Главная Журнал «Россия и Запад: диалог культур» Главная Рубрики Политическая культура и идеологии Michail Ilyin "The Choice of Destiny Myth and Modern Politics"

Michail Ilyin "The Choice of Destiny Myth and Modern Politics"

Mikhail Ilyin –

Doctor of Political Science, Professor

School of Political Sciences, MGIMO


Email: politology@mgimo.ru

"The Choice of Destiny" Myth and Modern Politics.

The article examines Russia’s recent political history in terms of mythology underlying political discourse, with a special emphasis on the Choice of Destiny myth. It first analyses cognitive schemes behind culture specific models of destiny choice (Hellenic, Semitic, Russian) and then demonstrates how these cognitive schemes are manipulated by Russian politicians in their election campaigns. Mythologization of choice offered to the voting public is opposed to its rationalization, which avoids the one-dimensional logic of choosing one historical destiny once and for all and suggests more alternatives and a wider representation of interests. The article argues for a middle path between mythologization and rationalization as a viable way to build representative democracy.

Key words: Choice of Destiny myth, Russian political history.

The choice of destiny myth is one of the basic myths in the world culture. It can be found not only in the mythology of every nation but in our modem life as well. This myth has penetrated into politics, for instance, and taken over certain aspects of it. Recent Russian history vividly proves this. Furthermore, the last few years have witnessed considerable metamorphoses of the choice of destiny myth. One of its most striking transformations took place during the election campaign to the State Duma at the end of 1993. However, before analyzing the myth-making by Russian politicians, it is essential to define the general aspects of the choice of destiny myth and outline the contours of its most widespread types. This is vital if we do not want just to skim the surface of the momentary events, but wish to get to the roots of the thinking and behaviour of those voting in the December election and those competing for votes.

An Outline of the Choice of Destiny Myth

As soon as our ancient primordial ancestor was able to recover his breath under the pressure of the cruel laws of nature, as soon as his existence proved to be something more than mere survival, the question of the meaning of life and, thus, of destiny started to occupy his mind. It is not possible to look that far back into the depths of the centuries and to observe the way it actually happened. However, we are able to trace the ancient destiny myth which has not only been preserved in various cultures but very often appears to be full of power and freshness. The basic principle of mythological thinking, that is, identifying the name with the phenomenon, is most vividly manifested in the destiny myth. For us, Russians, one of the basic terms for destiny is rok (fate), which relates to the words narok (name), srok (term). That shows that destiny is created by giving a name, by objectifying a word. This concept is expressed even more clearly by one of the most ancient cultures - the Sumerian culture. In it something that "doesn't have a name" does not exist and "to give it a name" means to call it into being. The god Enki creates the world, giving names to individual creatures[1] and the basic cultural and, one may say, philosophic concept of the Sumerians me, which is the realization of higher civilizing forces, "laws", can be interpreted both as "the existing" and as "the named". John's famous formula "In the beginning was the Word" (John, 1.1) follows the same logical pattern. Similarly, the Latin fatum and the higher law  / call of heaven (fas) originate from the verb for, fari - to speak, to proclaim, to prophesize. The idea of naming is directly connected with other aspects of destiny, that is, with the idea of trial and sentencing. The very word sudba (destiny, doom) in Russian originates from the word sud (trial), for which the initial inner form is *som+ *dhe, having the meaning of co-operation, of being done together. Thus, a trial appears to be both an agreement and a sentence and also a receptacle (sosud in Russian). Furthermore, the idea of destiny as naming is expressed in the form of one's perpetual counterpart, one's Guardian Angel (from ancient Egyptian ka to Polynesian aku-aku) whose implicit or explicit name determines a person's destiny.

