Crusader Procession of Peasants from the Curonian Spit in Russia (Ilya Repin, oil painting, 1883) | PHOTO: Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow (wikimedia / free work)
Although FM Dostoevsky is criticized for his Russian nationalism and messianism, his work is at the same time interwoven with insightful analyzes and critiques of Russian society. “Everything here is doomed and doomed to perish. Russia, as it is today, has no future.” says someone in the dark novel Go aheadpublished in 1873, the title of which also translates in some languages as demons whose He owns.
One of the central figures, Štěpán Verchovenský, the father of the cruel revolutionary Petr Štěpánovič, presents this vision of Russia at the end of the book, dying: “It just occurred to me. Well, that’s exactly what our Russia reminds me of. The demons, the rages, coming out of the sick and into the pigs, all the evils, all the pestilences, all the impurities, all the rages and rages that have accumulated in our great and dear sick people, in our Russia, for centuries, for centuries! Yes, this Russia, I still want it. (Yes, the Russia that I have always loved.)”
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Here, through the dying Stephen Trofimovich, Dostoyevsky refers to the Gospel story, which is already displayed as the motto of the novel, to the story of the expulsion of evil spirits from a man obsessed with pigs, such as reported by the Evangelist Luke:
“At that time he was bound in chains and irons and guarded, but he still broke the irons and was led by the devil into the desolate places. Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, “Legion,” for many evil spirits entered him. And they only begged Jesus not to command them to descend into the abyss of hell. There was a large herd of pigs grazing on the slope of the mountain. The demons begged him to let them go in. He let them go. And they came out of the man, and went into the swine; and the herd was led from the bottom of the steep bank into the lake, and drowned. […] People went to see what had happened; they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had departed, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and acting wisely. »
It’s strange, but why not: even an uncharacteristic person like Štěpán Trofimovič can see, especially in the face of death, where the world is rushing. After a while, he also starts going crazy and loses consciousness. But before that, he will fall into the messianic illusion, as his author sometimes tended to do:
“But a great thought and a great will will enlighten him from above, like a madman possessed by the devil, and all the rages, all the impurities, all the pus that has settled on him will come out of them, and they will will beg. themselves allowed to enter the pigs. And most likely, they have already entered it! It’s us, us and those, it’s Petříček and those around him, and maybe me, me first, me at their head, and we throw ourselves mad and furious from the rock into the sea and we all drown. And we belong there because we can’t do anything else. But the sick will be well and will sit at the feet of Jesus, and all will behold and marvel. (You will understand later. We will understand together.)”
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In Dostoyevsky’s vision, the Russian nation is possessed by demons who – at great danger to themselves and those around them – are destroyed. Old Verkhovsky saw the demon with which Russia had been struck and exposed his fatal obsession. However, no radical healing has taken place and is happening, the big idea is not coming, the miracle of healing is not happening, Jesus is not following “holy Russia”.
There’s no reason to be surprised; only perhaps in the sense of the Russian word “amazement” or horror. Because Russia is not behaving reasonably and peacefully, and new and new pig-like demons are emerging from it. The hero of the novel Verkhovsky, therefore Dostoyevsky, used a Gospel story to diagnose the Russian society of his time. Novel Go ahead he prophesied the Bolshevik Revolution of sorts in 1917. And that, as we know from history, was just the beginning. The current events of the war show that the old diagnosis is still valid.
Where does the demon come from? Even the obsessed New Testament provides some diagnosis in itself. It is expressed by the military term “legion”, and this is primarily a quantitative characteristic, since there are a lot of demons. The events unfolding today, the militant Russian nationalism and the aggression that the Russian state is already practicing in Ukraine, tell us that there are still many demons and obsessives in the Russian nation. And notice: the demons speak for the sick in the plural.
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One could interpret this as saying that the rejection of truth leads to a number of lies, to a number of false, and therefore contradictory, versions of reality – and sooner or later this must lead to madness. And further: if people confirm themselves in the abundance of lies, in particular by the omnipresent propaganda, it is mass madness. We could therefore also translate the word “legion” by “meat”. An individual’s obsession relates to meat and the flesh manifests through the individual. The flesh has the power to possess, to control any individual who has lost his individuality and his relationship to truth.
Finally, another quote from Dostoyevsky Běsů: “Holy Russia is a land built of wood, a miserable and dangerous land, with bloated beggars in its highest strata, while the vast majority live in thatched cottages with walled feet. She will only accept any outcome if she justifies it properly. »
Petr Pazdera Payne is a novelist, essayist and artist, evangelical preacher, former co-founder of the Society for a Happier Present and signatory of Charter 77.