05 January 2012

Solidarity For Never

In December, This American Life broadcasted a fascinating story on divisions in Polish society, using the "Battle of the Cross" as the example of how divisions are taking place. The story noted the somewhat new divisions in society, that between "Poland A" (urban, educated, young, liberal) vs. "Poland B" (rural, Catholic, older, conservative) and how the tone of the country has shifted from that unity during the time of Solidarity to a country divided.

I would add that the biggest cause of this is the fact that Poland is still incredibly homogeneous. It is a country where there are crucifixes in public places (i.e. post offices). It is not so much that Poland A is rejecting the values of Poland B. It seems to me that Poland A is comfortable with multi-cultural Europe, and Poland's place in that mix. It embraces the heterogeneity of the internet and has experience working in English-speaking countries.

It is clear that these divisions exist in the U.S. There are the red states (beer drinking, Fox News, gun-toting, Christian church of your choice, Walmart, deer hunting, Chevy trucks, corn-munching, blue collar, etc.) and there are blue states (latte-sipping, New York Times, gun control, sleep late on Sunday, Whole Foods, indie films, Prius, organic arugula, white collar, etc.). Two parties represent America A and America B.

Although both Red State America and Poland B claim themselves to be the "real America" or the "true Poland," the fact is that the U.S. remains incredibly diverse. There are blue oases in red states (Lawrence, Kansas and Austin, Texas) as well as purplish bits all over the map.

The December demonstrations in Moscow indicate that something similar is afoot in Russia. The protesters have been written off as iPad-toting, middle class (read affluent) hipsters. Many of the slogans and posters at the December 10 and December 24 demonstrations were internet memes rather than ancient internalized nationalism. It seemed that the cultural undertone was "we are here, we are connected to the outside world, get used to it."

This cultural message is powerful in a one-party state, not just among elite urbanites. The traditional trope that "certain foreign entities" are to blame for Russia's ills no longer resonate among a growing part of society connected to the internet and ideas outside Russia (after all, Putin admitted that he doesn't use the internet because he doesn't have time for it). Much like Poland A embracing heterogeneity, protesting Russians (most of whom are young) are voicing too that they are part of the "real Russia," no longer tethered by the Soviet legacy.

1 comment:

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