The Destiny Choice

There are supposed to be various destinies, certain alternatives, of which only one may come true. For a kin, first for a kinsmen group and then for the whole mankind, there is a certain set of destinies which should be equitably distributed between the people. Accordingly, fate as a word, and doom as something done and sentenced, are supplemented by the notion of a portion, share or lot. There are different ways of choosing one’s lot. Not only do these ways differ technically, but there is also a semantic difference. The thing is that the use of different cognitive schemes forms certain approaches to reality, to the interaction with it. Drawing a lot kept in a certain vessel, caps, receptacle is one thing; here all attention is concentrated on the contents, that is, on the pithiness and qualitativeness. However, casting lots or shooting arrows at random is quite another thing. This outward, spatial orientation is even more vividly expressed through reading one’s fortune in birds’ flights. Finally, the spatial scheme is dominant in choosing a path. Casting lots or taking them out of a sacral receptacle suggests distributing a certain available and most often invariable set of destinies. The stress is naturally shifted to the choice of an individual lot out of the common tribal set. The cases of lots distribution among races and tribes can certainly also be observed. Legends about God sharing lands among the nations can be taken as an example. The stress on individualization remains, however, in this case as well – it is just that a separate tribe is regarded as an individual while the common set of lots has a universal nature. “It is evident that casting lots assumes and guarantees full equality for all participants. However, in doing so, only the equality of the participants' rights, and not in the least of the actual outcome for them, is assumed and guaranteed. Casting lots is only used in cases when it is absolutely impossible to share something equally, and consequently, the outcome cannot but be unequal. The “power” determining the actual distribution of lots is out of human control. In Homer’s works Zeus is sometimes understood to be such distributor of lots” (The Iliad, VII). V.P. Goran, the author of the above quotation, notes a natural identification of destiny with lots and its designation by the words share, fate, portion, lot. In his opinion, “the fact that Homer uses these words to name destiny leads to the conclusion that ancient Greeks’ ideas of destiny were formed as a product, as a specific form of the reflection and the awareness of certain aspects of an individual being singled out of the previously intact unity by the individual life destiny under the influence of the rise of social inequality and the formation of private property”[2]. Goran finds similar phenomena in ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian cultures as well[3]. Lots and destiny can be chosen in another way if they are thought to be not available, situated among and even inside the human community, but extra-positioned, though accessible. In this case the destiny choice is not casting lots among the community of people or taking it out of a sacral receptacle (a caps-oracle) but fixing a direction to a certain fate by an arrow or a bird’s flight, by choosing a certain track, or by getting "a sign" from wanderer- guests, etc. Here there is also a connection between a formal equality of di­rections and their actual inequality or difference. The distribution of lots among individuals and tribes becomes possible by moving in different directions. Those who were close to each other become if not strangers then at least estranged. Strictly speaking, not lands are shared, but countries or the directions of the exodus from the sacral center, where lots of Shem, Ham and Japheth are determined. More common, however, is the collective choice of destiny as a movement for the whole kin. If it is not the case of multiple splitting up and scattering, then often one direction is assessed as right and straight, and the other, or others, as wrong and crooked. It would be tempting to discuss the opposition of the inner and outer ways of the lot choice in their relation to the fundamental difference between nomadic and sedentary cultures. There seem to be some reasons to do this. Thus, the model of drawing lots out of a sacral receptacle or casting lots among one's own kin is common in polis cultures: Aegeida, Mesopotamia, and Egypt, which in spite of many centuries of empire, distinctly reproduced the political and economic structures of a city-region equivalent to the polis-chora structures. The main thing to be considered here is the relative ecological isolation and economic self-sufficiency of corresponding territories. Whereas the nations situated in an ecologically open space, even the ones which had turned sedentary, inevitably become subjected to external movements and trends. This difference is relative, of course, and needs to be carefully estimated and clarified. It well may be that apart from ecological, geopolitical and economic factors other reasons played an important role. Taking into account all the necessary corrections and even reassessments of historical and cultural facts, these facts themselves, however, give clear evidence of two quite different models of the destiny choice: Hellenic and Semitic, which most vividly exemplify the extreme variants of the inner and outer choices.

The Hellenic Tradition

Ever since the Homeric time, ancient Greeks accepted the inevitability and equality of people's destinies, fates, and lots. Everybody is mortal. But it is up to a hero to choose how to fulfill his destiny, how to finish his life and meet his death. Therein lie the daring and self-will of the heroes. That is why Achilles insists before the Gods that he has to meet his death with dignity, in battle. This is possible for Achilles since his fate is not altogether empty but contains two cera-versions: "For thus my goddess mother telleth me, Thetis the silver-footed that twain fates are bearing me to the issue of death. If I abide here and besiege the Trojans' city, then my returning home is taken from me, but my fame shall be imperishable, but if I go home to my dear native land, my high fame is taken from me, but my life shall endure long while, neither shall the issue of death soon reach me" (IX, p, 158).

Another similar example is Euchenor's knowledge of his destiny and his choice of one of two lots: "And well he knew his own ruinous fate, when he went on ship-board, for often would the old man, the good Polyidos, tell him, that he must either perish of a sore disease in his halls, or go with the ships of the Achaeans, and be overcome by the Trojans. Therefore he avoided at once the heavy war-fine of the Achaeans, and the hateful disease, that so he might not know any anguish. This man did Paris smite beneath the jaw and under the ear, and swiftly his spirit departed from his limbs, and, lo, dread darkness overshadowed him". (XIII p.242).The heroes' knowledge of their destiny, everybody's knowledge that man is mortal makes people, in Hellenic ethics, do their best to fill that very fate with the highest honour and glory. Living as if today is your last day was a practical rule of every free and deserving Hellene, resulting from the acceptance of their mortal fate. But in the social, i.e. in the polis context, there arises a paradox of the equal competing for inequality. Equal (in principle) lots are in fact unequal just because it is possible to fill them in different ways. This inequality and competition are encouraged and as a result of this every lot becomes "heavier", full of weight and talent. Destiny, or lot, is understood as setting some kind of limitations for people and even for gods. Within these limitations a man is free and capable of changing the content, of increasing the weight and the talent of his glory and dignity. What is of fundamental importance for a man is not what awaits him but how he faces the inevitable and how he manages not only to preserve but to tragically assert his dignity and honour in the most unfavourable conditions. This problem becomes one of the central ones for ancient Greek art, especially for the authors of great tragedies. Guessing one's fate and filling it with content and honour is entailed at the same time with solving a certain problem, quite often by guessing a riddle. Oedipus's destiny is typical in this respect. In his meeting with the Sphinx, the maximum exertion of emotional and intellectual powers allowed him to solve the riddle, and to fill his lot with valour. Oedipus's relaxation and self-admiration in his triumph make him incapable of solving the next riddles and even of recognizing them in time. His fate turns out to be emasculated. Only guessing his own tragic guilt fills Oedipus's lot with heroic dignity. Nevertheless, Hellenic tradition does not exclude the idea of the path. For Odyssey, wandering was a way to fill his destiny. Here, however, determining the right direction is not important. Odyssey does not face a question of how to avoid Scylla and Charybdis. His destiny orders him to pass between them. The only problem is how to do it. Finally, out of a large number of variants, the cognitive scheme of a receptacle (theke), a caps-casket (capsa), which hides a man's fate and makes it available to him after he solves the riddle, appears to be the most typical. The scheme is successfully inherited by West European cultural tradition – as exemplified by "Roman Tales", "The Merchant of Venice" or "The Choosing of a Bride".

