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On the collective guilt in emigration: how Russians do not fall into self-flagellation against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine

In addition to the large number of Ukrainian refugees, Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine triggered a mass exodus of Russians. No one can name the exact numbers of those who left - according to various sources, they vary from several hundreds of thousands to million. The announcement of mobilization at the end of September led to the fact that only two weeks after that, 700 000 people. It is not yet known how many of these people have returned or are planning to return, but it is safe to say that at least hundreds of thousands of people ended up outside their homeland.

Photo: IStock

All these people, of course, have different reasons for leaving. Someone simply hopes to "wait out" hard times, fleeing from economic difficulties, someone is fleeing from mobilization and conscription. However, there are many those for whom the war was unacceptable from a moral point of view. These dissidents are having a particularly hard time right now. Unlike other immigrants, they most often made the decision to leave in connection with an internal moral imperative, without having had time to properly prepare for departure. Like others, they experience all the difficulties of adapting to a new place, but in addition - a dramatic psychological break with their homeland, the loss of their entire former life, as well as a sense of guilt for what their country is doing.

In itself, the feeling of guilt in this situation is quite normal, but in practice it can take destructive forms such as depression and constant self-flagellation, which significantly hinders adaptation in a new country. Moreover, some Russians sometimes become victims of real abuses and discrimination based on the mere fact of Russian citizenship, which is covered by the notorious “collective responsibility”. Let's try to give a few recommendations: how, on the one hand, not to reach destructive self-abasement, and on the other hand, how not to turn into an indifferent cynic.

Don't take someone else's fault

In principle, Russian intellectual culture is characterized by excessive reflection, coupled with painful reflections and deep suffering. With all the sublime flair inherent in these sufferings, such behavior is not only useless, but also harmful, not only for the sufferer, but also for those around him. This includes the savoring of so-called "national guilt".

In fact, there is no "collective guilt" in the psychological sense of the word. Neither in secular ethics nor in religion is there a concept of repentance for other people's sins, moreover, Christianity even emphasizes the falsity and craftiness of this feeling. Also, a person should not and cannot be held responsible for the color of the passport, their nationality or origin. The experience of such “guilt” is harmful for the person himself, since it creates a state of hopelessness - after all, a person cannot correct innate things or influence the actions of the Russian authorities.

Moreover, such self-flagellation can do nothing to help the victims of Russian aggression. On the contrary, it creates a comfortable situation for the reflecting person, which does not require any personal actions from him. If a person constantly “repents” of what his president, government, military and just compatriots have done, he most often does not pay attention to his personal guilt, if any. It is impossible to be held responsible for someone else's crimes or correct someone else's mistakes, and therefore "repenting for everyone" often means giving up personal responsibility and from trying to change what can really be changed. Simply put, such ostentatious “repentance” quite often becomes a banal justification for inaction.

On the subject: Five Russian rich people have already renounced Russian citizenship: what is known about them

And who are the judges ...

Don't let strangers give you a false sense of guilt. Practice shows that quite often “responsibility on a national basis” is demanded by those who have not lost anything and have not sacrificed anything in this war, and are not seen in any significant assistance to Ukraine. Most often these are people who simply want to assert themselves through the persecution and discrimination of others. Moreover, it is not uncommon for such people to try to avoid personal responsibility by hiding behind the color of their passport. For example, I met Ukrainians who, after 2014, against the backdrop of obvious Russian aggression, worked quietly and made a career in the aggressor country, and then suddenly remembered their Ukrainian citizenship and started talking about the “collective fault” of the Russians.

There are also those who deliberately take advantage of the social vulnerability of certain groups of immigrants, whether they come from Latin America or from Russia. It is logical that in the current situations the social vulnerability of Russians is very high, and therefore it is important to stop cases of deliberate abuse of this situation. No one has the right to use the grief of the affected Ukrainians to justify their own crimes against innocent people.

Moreover, personal experience shows that it is the people who lost a lot in the war and sacrificed a lot defending their country, just not tend to lash out at others because of nationality or language. As a result, an unacceptable situation arises not only from a legal, but also from a moral point of view: when those who did not suffer humiliate those who suffered, and those who did not sacrifice anything persecute people who have lost everything. Such actions should not be encouraged in the same way as any other destructive behavior.

Of course, discrimination does not always reach the stage when it is necessary to go to the police or to the court. But at least you should not make the opinion of such people authoritative for yourself. That is why it is important to choose correctly what in psychology is called a reference group - a circle of people who are authoritative for you, and whose behavior and attitude serves as a kind of standard for you. It is best that these people treat you favorably, or at least have the moral right to give you ratings.

Don't ignore personal guilt

On the other hand, living only for yourself and completely ignoring what your country is doing, even if you have already left it, will also not give peace of mind, especially to a person with a developed conscience and moral sense. By the way, psychologists notethat the ability to feel real, not imaginary guilt, helps reduce anxiety and avoid serious mental disorders. If we analyze the occurrence of this feeling in terms of psychology, constructive is the guilt that a person feels for his personal actions or inaction in the case when he could and should have done otherwise.

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If we use this definition in relation to the Russian-Ukrainian war, it really began more than 8 years ago with the annexation of Crimea, and then, even worse, with the invasion of the Ukrainian Donbas by armed Russian militants who began to seize cities and kill civilians. Accordingly, those who supported it at that time or simply remained silent, allowing themselves to “not notice” the war, bear their share of moral responsibility for what is happening today. As already noted, such guilt is not tied to nationality and citizenship, and applies to everyone who in one way or another worked for the Putin regime and condoned aggression.

Thus, for people who all this time knew about the war and did not oppose it, it is quite logical to feel guilty - not for what Russia is doing “as a country”, but for what they personally did. However, constructive guilt should not be reduced to self-flagellation. On the contrary, the most logical and correct way out of this feeling is concrete actions aimed at helping the victims of aggression. Under normal conditions, as active actions are taken, the feeling of guilt decreases, and the lost spiritual comfort returns to the person - not imaginary, but genuine and deserved.

Real guilt is good because in most cases it is possible, if not corrected, then to make amends. But those who are afraid to take personal responsibility understandably try to avoid it by hiding behind the mythical constructions of "collective guilt". However, as historical practice shows, sooner or later the truth becomes visible, and attempts to ignore it do not end in anything good.

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