Fear of Freedom

Another important observation that Aseyev makes in his book In Isolation is that the inhabitants of the Donbas have the Soviet mentality of waiting for a strong leader who will come and solve every problem or at least take the responsibility for everything.

Aseyev describes a rally in Donetsk in 2015 where the people gathered hoping to see such a strong leader. But there was none to be found. Finally, a shriveled, shaking old man was pushed to the stage. He had nothing to say and nothing to offer. But the spectators were ecstatic. Finally! The Big Daddy was there! Now everything was going to be OK. Of course, it was a false hope, and now barely anybody remembers the name of that shriveled potential savior.

Aseyev explains that in the Donbas the news of the Ukrainian revolution of 2013 and the subsequent creation of democracy in Ukraine was greeted with horror. The idea of democracy with its unpredictability, its regular transfer of power, and its freedom of expression and association created unbearable anxiety. Who’s going to decide everything? Who is going to explain what to think on every subject? Who’s going to determine what is right and what is wrong? Nobody? That can’t be tolerated!

But at least the people of the Donbas are consistent. They want a single unified narrative that allows for no freedom of thought or action. So they oppose democracy.

In the US, it’s precisely the people who constantly fret about the possible death of democracy who want to impose a single, uncontested narrative. It’s precisely the people who keep saying how important democracy is who can’t tolerate the slightest difference of opinion and want to eradicate any ideological dissidence.

It’s easy to despise the people of the Donbas. And indeed, they are a sorry bunch. But they are not alone in their fear of freedom and the inevitable risks and tradeoffs that freedom brings.

15 thoughts on “Fear of Freedom

  1. Americans like to say that they are born free, that freedom is a right.
    In truth, liberty is a responsibility; liberty has to be earned.
    As you are saying, being free to make choices for yourself means also being free to bear the consequences of the choices you make.
    It takes a mature person to accept this responsibility.
    Not many people want to be truly free; better to have someone (leader/government) take that responsibility.
    The sad part is, not accepting this responsibility does not remove the risk of losing everything.
    I think this is a major aspect of a people or nation climbing out of socialism. Accepting responsibility for something you have no idea you lost or never had.
    How do a people do this?
    Where does the spark come from?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. After the end of the USSR, I heard people say, “well, what’s the use of having all these things we can buy at the store? Back in Soviet times, there was a single brand of pasta, and you were lucky to find it at the store. So you just grabbed it, and that was it. And now there are all these different brands, and I have to think which one to buy. Who needs all that trouble?”

      Drove me nuts to hear all this.


      1. ” Back in Soviet times, there was a single brand of pasta, and you were lucky to find it at the store”

        Way back in the early 90s I remember a quote from someone having trouble adjusting to the new reality in Russia, it was something like “Bread in this store is cheaper than bread in that store… that’s not right it should be the same price everywhere….”

        How can someone who can’t deal with the fact of slightly different prices be expected to make any decisions about how their country is run?

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Oh, that brings so many memories. . .
          Soviet stores closed early, so around 1988 there arose a cohort of grandmas who’d shop during the day and then sell food by the subway stations in the evenings. This way people who worked late could buy something for dinner. Of course, the grandmas charged more than the stores because they wanted to make money from this activity. The grandmas were the object of collective hatred because nobody could figure out why they charged more. “But that’s unfair!” people wailed. Everybody bought the food, though, because it was very convenient.

          Also, people were shocked that different TV channels would run their best shows during the same time slots in primetime to compete for viewership. “But that’s so stupid!” they said. “Why can’t the authorities make them take turns?” It’s the kindergarten mentality.


          1. “grandmas who’d shop during the day and then sell food by the subway stations”

            Were there shopping ladies in the USSR? I don’t know a word for it but in communist Poland there was a class of elderly women who supported themselves by shopping for client families… they had a comprehensive overview of distribution routes and relationships between drivers and store managers and all sorts of other factors so in any single day they could find more far more hard-to-get or semi-luxury goods than any poor fool thinking they could go to a store and buy something….

            I think they mostly weren’t paid in cash but in goods that the families gave back to them out of gratitude….

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Not in the USSR but what a great idea. I remember how every day after working a full day my mother would set out on the adventure of buying basic food staples. How people can feel nostalgic for that is a mystery. My mother still remembers this with anger. She never played with us or took us for walks because she was hunting for butter and milk. It’s ridiculous.


  2. Just saw this:

    Вчера знакомый рассуждал об обстановке в странах СНГ. …”В Узбекистане хорошо, тихо. Там главный за порядком следит. Там если против главного кто-нибудь хоть слово скажет, такой человек исчезает сразу, и никто о нём уже ничего с этой поры не слышит. Стабильность. А вот в Армении стабильности нет. Там демократия, люди с плакатами ходят. Опасно очень. Какой-нибудь ненормальный может подойти, сказать тебе что-нибудь. А то и ударить. Опасно.”


    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is exactly what it is. People honestly, sincerely feel this way. This is an enormous existential angst that people are experiencing.


  3. If Donbas people really are so ill-suited to Western life, one could easily argue that they should indeed live under Russian rule, while the rest of Ukraine lives under a government that’s ready to look West.

    The main arguments against Russian rule of the Donbas would be:
    1) You shouldn’t reward aggression by recognizing territorial seizures.
    2) The rest of Ukraine won’t be secure if the border is drawn there instead of along more defendable lines..
    3) The people of the Donbas are human beings and hence don’t deserve to be ruled like that, no matter how much they might like that.

    Your thoughts?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is a great question. I don’t think that Ukraine should try to take the DNR and the LNR back through military means. Aseyev, the writer I keep quoting, says the same. It doesn’t make sense to force people against their will into something they don’t want.

      This is why Ukraine has resisted for several years the attempts by Russia to return the Donbas to Ukraine. In its current form, nobody wants the Donbas. Neither Ukraine nor Russia are particularly interested. Economically, it was the least productive region of Ukraine even before 2014. Imagine what it is now. And after 8 years of unchecked criminality, who’d want it?

      For Russia, officially to take the Donbas would mean feeding the residents. Paying their endless pensions and disability checks. For 8 years, Ukraine did that. Why would Russia now want to take on that burden? These are people who live on social security benefits. It was bizarre to me that Ukraine kept paying their benefits this whole time but, realistically, somebody needed to do it.


      1. For Ukraine, taking back the Donbas also means giving seats in Parliament to a place where Moscow could easily run puppet candidates. The measures needed to prevent that would be too illiberal for any parliamentary democracy worthy of the name.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Exactly. That’s precisely what the thinking was behind Ukraine rejecting Russia’s demands that the DNR and the LNR would be taken back.

          An additional problem is that many of the people there burned their Ukrainian passports back in 2014. So now figuring out who’s actually from there and who’s a Russian operative will take the resources that nobody has.


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