The Semitic Tradition

In the biblical tradition the whole history of Israel is centered around the way of returning to the Promised Land, and in the New Testament - around the way to grace and salvation: the wanderings of Christ and his disciples, his arrival to Jerusalem and the Way of the Cross (via dolorosa). Later, in "The Acts of the Apostles" we see the road to Damascus as a model of conversion and the wanderings of Christ's disciples spreading the true faith around the world. All these paths are thought to be either collective or paved by the chosen and for the chosen: "The course of the righteous is like morning light, growing brighter till it is broad day". (Proverbs, 4, 18). The choice of the right path guarantees not only success but eternal salvation: "And there shall be a causeway there which shall be called the Way of Holiness, and the unclean shall not pass along it; it shall become a pilgrim's way, no fool shall trespass on it. No lion shall come there, no savage beast climb on to it; not one shall be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there”. (Isaiah, 35, 8-9). "I am the way", declares Christ (John, 14, 6). This is the way of wisdom (Proverbs, 3) and light (John, 8, 12). The opposition of the faithful and the lost, of a direct path and crooked wanderings is even stricter in The Quran. In its first sura called "The Opening" there is a call:" Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom You have favoured, not of those who have incurred Your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray" (1, 6-7). "There shall be no compulsion in religion”, says the sura "The Cow", true guidance is now distinct from error" (2, 256). And here is offered a voluntary but an uncompromised choice between true God and the idols: "God is the Patron of the faithful. He leads them from darkness to the light. As for the unbelievers, their patrons are false Gods, who lead them from light to darkness. They are the heirs of Hell and shall abide in it forever." (2.257). "Owners of Holy Writ", Christians are particularly warned in the sura "The Table": "People of the Book! Do not transgress the bounds of truth in your religion. Do not yield to the desires of those who have erred before; who have led many astray and have themselves strayed from the even path." (5, 77).The test by the directness of the path becomes almost the main one: "God best knows the men who stray from His path, as He best knows the rightly guided... If God wills to guide a man, He opens his bosom to Islam. But if He pleases to confound him, He makes his bosom small and narrow as though he were climbing up to heaven. (6,117... 125). By fulfilling of "That which you are promised is sure to come" (6,134), Allah directs people to different paths, according to their fate and choice: "Those that disbelieve and debar others from the path of God have gone far astray. God will not forgive those who disbelieve and act unjustly; nor will He guide them to any path other than the path to Hell, wherein they shall abide for ver. That is easy enough for God." (4,167- 169).The right to choose a path is both trust and a test from the Supreme Being. "God alone points to the right path. Some turn aside but, had He pleased, He would have given you guidance all” says the sura "The Bees" (16.9). Further it deals with the different choices and fates corresponding to them. About those who are lost, it is said: "God did not wrong them, but they wronged themselves"(16, 33). Everybody has an opportunity to choose their destiny: "We raised an apostle in every nation, saying:" Serve God and keep away from false gods". Among them were some to whom God gave guidance, and others destined to go astray. Strive as you may to guide them." (16, 36-37). The conclusion is clear, distinct and direct: "Whether unarmed or well-equipped, march on and fight for the cause of God, with your wealth and with your persons. This will be best for you, if you but knew it" (9, 41). In the Middle East tradition, however, the sharing of lots and sacral repositories are used as well. Thus, in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah it is said: "This is what the Lord showed me: I saw two baskets of figs set out in front of the sanctuary of the Lord ... In one basket the figs were very good ..., in the other the figs were very bad, ... These are the words of the Lord the God of Israel: I count the exiles of Judah whom I sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldaeans as good as these good figs... But Zedekiah king of Judah, his officers and the survivors of Jerusalem, whether they remain in this land or live in Egypt" (24, 1-8). But this and other similar examples rather set off the dominating meaning of the path choice, which in general determines the Semitic cultural tradition.

