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27 January, 2015

The Misery of Putinism

Why it will fail sooner than the Russian leader expects

Working on my new book of an interpretive vocabulary of politics – a blend of political humor, satire, and my own experience in European politics – I revisited many Soviet clichés, pearls of propaganda, and poisonous darts of demagoguery (all of them alive and well in present Russia). Some of them lead us straight back to the root of the matter. For instance, one of famous Vladimir Lenin’s revolutionary slogans reads: “Communism is Soviet power plus electrification of the whole country!”

What came to my mind almost immediately was a new definition of Putinism for which from now on I claim copyright reserved: “Putinism is the Mob’s power plus schröderization of the whole Europe.” I dare hoping that this entry, in my equivalent of Ambrose Bierce’s The Devil’s Dictionary, will be a highlight, since the title of the book incites ad invites such definitions of political phenomena as the aforementioned one – the title of the book being Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Politics (But Were Afraid to Ask). An allusion to Woody Allen’s classical comedy is too obvious to need emphasis.

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What is the essence of Putinism? In a way, it is a form of postmodern fascism – a mafia state based on kleptocracy, coercion, terrorism, and violent foreign policies with the aim to divert public attention from injustice and misery at home by offering overt gangsterism and adventurism in foreign countries. There is no coherent ideology, though. In terms of political views and convictions, Putin is an ideological pervert who tries to put together mutually exclusive things – the ancien régime and its gravedigger, Bolshevism; Stalinism and crony capitalism; Oriental political despotism and pseudo-democracy; contempt for freedom which goes hand in hand with fervent religiosity; the surface of Western life with all its comfort and technological advancement coupled with disdain for human rights and civil liberties. A mishmash which appears even more absurd and surrealist than ideological discrepancies and inconsistencies of the Soviet elite.      

The true Significant Other of Vladimir Putin in arts and culture is the noted and controversial Russian film director and actor Nikita Mikhalkov. Like his patron and inspiration in the Kremlin, Mikhalkov one day can celebrate Russian Czars (his natural modesty easily allowed him to play the role of the last Russian Czar Nicholas II in his film The Barber of Siberia), and next day he can move to the role of the Red military commander Kotov, a hero of the revolution and civil war (Burnt by the Sun with all its sequels), himself a victim of Stalinist purges, hatred and paranoia, who gets acquitted only to become a hero in WWII. In this obscure, not to say opaque, and obnoxious realm of political ghosts, he finds anything he or his Significant Other needs – this rich antique shop provides the paraphernalia of the monarchy as well as the embodiments of the forces that destroyed the monarchy. With dead serious face, a gifted cinematographer turned into a miserable political sycophant, finds himself capable of the most preposterous political kitsch, such as the idea that only the offspring of the Russian father in the US Army can defend the beauty of the music of Mozart along with classical values of Europe brutally attacked by a simpleton who happens to be an American sergeant.

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Small wonder, then, that Putinism and its equivalent in culture, Mikhalkovism, became twin brothers in the sense of the ability to bring a bunch of flowers to the victims of Stalinism only to offer another bunch to the monument of Stalin himself. This sort of ideological schizophrenia may best explain as to why how present Russia fell prey to its on phantoms of troubled imagination, revanchist and revisionist policies.    

Noteworthy was the remark of the Russian dissident and human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the real founding mother of the Helsinki Group in Moscow which initiated the movement of Russian human rights activists in the 1970s, that Vladimir Putin’s regime has already closed ranks with the former Soviet Union. She spoke about it a couple of years ago during the seminar on political prisoners in Russia held in the European Parliament. It is already a fait accompli, according to her, as it is a long way to go from Vladimir Putin’s regime to the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. In many ways, things are as bad in Russia as they were in the late 1970s or in the early 1980s, under Brezhnev and Andropov.

What did Vladimir Putin achieve from his rise to power in 1999 onward? Next to nothing, to tell the truth. After Boris Yeltsin’s years of confusion and chaos, Russia showed some signs of more consolidated power. Yet in terms of democracy and political pluralism, Russia began degenerating into a tyranny with no point of return. If Putin was sincerely hoping for more respect and recognition of Russia as a great power that deserved credit for contributing to the status quo of the system of international relations, he failed, as Russia is regarded now as a threat to global security and Europe, instead of being perceived as a partner.

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Instead of becoming a promising democracy next to the EU, Russia under Putin has become a ghost of Soviet propaganda trying to whitewash and restore Stalin’s good reputation which was dead even under the Soviets. Instead of enjoying richly-deserved admiration of the world for its literature and culture, Russia is made hostage of Putin’s mad ambitions to make it a police-state to prevent the strategic partnership between Ukraine and the EU. The same applies to any other nation from Eastern Partnership on which Russia keeps an eye trying to block any sort of new alliances and democratic clubs in the vicinity.

Putin will fail, and it will happen faster and sooner than he thinks. 


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