When Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky, in his powerful and inspiring speech to the United States joint chambers of Congress on December 21, 202, noted that Russians must “defeat the Kremlin in their minds,” I resonated deeply with it. I felt its truth going far beyond the way the Russian government continues to manipulate and oppress its own people and deceive them about the invasion of Ukraine. The “Kremlin in the mind” is arises out of a wounded ego sickness that affects the whole world. Indeed, in the 20th and 21st centuries, the actual Kremlin--a beautiful building in central Moscow--holds the projection of an archetypal oppressor.
Our human dance with this dimension of shadow is starkly evident in the rise of authoritarian movements, political violence and war in the 21st century, even as in the last 100 years, there is a growing awareness of the harm it does. Hence, It is crucial that we seek to understand and heal the Kremlin in our minds.
To understand the mechanics and emotional meaning of it beyond its relevance to Russia and the Ukraine war, let me return to my own excursions into the Soviet Union in 1983 and 1991. In the first visit while I was a junior in college, I walked along the corridors of the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow to and from my class and the dormitory. All the walls were lined with sign that read “War Communism!” in one form or another. This was a slogan that signaled Russia’s—the Soviet Union’s—intention to be the sole controlling, authoritarian power on the world stage. One of their tactics was to spread the Russian language—particularly across Central and South America, Africa and Asia—even as they subjected these students to a carefully controlled and manipulative rhetoric and vision. I returned 8 years later in 1991 on a language post-doctoral program. Not much had changed, except perhaps a greater erosion in the standard of living and the economy.
On both trips, there was a depressed, oppressive and fearful energy in the air. In 1991, I was lucky enough to escape the Stalinist, architectural horror of looming steel, stone and glass of Moscow State University, with its dark and cavernous dormitories and classrooms, into the warm and cosey Moscow and country homes of Russian friends—brilliant scientists. No matter the privacy of their dinner tables, they spoke in whispers about the stark experience of living under decades of oppression. They described how high were the psychological, economic, creative, and professional costs. Due to the fierceness with which the government meted out punishment for perceived or real objections to the status quo, they had given up hope for their country. The only hope they retained was to escape the Soviet Union for once and for all.
This is the effect of the Kremlin in the mind—an oppressive, internalized manifestation from decades of genocide, government corruption, and abuse and misuse of power. People were stressed, cowed and discouraged from decades of closed borders, KGB surveillance, suppression of free speech, lack of democracy, people just randomly disappearing, executed, or dragged into Soviet prisons and work camps in Siberia because they were labeled dissidents, spoke out against the government, or just because the great leader and/or his lackeys wanted the person gone, along with the complete suppression of freedom of independent thought, movement and expression.
Yet, all of this control and oppression was enacted out of a dogma that it was the only way to ensure prosperity for its citizens.
In fact, it was only in service of those in power. Given that there was little to eat and long lines just for basics like bread and milk, the evidence that this narrative was false was replete. In fact, I returned from my 2-month stay at the Pushkin Institute in 1983 weighing less than 100 pounds (let’s just say about 40 pounds less than I weight now). My body reflected the level of deprivation suffered by so many Soviet citizens on so many levels—body, mind/emotions, soul, and spirit—of my true host, the Kremlin authoritarian power brokers.
The Soviet Union, under the domination of a Russian centralized government, was an overt culture of trauma, mass deprivation, scarcity, suspicion, shame-blame, self-hatred, and low self-esteem. As my friend, Elena put it in Russian, “Ja nikto”—"I am no one.” Without the ability to make her scientific work in the field of epidemiology relevant within the international community, without the freedom to practice her religion, and living daily in a brain fog of fear, she lamented how purposeless and empty her life felt.
Living under this Kremlin of the mind was, in effect, a creative, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual death—all in service of a shadow philosophy and mindset on the part of centuries of entrenched narcissistic leadership that had bred an army of government and party apparatchicks and many in the general public who believed that the only way to be “great” as a nation was through absolute control by a paternalistic, all-powerful father-figure, his supplicants and cronies.
Authoritarianism and the will to control and/or invade and take over individuals, countries, tribes, land, or communities is a reflection of a very dark dimension of the wounded ego that seeks a false sense of safety and power in acts of domination. It exists in every nation on earth, including the US. Sadly, it is an experiment that has been ongoing for millennia. At the root of the idea is a misguided longing for a version of wounded unity: if only everyone was the same religion, held the same opinions and values about family life, sexual orientation, abortion, God, the supposed less-than-human-state of some targeted other (e.g. people of color, women, Jews, immigrants, etc.), total control over individuals within groups, nations and the planet, all would be well.
This is decidedly a wrong idea of what our unity as human beings means. As a fantasy constellated around a wound, it mirrors the psychology of an abused and wounded child who, in adulthood, seeks out others seemingly in control, or to control others in service of trying to feel safe. This effort usually backfires, as the projected image of an unconditionally loving caregiver turns into another version of the original perpetrator(s).
If trauma injuries are left unaddressed, that same child-adult could either sink into numbness, apathy, dysfunction, and depression, or, worse, could turn into a version of their perpetrator, even while wielding great power over others in family, work and society. Within this quest, whether personally or collectively, is an internalized, wounded ego sickness of shame, fear, loneliness, meaninglessness, and desperation—the Kremlin of the mind.
True unity arises out of an expansive embrace of freedom in individual expression and authenticity. It is the positive projection of a healthy ego. We recognize and are sensitive to our common vulnerabilities, hopes, fears, and aspirations. As we decolonize our hearts and minds from the insidious sickness of the wounded ego, we begin to celebrate and support diversity and respect the sovereign boundaries of every individual, group or nation. We are able, through dialogue and communion, are able to forge creative solutions to challenges and differences in approaches, views and opinions. This is, at least, how I envision it working!
Thus, I encourage you to notice the ways in which a subtle Kremlin in the mind from family and societal conditioning and from unhealed ancestral wounds lives within you. Pay attention to how you subtly or overtly internally oppress yourself with self-scorn, shame and fear—thus abandoning your personal authenticity that is both messy and wonderful.
In your search for transformation and self-love, be inspired by the truth that, as you heal this shadow within, you are simultaneously contributing to the dismantling of the Kremlin in the Mind of all of humanity! You are part of a global community of sacred activists who are collectively magnetizing and building a collective destiny line into an emerging era of Great Peace.
May the Kremlin eventually be a beacon of peace and love as human consciousness is transformed!
May it be so!