine has changed this.

However, among ourselves, we have closely followed political developments, particularly in Russia. Finland has been a target of hybrid influence, as have Matti Puolakka and other members of our association. Since 2006, Russia has launched many kinds of hate campaigns against Finland, which can only be interpreted as preparations for a war of aggression. There has also been threatening with nuclear weapons.

The nature of the current Russian system and the Hitlerist face of the “war party” now in power there have finally been revealed to Finnish decision-makers, authorities, and the general public. For us, that is a relief, although it is tragic that it had to happen in such a horrific way.

A separate article on Igor Girkin-Strelkov’s astonishing statements, to which Puolakka refers in his speech. Girkin has continued voicing his views to this day. They illustrate well the plot of the historical drama in Russia up to its climax – the war in Ukraine.

#StandWithUkraine

What is happening in the “soul” of Russia?

Strelkov, aka Girkin, has been one of the most ardent warmongers in Russia. In fact, he has been one of the most important role models for neo-tsarist Nazis. And yet he has begun to talk sense – yes, really: he has given several in some way rational, common-sense, and (shall I say?) honest interviews.

What is going on inside the Russian military (and the Russian elite in general)? What is happening in the “soul” of Russia right now?

If you really seriously, without prejudice, want to know the answer to these questions, then ponder and meticulously analyse Strelkov’s statements. Think about all of them; look at them in terms of how they form a whole.

There is a difference between analysis and analysis. First, in Hegelian terms, seek the truth in the whole. Second: sometimes analysis, to be successful, requires living deeply into the historical process in question. That is possible only if you deeply live through the key figures of the historical drama in question.

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March in memory of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow.
March in memory of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow in 2017. PHOTO: Klausvienresh, Wikimedia Commons.

Zhirinovsky speaks like Hitler, hates and rages like Hitler, plays roles like Hitler, confuses the boundaries between clowning and being serious like Hitler, embraces irrationalism like Hitler, makes blind bigotry the basis of political doctrine like Hitler did and sets cruelty and brutality as the highest moral virtues – just like Hitler!

And just as Hitler wanted to take over world domination through blitzkrieg, that is exactly what Zhirinovsky wants Russia to do. Differences? Hitler relied on the technical superiority of tanks and aircraft in conventional warfare. Zhirinovsky relies on fifth columns and tactical nuclear weapons in a ”new type of war”.

As ”personalities”, both Zhirinovsky and Hitler are social products of an entire historical era.

Want to understand a historical era? In that case: learn to understand all the central characters of the historical drama in question!

Goethe said something like this: When you go deep within yourself, you will find the potential to become any terrible criminal – or a ”saint” of some sort. 

In his aesthetic ”system”, Stanislavski said that great actors always play themselves, whatever their role. 

Makarenko said in his pedagogical system: if some individuals fundamentally violate the laws of humanity, the community has the right to protect itself and, therefore, push such individuals out of the community, leaving them on their own. Makarenko argued that, ultimately, awareness of this is the only thing that can save a truly evil person.

Kant, in his moral philosophical system, argued precisely the same. According to him, even the most horrible criminals, deep in their hearts, hope to be tried in a fair trial.

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Anna Politkovskaja.
Anna Politkovskaya presents her book "Putin's Russia" at the 2005 Leipzig Book Fair. PHOTO: Das Blaue Sofa / Club Bertelsmann, Flickr.

Why? Because a person can only be a person among others. That is why even the worst criminals in prison want to belong to some gang where they, in some way, can get ”recognition”, respect, at least from their kind.

Human individuals create themselves. In many of his novels, Dostoevsky features the above idea of Goethe in several ways. Karamazov’s three (in fact four) brothers, however different they were, had the same potential in their nature (or, to use Hegel’s logic term, the same ”essence”). They all ”created themselves” and consciously made their destiny – to the end.

Hegel’s philosophy of history is a philosophy of human nature. The Hegelian concept of “recognition” (appreciation) is the most important concept in moral philosophy, social psychology, social theory, and philosophy of history. Well, at least that concept binds together these disciplines better than any other concept. Of course, Kant’s concept of “radical evil” is just as profound, even if it is more difficult to explain than Hegel’s concept.

In Russia, a drama of world-historical significance has begun to take shape. Want to understand it? Identify with the main actors in that drama.

What does Igor Girkin’s alias Igor Strelkov’s background, family roots, his lifestyle and hobbies, the absurdity of his initial opinions and his later common-sense volatility tell us about what will soon happen in Russia (or is happening inside the Kremlin right “now”)?!

In Shakespeare’s plays, every (central) character is a necessity. You cannot add or remove any one of them.

How to identify with the characters? Scientifically! So: Use an objective overall assessment of the characters in question as the starting point. With history (or at least with current events), your artistic empathy will lead you astray if you do not base it on an objective overall assessment of the characters.