15:24 May. 31, 2016
NYT journalist explains why even when Russia wins — especially when Russia wins — the world doesn't believe in it
Everyone loves to win. But in Russia, obsessing about victories past or present, military or artistic, is a national pastime.
At least, that's the impression you get if you listen to Russia's politicians and its state-run news media. That Russia's leadership in arts, sports and fighting terrorism is not sufficiently recognized by the rest of the world is a daily staple, a very public kind of acute status anxiety.
Celebrating triumphs is preferable, of course. Russians do not like losing. In fact, their leaders make a show of being very sore losers indeed.
Take the Eurovision song contest. Despite being extremely kitsch, the event is taken seriously in Central and Eastern Europe — for reasons that often have little to do with music.
In the finale of the most recent contest, a Ukrainian singer took first prize. The result, which was decided by televoting, seemed as politicized as the winning song: a tragic ballad about the fate of the Crimean Tatars deported under Stalin. Given Russia's recent annexation of Crimea, it is not a stretch to assume that European audiences were sending Russia a message, rather than choosing a winner purely on artistic merit.
When the Russian singer, who had been favored to win, came in third, Russian politicians cried foul. One member of Parliament, Yelena Drapeko, blamed "an information war" against Russia for the result. Some angry citizens proposed that Russia boycott the next competition, which is to be held in Ukraine.
On this occasion, perhaps, the Russian fury over what was seen as yet another unfair result of yet another unfair competition may have had some basis. But the average Russian learns every day that his country is treated unfairly and has been robbed of its triumphs, whether on battlefields or in sporting arenas. Envious rivals from the West and their agents, who surround and penetrate Russia, are said to be constantly working to deny the country the recognition it deserves.