The Russian Tradition

Russian culture and politics have their own version of the choice of destiny myth. The folk-tale about Tzarevich Ivan and the Grey Wolf can be taken as the basis and initial form of this myth. Choosing the way is the plot and the essence of the story: he who rides straight forward will be cold and hungry; he who rides to the right will lose a horse; he who rides to the left will be killed. In one of the epic folk tales, the hero Alyosha Popovich, after leaving his home town Rostov, finds himself at a crossroad. "The wide roads are signed: the first road leads to Murom, the second leads to Chernigov- town and the third goes to the grand prince Vladimir, the Rightous Sun of Kiev". The first feat of Ilya of Murom, the main hero of Old Russian epos, is even more significant. After his miraculous recovery Ilya goes straight to the city of Kiev. But "the straight road is overgrown and blocked. A grey animal does not scour about and a black raven does not fly over here". It is explained by the fact that the wicked and evil Nightingale the Robber blocked the road. He is the personification of barbarous primitive element opposing culture and civilization, ruining the roads which are dramatically significant for the great forests of Russia. Having blocked the road to Kiev with "the gates" of forest, swamps and rivers, he "sits on thirty-nine oaks, he sits there for thirty years and there is no way by horse or by foot”. To get to the nest of the Nightingale the Robber Ilya makes his way, builds bridges, and at the same time makes a road for those, who will follow after him: "He takes a horse with his left hand and pulls oaks out with his right, but the oaks he pulls out are uprooted, the bridges he paves are red-hotted, thus he makes a road, which is straight”. Finding Nightingale the Robber, Ilya destroys his nest of savage primitiveness and takes him as a wonder and a real proof of his deed. Having finished clearing the way to Kiev, Ilya proudly proclaims: “I have cleared the way to Kiev, to Vladimir, the Rightous Sun". A slightly different variant of an epic hero’s way can be found in the bylina about Vasily Buslayev's pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He is a hero not of straight roads by land but of those by water: sea and river ways. There is also a choice here. Answering Vasily's question about the way to Jerusalem the sailors respond: “The short way to Jerusalem will take you seven weeks running but a roundabout way will take a year and a half: There is a powerful outpost with Cossak atamans on the glorious Caspian sea and on the island of Kuminsk. There are no less than three thousand of them, they rob galleys and break dark red ships". Naturally, the hero chooses the way of trials, the way of overcoming the barriers. On his way there and back he passes the tests. But Vasily finds one more trial for himself and one more choice on this seemingly safe way. On Sorochinsk mountain he finds out a stone, "having the height of three fathoms" with the sign: "he who makes fun here, makes fun and amuses himself, jumping along the stone will break his impetuous head”. Vasily did not tempt his fate on the way to Jerusalem but on the way back, being aware of certain signs and predictions, he decided to jump the stone not only over but also along. And at that very moment he “killed himself over the stone”. What makes this plot different from the other two is that the hero possesses much more power to fill his choice with individual content. Alyosha Popovich and Ilya of Murom earnestly fullfill their missions. As to Vasily Buslaev, he revolts against the destiny and predestination, impudently declaring that he believes "neither in dreams nor in sneezing". Here we see a certain resemblance with the ancient Greek heroes' revolt against destiny. In Russian culture and mentality, the idea of the common main way and the straight path becomes the leading one, which excludes neither the individual choice of the Buslaev type nor the cognitive caps scheme. Contemporary politicians of this country consciously at times, but more often quite unconsciously organize their political discourse using the idea implied here as a certain archetype. It is essential that along with the development of the phenomenon which V.I. Lenin referred to as "the liberation movement" and R. Pipes as "the intellectuals against the state", there emerges a strikingly interesting cognitive scheme of impassable roads. The classical formula for the scheme was given by N.G. Chernyshevsky in 1861: "Throughout the civil life of a person there arise historical combinations where a citizen has to give up a certain amount of his ambitions, so that their other more elevated and more relevant for the society ambitions come true. The way of history is not in the least like the Nevsky Avenue pavement; it goes all the way through fields which are either dusty or muddy, and through swamps and thickets. He who is afraid of being covered with dust and of getting dirty should never start public activity”[4]. The idea of impassable roads where both the movement itself and its purpose tend to lose their true meaning while the only essential thing is overcoming the obstacles: quags, swamps, obstructions and gullies, became dominant not only in the "liberation - anti-state" movement but also in the mass consciousness on the eve of the October revolution, and especially after it.

The Choice of Perestroika

Leaving aside the examples that became quite historical, I shall restrict myself to the evidence of the nearest pre-history, to the most obvious use of the choice of destiny myth in recent years. The typical example of this is the either-or myth (of the self-evident assumption) of the perestroika: either we will reconstruct ourselves and join the world civilization or face stagnation and catastrophe, there is no other alternative. The necessity of putting this myth into the Party's ideology brought to the forefront a thesis about the connection of this alternative with the socialist choice. At the same time the stress shifted imperceptibly from the socialistic character of the choice to its revolutionary character. Gorbachev wrote, "The time dictates us the revolutionary choice and we have made it... There is no viable alternative to the revolutionary dynamic perestroika. The only alternative to it would be the conservation of stagnation."[5] Continuing to enroot the myth and at the same time slightly transforming the accents, the ideologists of perestroika proclaim the thesis a historical choice. That is the version of the same scheme but cleared of "socialisticness" and "revolutionariness". "The historical choice in favour of perestroika has been made. … The most important thing is to realize that there is no alternative to perestroika... In the present world humanity has only one way to progress, which is to freedom, equality and brotherhood”[6]. The choice of destiny myth was as naturally used by the opponents of perestroika protagonists: "We are at the crossroads and having chosen a certain way we will hardly be able to come back and make another attempt. That is why at the moment of choice we are responsible not only to our children who have no vote, but to our grandchildren as well”[7]. Apparent political opponents are very much alike in the very basics of their thinking, their worldview. It is characteristic what Rosa Yanayeva, the wife of the former vice-president of the USSR, replied to one of the key metaphors in A. Karaulov and A. Gurevich's dialogue. She said, “The curse of Russia was that every time the country arrived at any crossroad (at certain historic moments), it never failed to choose the roughest, the most difficult and sinister road, where it faced bloodshed, violence, corruption and abomination"[8]. In her rebuke R. Yanayeva adheres to the scheme of the choice of destiny: "It happened again on August 19, 1991. Russia again found itself at a crossroad. And you and those like you helped it once again not to turn off a rough and hard road, to choose the wrong way"[9].

