There’s a curious video making the rounds on social media, purporting to be a Russian government ad for getting people to move to Russia. The entire production is deeply odd—think “Crypto Island” meets travel campaign—but what stood out to me was the video’s insistence on what you couldn’t find in Russia: There would be “No cancel culture!”
It’s weird for anything to define itself not by what it is, but by what it isn’t, and in the middle of the culture wars, it appears that authoritarian places like Russia (or Hungary) are doing exactly that: Staking a claim to be “anti-woke” state entities. They proclaim to represent “traditional values”, but rather than defining them beyond keywords like “family”, they characterize themselves as antipodes to something else: Progressivism, the zeitgeist they claim to be overly “woke”. That Russia—a country engaged in a brutal war of aggression and historic revisionism—would portray itself as value-driven, is a particularly cruel irony.
The campaign made me think of Svetlana Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time, which chronicles the ideological vacuum right after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of the people she interviews in the book are shaken to the core by the sudden absence of a value compass, and it would seem like any self-definition that’s just against something else would suffer from the same hollowness.