Professor Artemy Mangun on Russia


The “Ukraine War” that started officially at the beginning of 2022 seems far from coming to an end. But consequences do not fall only on people in Ukraine. In Russia too, people are suffering, and the academic and the intellectual community is divided in whether or not to support this war.

Artemy Mangun, a professor at the European University at Saint Petersburg and Director of the Stasis Center for Practical Philosophy, is a voice that counts when it comes to Russia and its intellectual evolutions. SLU-Madrid had the chance to hear him speak last week thanks to a joint initiative initiated by Philosophy Professor Carlos Segovia and developed between the Philosophy and Political Science departments.

Professor Mangun is a prominent voice on Russia’s history of intellectual thought. His talk focused on many aspects related to both historical prospects and current realities. Among the many interesting aspects that he talked about were:

  • The fact that people wanted to build a “Western-style” State after the fall of the Wall of Berlin (1989) and the crumbling of the USSR (1991), but paradoxically, they ended up looking towards the past rather than the future;
  • Tolerance was quite present in the Russian society back in the 1990s, but at the same time, some organizations focused officially on Human Rights, like the Memorial organization, an organization focused more on the crimes of Stalinism than on current Russia prospects according to him, led to a setback, since people did not identify with them and their calls to action;
  • With time, Russian citizens grew tired, and this fatigue led them to quickly blame America, a continuation of their negativist trend;
  • The problem with the neo-liberal policies that have been applied is that they “ruined” most people, Mangun said, leading to an atomization of the Russian society;
  • The situation led to inequality, though there are remnants of the Soviet social system.

According to Professor Mangun, we need to also take into consideration that, from an intellectual point of view, and overall, there is not much critical thought in Russia. For sure, there were good Marxists in Russia: but, according to him, if Soviets lost their critical stance, it is also because they were idealists, seeking a harmony that they failed to achieve. 

As of today, Russia’s intellectuals are not critical, while anti-communism is alive. Over the last years, there were of course demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin, but they came too late, two decades into Putin’s rule.

We also asked Professor Mangun general questions about Russia. Here were his answers.

You point out the absence of any real critical thought in Russia. What do you mean by that and how do you explain the situation?

The actual neoliberal reforms didn’t bring much effect and led to the impoverishment of many Russians. The improvements came from the rise in oil prices and from Putin’s reforms of the state. The US in the 1990s didn’t really help Russia to live through the hardships. Instead, Americans expanded NATO and closed many western markets for Russia. Based on this, everything ends up being logical: Russians have reasons to blame the US for some of its policies.

Could the Ukraine conflict be a new assessment test for Francis Fukuyama’s theory on “The End of History”?

Fukuyama meant that there is no new project except liberalism. There are still no new projects. But the old projects are thriving! We just shouldn’t be too historicist. The world hasn’t changed too much. The end of history must be understood as the end to historicism.

We used to hear a lot about civil society organizations and their dynamism in Russia, but Ukraine seems to have stifled their voices. Is this the case and if so, then why?

The political NGOs were all demolished in the last years, their leaders arrested, and participation in demonstrations penalized. Generally speaking, NGOs are not a match to strong police power. There would need to be mass revolutionary parties, like in Kurdistan, to accomplish a change.

Finally, what will the criteria be for determining who will win and who will lose in Ukraine?

I strongly hope that no one “wins” and there is a negotiated settlement. This is not a football game but a potentially fatal disease of humanity.

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