The Post-Perestroika Choice

The transition from perestroika to post-perestroika in 1991, which was symbolized by the August events and which was determined by the break-up of the USSR, was accompanied by the deliberate mythologization of the idea not only of choice but of election as the mechanism of politics formation. Under the cover of verbal curses directed at totalitarianism (seemingly quite sincere on the whole) the turn was taking place from simulacra (Lat. simulacrum) of institutionalized democracy, which might have served as the nuclei for the formation of rooted democracy institutions or provoked the autochthonous creation of such nuclei, to their transformation into the direct democracy of straightforward domination of the total and, accordingly, totalitarian unity, the only true ethnos in other words. Characteristic in this respect is not only the appearance of the figure of "the President elected by the whole nation" but the attempts to turn any elections, any voting into a mere ritual, supporting the straightforward, meeting-like expression of the totalitarized "will of the nation". A curious example of such a turning of political thinking and its mythologization can be found in Rutskoy's interview to the newspaper Moskovskaya Pravda on the occasion of the first anniversary of the presidential election. The interview was published on the front page under the headline "People chose not us but their destiny". The whole interview is constructed for the readers to be directed to this formula as a self-evident basis of contemporary politics, attaching meaning to it: "Boris Nickolaevich and I were elected and we are responsible to EVERY (capitalised by Rutskoy) citizen. You can be sure, for me these are not just words. On June12, 1991 for the first time in Russian history people were able to look into the eyes of the prospective rulers. It was not us they chose but their destiny. And our task is not to give up, not to betray their trust, not to step aside"[10]. What first and foremost attracts the attention here is the fairy-tale-like, almost mystical description of the circumstances and the nature of the choice; responsibility to every individual citizen, that is joining everyone in the total tribal community is visually proved by every citizen looking into the eyes of the prospective ruler. The choice is predetermined as the prospective rulers are known in advance. The choice is unprecedented because it is taking place "for the first time in the history of our State" (and they pretend that there was neither the similarly mythologized election of another unhappy ruler Boris, nor much more rationalized and stage-by-stage election of Mikhail Romanov). This overdoing is necessary to automatically transform historical unprecedentness into magic influence on the following development of the country. The choice is thus transferred into the mythic eternity of metahistory as opposed to everyday life. The choice is beyond any individual wishes and preferences, social, politic and economic interests of separate groups. Both individuals and groups lose themselves in the totalitarian unity. This unity and its "choice" for all times are meaningful only by themselves. Compared to them, not only those who chose but those who were chosen are equally irrelevant. Rutskoy actually admits that they have no real control. His own and Yeltsin's task is not "to give up, not to betray and not to step aside”. The three "nots" in this formula not only give a negative (meonal, typical for a myth) definition of what to do, and to be more exact what not to do, but outline the boundaries of a sacral prohibition. First and foremost they point out that Yeltsin and Rutskoy are hostages of the choice. The only thing they can do is to be in grace to­gether with the righteous coreligionists who chose them and ritually reassert (simulate) the choice with the signs of market economy, civilization, radicalism, democracy and sovereignty. In fact the contours of the new totalitarian myth were generally outlined. Another important ideological step made by the new country leaders after the August of 1991 was the final deprivation of the revolution choice. In his televised address to the nation on the anniversary of the August events Yeltsin declared: "After the coup Russia faced a most difficult choice. The situation again was pushing the country to a revolution. Both then and now I am entirely convinced that that way would have been the greatest political mistake and would have ruined Russia! ... In September and October we were literally on the razor-edge but managed to rescue Russia from a revolution and the humanity from its catastrophic consequences. ... We chose the way of reforms and not of revolutionary shocks. The way of peaceful changes under the state and the president's control. I consider it to be our common victory"[11]. Yeltsin's declaration is interesting in that it not only sets the revolutionary shocks in opposition to peaceful reforms but at the same time offers another opposition: either peaceful changes under the state and presidential control (= our common victory) or the collapse of Russia and catastrophic consequences for the world. Later this opposition became even tougher as the common victory presumed extermination of "enemies". The choice (already then, it meant of the president and, naturally, of the whole Russia) required either radicalization of reforms up to the capitulation of "anti-reformers" or the death, dramatically illustrated by shooting and burning of the White House, (“if an enemy does not yield, he is destroyed”). In all these cases we have to acknowledge the more or less consistent mythologization of political thinking and thus of political process. It is sufficient to point out the removal from discourse, and consequently from political process, of not only citizens having an independent will and interests, but even of political leaders. Impersonal grammatical constructions or constructions containing "gods", burden, History, Russia as a subject as well as "we" which is particularly ambiguous in the leader's speech, ambivalently denoting either a ho­mogeneous totalitarian crowd or an omnipotent sovereign, turn real political actors along with the citizens, who are unable to join in politics, into mere extras only able to recognize the destiny choice and ritually welcome it.

Rational Choice

The procedures for making rational choices are qualitatively different as, for example, in the formation of democratic representation. Although there are some axiomatic myths here too (no discourse is ever possible without them), it is the demythologization of initial axioms that forms the general logic of development of rational or at least formalized procedures. Any cognitive scheme may be taken as the initial one: either the choice of contents (filling the destiny with heroic deeds) or the choice of way. Unlike the mythological interpretation of these schemes, in which the choice is momentary and ultimate, the rationalization of choice implies that the moment of choice does not cover the whole situation, or for that matter, the life process in which the electors are involved. Rationalization of myth presupposes its division into significant elements: reasons, conditions, variants, consequences, etc., followed by the subsequent establishment of functional links between them. Within the frame of the logic evolving from the myth of way, it is possible to develop a tree of branching or procedures for advancing along a labyrinth towards a predetermined aim. Within the frame of the caps myth it is possible to determine how to "fill" the choice with the desired contents and to develop the adequate procedures. There are two common points for either of the considered variants of choice rationalization: first, the choice is no longer momentary or ultimate. There emerges a chain of minor choices, which, taken in their totality, determine the essence of the major choice at some point in the future. Secondly, in both cases the order of procedures and the sequence of actions are of key importance. Taking into consideration the fact that the cognitive schemes considered can appear to be mutually complementary in their cultural semantics (for example, the choice of way is collective and the choice of filling the caps is individual), it is possible to work out a model of mutual usage of both schemes. The tree of way is constructed for the national choice, but after each furcation the individual filling takes place: on the one hand that makes the collective choice indi­vidual for each person, and on the other, the collective choice may be specified and corrected by the cumulative effect of individual choices.

