January 30, 2017 Special Dispatch No. 6762

Russia's XXI Century Condottieri

January 30, 2017
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 6762

Dmitry Travin, a political analyst and a professor at the European University in St. Petersburg wrote this tongue in cheek article which describes Russia as a historical theme park where people act as if they were living in bygone historical periods: Feudalism, the Renaissance, divine right monarchies, enlightened despotism and nineteenth century nationalism. Russia is not unique and other countries have experienced this phenomenon but to become a truly modern country Russia's population must emerge from its historical time warp.

Incidentally, the institution where Travin teaches, a private post-graduate school for the social sciences and humanities has faced harassment from the authorities, and has been forced to deny that it works against the interests of Russia. Currently it is battling an order to close because it was in violation of several legal regulations including the failure to have a student gymnasium "at the location specified on its license."

The school was temporarily closed in 2008 for failing a fire safety inspection which coincidentally occurred after the school received a grant from the EU Commission for establishing a program to improve monitoring of Russian elections.[1]

Below are excerpts from Travin's article:[2]

Dmitry Travin (Source:

'The Medieval Vassalage System, The Renaissance-Era Condottieri, Enlightened Absolutism… All These Co-Exist In Our Country'

"In the middle of the 20th century, the great Swiss psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung wrote: 'There are countless barbarians and men of antiquity in Europe and in all civilized countries and a great number of medieval Christians. On the other hand, there are comparatively few who have reached the degree of consciousness that corresponds to our era. A modern medieval man, according to Jung, 'solves his conflict today on a 13th century level and treats his shadow as the incarnate devil. For such a man any other way would be unnatural and wrong, for his belief is that of the 13th century Christian. For the man who belongs by temperament, i.e., psychologically, to the 20th century, certain considerations are of importance which would never enter the head of the medieval human specimen'.

"This approach explains to a large extent what is happening in Russia today. The medieval vassalage system, the Renaissance-era condottieri, enlightened absolutism with subjects who deify their monarch, nationalism of the savage 19th century capitalistoc era, and modern people unable to comprehend what crazy things are happening around them – all these co-exist in our country.

"The Middle Ages – that's the relationship between Moscow and Grozny. Chechnya is tied to us according to the principle of vassal allegiance. A 13th century monarch could not exercise tight control from the center over the life of provinces, and therefore came to an agreement on certain terms with princes, dukes and counts who represented local power. They, in fact, wielded unchecked power in their regions, but had to provide military service to their seigneur from time to time and were not supposed to side with his enemies. This about sums up Putin's relations with [Chechen strongman Ramzan] Kadyrov.

"The Renaissance extracted part of society out of the hierarchic feudal relationship system. Courageous, free-spirited, cruel and unscrupulous people called 'the condottieri' began forming companies of 'gentlemen of fortune' just like themselves and selling their swords to those who would pay more. At first, their services were employed by rich Italian cities, then entire European armies were built on the principle of 'swords for hire'.

'Democracy Is Peculiarly Perceived In The Age Of Absolutism'

"In our country, such 'gentlemen of fortune' presently appear now in the Caucasus, now in Transnistria, now in Donbass, or even in Syria. Analysts try to guess whether they were sent by the Kremlin or are representatives of a national liberation movement. In fact, they simply lead a way of life that is most in tune with their 15th-16th century mentality. Although, of course, modern condottieri have to adjust their activities to the realities of the 21st century, and therefore, their influence is a lot weaker than that of their colleagues from the distant past.

"Still, shards of so distant epochs in modern Russia are the exception rather than the norm. Most of the population do not want to risk their lives in various reckless schemes. They prefer stability, which for the first time the Europeans were provided with in the era of enlightened absolutism. Subjects of the Sun King [Frances' Louis XIV] like to say that there is no alternative to his rule and that without a strong charismatic monarch the enemies who surround the country on all sides will prevail. They readily believe in a profusion of all kinds of foes and foreign agents, but prefer not to get into fights themselves, worshipping their master who ensures their comfort and prosperity.

"Democracy is peculiarly perceived in the age of absolutism. Subjects do not make any rational choice, but simply confirm by approving shouts the choice made without them. But if a suspicion arises that the king is not real, that he has no divine right to the throne or behaves not like a monarch but like an apartment complex manager [allusion to a popular comedy where a modern man travels in time and impersonates Ivan the Terrible], then the people's rebellion will be terrible, senseless and ruthless (Alexander Pushkin).[3]

"At first glance, it may seem that this entire gigantic mass of people that ensures the stability of the current political system consists of people from the era of absolutism. But it is not so. Recently, we have observed an interesting phenomenon. Putin's support decreased considerably by early 2014, but then it rose abruptly after the incorporation of Crimea into Russia. A considerable mass of people, as it turns out, support the authority not in the spirit of absolutism, but according to the ideas of nationalism – a much later phenomenon of the European history. Putin was supported not just because he was sent to us by God, as [Russian Presidential aide] Vladislav Surkov (who understood the popular mentality from the age of absolutism) once said, but because the president did something that corresponded to the nation's aspirations to feel its greatness, to feel chosen by God.

"'Krymnash' ['Crimea is ours'] is not a uniquely Russian phenomenon, as some analysts suppose – those who consider Russia to be a poor, pathetic country, un-European by its very nature. This phenomenon is quite comparable with such Western phenomena as 'Ireland is ours', 'Algeria is ours', 'Sudetenland is ours', 'Vilnius is ours'… And even little Lithuania, slighted in the 1920s by Vilnius becoming part of Poland [under the Versailles Treaty], had a similar phenomenon called 'Memel [now Klaipėda] is ours'.

"It turns out that in the overall mass of the Russian population there aren't so many people who think in the spirit of 21st century European values. Their numbers are growing, but so far they are well below the combined mass of nationalists, absolutists, condottieri and feudalists. At a certain stage of development, this was the case in all European countries, which is what Jung observed.

"One of the components of the modernization process is the transformation of the population. During normal, steady development, new generations are more in tune with the realities of their era than their fathers and grandfathers. At any rate, in order to be a truly successful person today, one has to part with the attitudes of the past centuries and walk in step with modernity."



[1], December 26. 2016.

[2], January 12, 2017.

[3] In “The Captain's Daughter and Other Stories,” the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin wrote: “God save us from seeing a Russian revolt, senseless and merciless.”

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