Translation: The Anatomy of Context

In which Russian writer Dmitry Bykov compares the Russian opposition to Pugacheva, and God – for that is what most concerns Russians, and not the trivialities they typically discuss.

The Anatomy of Context

Just about the same thing has happened to the Russian opposition as has happened to the Russian intelligentsia: it has been accused of every mortal sin; but without it, one cannot live.

The opposition has become just a little bit more like Alla Pugacheva, who is hated so much – yet without her it is inconceivable that one can live one’s life: without her there would be no New Year.

Let’s agree that there is no opposition in Russia and that there has never been one. It has lost everything that it could lose; it has degenerated into buffoonery; it has compromised itself (in the eyes of the Patriots) by socializing with the liberals and (in the eyes of liberals) with the left; it did not offer a coherent programme and a specific plan of action; it did not find a common language with the people, with the authorities, with the West and with patriots. It has no goals, objectives and principles. We are agreed: it has been forgotten and buried and its inscription written. An opposition that blows neither hot nor cold insofar as it now has completely different problems.

Perhaps it would be easier to accept that it does not exist and never has, and then the provocations such as “Anatomy of Protest”, the harassment, the defamation and the professional restrictions would at last cease: there can be no reactions to nothing. But of Russia’s columnists, ranging from the completely incorruptible to those who are mostly concerned about seeking sponsors, such as Leonid Radzikhovsky, who touchingly combines wise scepticism with teenage angst and lots of BLOCK CAPITALS, – what are they all going to do?

What will happen to Arkady Mamontov and other such members of the powers that be? Finally, what will become of those with the most power, those that have neither thought up a slogan for the immediate future nor a programme – apart from fighting the opposition? What will live on in literature – for in all of the new Russian novels, from realism to fantasy – the white ribbon movement has become a common thread? What can be generally spoken of in Russian, apart from the opposition – and spies?

Just about the same thing has happened to the Russian opposition as has happened to the Russian intelligentsia: It has been accused of every mortal sin; but without it, one cannot live, because there is nothing else. The proletariat and the peasantry have long turned into something completely different – and partly, by the way, in the same way as the intelligentsia has – and there they are, and you can throw them around as though they were dead bodies. To be honest, it is about the same situation as regards God. They have all said twenty times over that He does not exist, that His existence cannot be proven, that He alone was to blame; as a result , the expression: “There is no God” has been transformed into the formulaic expression: “There is nothing but God”.

The intelligentsia, for all its notorious shirking of physical labour, has long fed Russia, has provided it with its defences and all that it possesses and with which it has been able to compete. The beginning and end of all this is the culture of the physical sciences. The opposition is the only theme of Russian conversations, because there is nothing more to talk about. There is nothing easier than to exclude it from the political field, to destroy it morally and physically, to stop constantly being reminded of it, thereby inflating its rating. But here is the rub: there is no programme for the reaction, apart from repression; therefore, the opposition is as necessary as is air. You can make any conflicting claims, especially when you consider that there are no rights and opportunities in this opposition that are primordial. In the era of this said reaction, the oppositionists and intellectuals time and again have been guilty of everything: this has been said outside, but not in their homes; they have no humility; they did not set off for the Kremlin – if they had done so the opposition would have been blamed for leading its supporters to the slaughter.

But insofar as the dominant content of the era has been the violence targeted at them – which, by the way, touches upon individual civil servants, anti-regime activists, “back-to-the-soil” activists, radicals, elderly non-conformists and the Kremlin “young guard” – then to finally bury the opposition would be inconceivable, even if it ardently wished that this be done. Surkov has gone into retirement? It was he who supported the opposition, not otherwise. Check out “RUSNANO”? This Chubais fellow under the wing of and in participation with U.S. intelligence has cultivated the opposition. Summer promises to be a hot one? The opposition is at hand!

In modern Russia people say what they want about anything – from the “Eurovision” song contest to the Rosbank scandal – but it is only in the opposition that they are really interested in; only the opposition is either abused in queues, or praised in the kitchen.

Such excessive attention can in no way be combined with incessant talk of wretchedness, nullity and security. If there were no opposition, as God was, it too would have been invented. Another thing is that our understanding of the opposition is at the same approximate and superficial, just as are our opinions about God: judging the opposition movement by what is said in abundance from meeting podiums is as mistaken as using icons to make judgements about God. God is everywhere: He is in the air – and the opposition is also everywhere; God is what emerges from our thirst to understand, to ask, to thank, and even to break into anger, and to dump any guilt – and the opposition has exactly the same mission. Atheists are kicking God just as they can break icons, having been bullied by Scripture – thus they do more for faith than does the most zealous preacher: there is no fighting with those who are not there.

God does not exist, but He will: Gorky proposed that we should be God-builders. There is no opposition, but there is a flurry of vilification; there are cries of horror; there is praise of its never tiring power to create – and as a result it becomes truly ubiquitous: any provincial student, any vendor, any taxi driver asks “When will it all end?” The whole thing is so enormous – and that includes the money that has been spent -, an array of modern Russian ideology, all the propaganda, all the fire and brimstone and utopia is hung on to by a handful of showmen who are not capable of doing anything, of writers and leftists. In this sense, the opposition is even a bit similar to Alla Pugacheva, who is hated so much – yet without her it is inconceivable that one can live one’s life: without her there would be no New Year.

Alla Pugacheva is also similar to God, a myth that has become out of date, but without whom the world would collapse. There will be no ethical or aesthetic criteria, or even gossip. However, as Brodsky observed: the only interesting things are gossip and metaphysics; in fact, they are one and the same.

As God left the clouds and turned into an idea, the opposition has gone from the street (there is very little of it left) and turned into total suspense, anger, and a secret malevolence. And the louder the assurances are that the situation is almost pre-crisis again – so audible is the laughter of the population in response to any power realities. The louder and clumsier the anti-religious propaganda, the more united are the ranks of the true believers. The more poisonous the slander of specific individuals, the more faceless, all-encompassing, secretly-gloating from the underground the opposition, which knows that the future belongs to it.

Of course, this hidden opposition is not particularly favored by me, because it has for the time being no responsibilities and is just about useless. But then the eternal reproach concerning God’s existence is that nobody has seen Him, and yet any doubt of His presence is almost impossible for any sensitive person.

People talk about football, but they are only interested in God, according to Chesterton’s puzzle. In modern Russia people say what they want about anything – from the “Eurovision” song contest to the Rosbank scandal – but just wonder about the opposition: it is either abused in queues or praised in the kitchen.

“God is objective reality given us by our senses,” said Petsukh. There is no arguing about that. The opposition today is the only reality given us by our senses. All the rest is a fiction. And the louder the authorities stamp their feet, the more certain is that reality – the only thing that is contained within our huge country, it seemingly having lost its other brands, compromised its reason and eaten up all its resources.

“Either there is no God, or everything is God”, Tolstoy wrote shortly before his death. And those six words, in my opinion are the best he wrote.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.