The rationalization of choice thus becomes natural and even indispensable for democratic representation. Claims for introducing such representation in modern Russia, whether or not they are of any importance, would promote demythologization of conventional magic patterns. Demythologization could be conditioned into voters by simultaneous elections to the State Duma for federal and territorial districts and of two deputies to the Council of Federation, as well as by voting on referendums. Elections of representatives to regional power bodies would also mean demythologization for a lot of electors. Each elector could have the possibility of splitting the destiny choice into a series of momentary, though not final, minor choice-preferences with different contents. In a similar way, election associations could split the destiny choice, prompted by conventional myth, into a wide series of alternatives. If this had been done, at least partially, election campaigns of various blocks would have differed considerably and would have struck up a rationally-differentiated dialogue with electors. Thus, it is in the course of today's election campaign that either denial or sufficient demythologization of the myth of the destiny choice would be justified and even predictable. In any case such behavior would be logical for those political actors who are really oriented towards rational choice (selection) of the most effective representatives to democratic government bodies on the basis of mutually accepted rational, or at least formalized, rules. Substitution of rational choice (democratic selection) of representatives to democratic government bodies for one more version of myth about the destiny choice could be expected from opponents to strict observance and usage of democratic procedures, or from political actors who do not accept them at all.

The Modern Metamorphosis of Choice

Review of selected materials of election campaigns (programs, program statements, speeches and so on) shows that the myth of destiny choice was used to a greater or lesser degree by all election associations, while the problem of rational choice (democratic selection) of those representing public interests did not receive proper attention even among those who quite consciously declared this problem (YABloko[12] and CPRF[13] regardless of propaganda stereotypes). The myth of destiny choice was most actively used by the LDPR[14] and especially by Russia's Choice, which not only banked on this ideological and propagandistic pattern, but reflected it in the name of their party. Zhirinovsky used the myth in a quite traditional way; the alternative to his party was shown with the utmost clarity: either Great Russia or death.

On the surface, the most recent campaign offered no chances to compete with Russia's Choice. Earlier attempts of the anti-governmental forces, (including "cultural opposition,") to assign primary importance to the idea of "Great Russia," had been firmly discouraged by the Government. However, by the time the election campaign began, the situation had changed dramatically. Conditions of life had become considerably worse and the slogan "reforms or death" began to sound threatening. The assault on the White House was a shock to many people and showed those who had been denying the realities of the situation that totalitarianism in political development is likely to reoccur. Once again the contradiction between the Government's words and actions became apparent. Glorification of reforms faded and the supposed ‘irrespectability’ of nationalism came to naught or reverted to its opposite - all these facts were to a certain degree promoted by Yeltsin's ‘strong power’ rhetorics and were used by the existing critics of the Government. They, however, either withdrew themselves from participation in election campaign, or were not admitted to take part for so-called procedural reasons. Only those whom Russia's Choice meant to be whipping boys were allowed to take part in elections. However, neither CPRF (see the analysis below), nor Zhirinovsky were satisfied with such a prospect. Thus the latter, the leader of the LDPR, slightly changed his rhetorical structure, and it is this minor adjustment that proved to be a great success. Previous efforts to consider "Great Russia" as the main value were evidently or non-evidently based on Stolypin's opposition of "Great Russia" vs. "great shocks" which were supposed to be Yeltsin and Gaidar's "reforms." This immediately excluded a large number of people who were still usurped by the "reformers" and thus under the influence of progress stereotypes, and who, further, did not want to reject the romantic pathos of perestroika, being adherent to democracy and glasnost. Zhirinovsky contrasted "Great Russia" not to shock reforms, but to the humiliation of Russia and her people - a fact that was undeniable and mortifying for many people. "Can you find any other country that is being humiliated and ruined as badly as ours?"[15] Zhirinovsky postured in his interview with the Moscow newspaper Izvestia.

By supporting Zhirinovsky, it had now become possible to remain faithful both to democracy and glasnost (the everlasting topic of LDPR's propaganda) and to reforms (different ones but supposedly more effective, simple and producing quick results). A great number of people whose consciences had been controlled by the myth "Russia's choice - reforms or death" found a way to free themselves from this control, which had become tiresome after the White House assault, and throw themselves into the myth of non-compromise with a simple destiny choice - the myth with new wording, but familiar and comforting. Zhirinovsky's other move was separation of president and government, elections and referendum according to the Constitution. As a result, the usual black-and-white contrast of reformism – anti-reformism was blurred considerably. Zhirinovsky criticized Gaidar, but supported Yeltsin; the LDPR was against Russia's Choice but for a presidential draft of the Constitution. This permitted the LDPR to attract to their side those people who were dissatisfied with their lives and with the destiny of "Yeltsinoids." The CPRF, which, alongside with Zhirinovsky and Co. had been meant to be a whipping boy, found another way out of the situation. It realized the hopelessness and senselessness of opposing "Great Russia" or great shocks to reforms or anti-reforms. Instead of opposing "Great Russia" to some kind of menace, such as monopolistic capital (this was mentioned in passing), the CPRF gave sense to statements about Russia's revival and rationalized the very idea of the Russian State system to the extent that was possible for communist organization (this slight shift of emphasis distinguishes the CPRF from adherents to great power). "One of the Party's top-priority tasks is the maintenance and strengthening of the state's constitutional base, which prevents the government from establishing monopolistic capitalism and from ruining Russia as an integral multinational state." (12, 19.11.1993).

The CPRF election discourse showed electors that the strengthening of the state's constitutional base is possible only when the whole spectrum of public interests is taken into consideration. These interests have been described fairly specifically in documents and pre-election speeches. Claims for considering and satisfying (at least partially) all interests, including conflicting ones, were put in. The CPRF declared unconditional respect for private property and readiness to protect business, first of all in the sphere of production. Moreover, similar respect was demanded to the interests of the workers and the poor, which couldn’t but be considered quite fair both in public opinion and in the opinion of the workers and the poor. All this allowed CPRF to gain support of electors. CPRF even managed to attract to its side a small but significant group of statesmen with rational western mentality, who were considered to be adherents of Russia's Choice. The idea of strengthening the State system, being the basis for rational compromise between various interests, found sympathy with quite a number of statesmen out of "democratic" block who became tired of irrational non-compromise of their leaders. In contrast to CPRF and LDPR, which were put in the most vulnerable position by the election organizers, an undeniable favourite - Russia's Choice - used an old rhetorical strategy. Only one marked novelty was introduced into propaganda campaign: a strong emphasis was put on the "choice without choice", non-alternativity of the proposed programme. The idea was that the choice had been made already. To prove this, references to various facts were used - nationwide election of president, the August of 1991, "the launch of reforms" and especially referendum. Murderous events in October were, as a rule, bashfully avoided. Only Gaidar admitted that "the changes that took place (in October - M.I.) relieved the burden of uncertainty which was imposed on the future of privatization."[16]. In any case, propaganda campaign of Russia's Choice oriented electors mainly towards supporting the already made choice. Hence the emphasis was put on unconditional plebiscite "ratification" of the Constitution draft. An unambiguous formula - "and referendum on Constitution is nation-wide ratification of its draft” (12, 11.12.1993) - was given in an Izvestia editorial which fully responds to propagandistic claims and summarizes the election campaign of Russia's Choice. In spite of compulsory, sometimes high-flown, but, as a matter of fact, ritual escapades against "the Red-and-Brownshirts", Russia's Choice made it clear that they have no rivals. Only at the end of the campaign, when it became apparent that it was lost, the Executive Committee of Russia's Choice, no doubt having the data of public opinion poll, issued a statement which was quite hysterical. The two final passages put a sharp accent on the problem of the destiny choice. "Power in the hands of such people as Zhirinovsky and Govorukhin would mean years of wandering in the dark (deviation from the only right way - M.I.) in new fruitless search of the third way, great and absolutely unjustified sacrifices of people. Real stability and normal human life can be achieved only by developing the already launched reforms (the choice had been already made - M.I.). No doubt this way is not an easy one, but history teaches us that a different way is simply impossible, as it leads to ruins."[17]. Even in these two short passages, in three phrases there are a lot of contradictions and logical incompatibilities, because the text is constructed according to the laws of the myth and not according to the laws of rational argumentation. For example, there is no alternative to the chosen way, but at the same time there are - wandering and ruins. The formula "new fruitless searches of the third way" appears to be the most significant; it combines the ritual damnation- of returning to the past ("new searches" means repetition of the past), rejection of searches, because everything has been found already, and, finally, blame of "the third way" as chimera, exceeding the limits of the scheme "reform-antireform". They were rather late to remember this: out of the former August chimera "the third way” and even the variety of alternatives turned into the reality of pre-election discourse which dictated its own logic. The fact that "the elements" so heterogeneous and unrevealed, and, as a matter of fact, not meant to be revealed, were brought together points to a pure mythological identification of everything with everything, to double turning of the good into the evil and back. Those who are not with us are against us. The mythological formula is reproduced in the pattern "12 against one", declared at the beginning of the document and reflected in the title. Inability and irrational reluctance to see the variety of political positions is rooted, undoubtedly, in mythological mentality of Russia's Choice. Other blocks also had some mythological slides to the scheme of the destiny choice. They were most absurd and counterproductive when the attempts towards rational choice were made. Thus, in a series of speeches and interviews Yavlinsky tried to develop arguments concerning the range of possibilities in Russian politics, the role of citizens and social associations in a rational organization of politics by means of constant revising and reassessing of ever new alternatives. The variety of social interests, the necessity of consolidation of social institutes were stated in the documents of the block and in a number of speeches of its leaders. In fact, YABloko showed its ability to act as the party of rational public men, i.e. to become a partner of the party of rational statesmen in future and to form a basis of party system. This positive tendency was often stopped up by abrupt sliding to mythologization. Thus, one of the politicians from the upper part of the list Vladimir Lysenko published an article with a characteristic heading "At the Furcation of Two Roads" in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. He writes: "History (personification of depersonalized forces - M.I.) has once again brought us to the choice: either we follow the way, laid by General De Golle for France during the V Republic, ...or we will repeat our own history of the early century with the tzar’s infamous manifest and the three dissolved State Dumas"[18]. And though further in the article it is possible to trace some kind of rational argument, its own logical contradiction, factual inaccuracy, and, above all, the limits set by the destiny myth, make Lysenko's reasoning nothing more than an emotional sob for "the beauty". The final phrase of the article speaks for itself: "And though Russia is not France, but still...". Deep inside, the author realizes the utopianism of his dreams but he cannot and does not want to give them up. The myth holds him too tight.

In conclusion it is necessary to offer self-critique of the alternative suggested in the title of the article: either the myth of the destiny choice, or rational representation of interests. Such strict opposition justifies the reproach that the author himself is under the influence of the myth of the destiny choice. Indeed, any attempt at absolutization of the rational representation of interests and rationalization in general immediately turns into mythologization. That is why it would be truly rational to consider the ideal myth and the ideal rationality as unattainable extremes, concentrating one's attention on the processes of mythologization and demythologization in the "middle space". It is typical and quite significant that such space emerges during the present election campaign in the form of various quasi and protocorporate associations. It can be presumed that the formation of new corporations will promote the formation of some kind of analogy to the groups of interests around and outside the Duma. And the associations inside the Duma that will prove able to work rationally with groups of interests and to express both the mythology and rationality of various national votes will be transformed into real political parties with one or another type of party system.


  1. Chernishevskii N.G. Complete set of works. Vol. 7. 1950.
  2. Goran V.P. Ancient Greek mythologem of destiny. Novosibirsk, 1990,
  3. Goran V.P. Conceptional contents and sociogenic nature of the ancient Mesopotamian and Greek conceptions of the destiny. Novosibirsk, 1989.
  4. Gorbachev M.S. Perestroika and a new way of thinking for our country and for the whole world. Moscow, 1988.
  5. Izvestia, l1.30.93.
  6. Karaulov A. Around the Kremlin. Moscow, 1991.
  7. Knyazev S. Forward, to the capitalism? // Nash sovremennik. № 10. 1991.
  8. Moskovskaya Pravda. 11.06.1992.
  9. Mythology of Ancient World, Moscow, 1977.
  10. Nezavisimaya gazeta. 11.11.1993
  11. Rossiiskie vesti. 4.11.1993.
  12. Vechernyaya Moskva. 10.12.1993.
  13. Yakovlev A.N. Realism is the land of perestroika. Moscow, 1990.
  14. Yanaeva R. Russia was on the cross-roads again. // Nezavisimaya gazeta. 12.12.1991.

[1] Мифология древнего мира. М., 1977. С. 126-127 (Mythology of the Ancient World, Moscow, 1977. Pp. 126-127).

[2] Горан В. П. Древнегреческая мифологема судьбы. Новосибирск, 1990. С.127. (Goran V.P. Ancient Greek mythologem of destiny. Novosibirsk, 1990, p.127).

[3] Горан В.П. Концептуальное содержание и социогенная природа дневнемессопотамских и древнегреческих представлений о судьбе. Концептуализация и смысл. Новосибирск, 1989. (Goran V.P. Conceptional contents and sociogenic nature of the ancient Mesopotamian and Greek conceptions of the destiny. Novosibirsk, 1989.)

[4] Чернышевский Н.Г. Полн.собр.соч. Т.7. 1950. С. 922-923. (Chernishevskii N.G. Complete set of works. Vol. 7. 1950. Pp. 922-923).

[5] Горбачев М.С. Перестройка и новое мышление для нашей страны и для всего мира. М., 1988. С.55. (Gorbachev M.S. Perestroika and a new way of thinking for our country and for the whole world. Moscow, 1988. P.55.)

[6] Яковлев А.Н. Реализм – земля перестройки. М., 1990. С. 287, 334, 504. (Yakovlev A.N. Realism is the land of perestroika. Moscow, 1990. Pp. 287, 334, 504.)

[7] Князев С. Вперед, к капитализму? // Наш современник. № 10. 1991. С. 166. (Knyazev S. Forward, to the capitalism? // Nash sovremennik. № 10. 1991. P. 166.)

[8] Караулов А. Вокруг Кремля. М., 1991. С.487. (Karaulov A. Around the Kremlin. Moscow, 1991. P. 487)

[9] Янаева Р. Россия снова была на развилке // Независимая газета. 12.12.1991 (Yanaeva R. Russia was on the cross-roads again. // Nezavisimaya gazeta.  12.12.1991).

[10] Московская правда. 11.06.1992.  (Moskovskaya Pravda. 11.06.1992).

[11] Российская газета. 20.08.1992. (Rossiiskaya gazeta. 20.08.1992).

[12] The name of the YABloko party is an acronym of the first letter of the surnames of three of its founding members (Y = Yavlinsky and so on.) The word as such means "apple" in Russian. – Translator note.

[13] Communist Party of the Russian Federation. Its present head is Gennady Zyuganov.- Translator note.

[14]Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. Its present head is Vladimir Zhirinovsky. – Translator note.

[15] Izvestia, l1.30.93

[16] Российские вести.  4.11.1993. (Rossiiskie vesti. 4.11.1993).

[17] Вечерняя Москва. 10.12.1993. (Vechernyaya Moskva.  10.12.1993.)

[18] Независимая газета. 11.11.1993 (Nezavisimaya gazeta. 11.11.1993)

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