Kara-Murza on Putin’s Return

Spotlight on Russia reports:

One of the surest signs of repression in Russia is a flourishing culture of political jokes. The 1930s and the 1970s, in particular, bear testimony to this. In 2008, when Vladimir Putin tricked term limits by becoming prime minister under hand-picked President Dmitri Medvedev, a new joke was born in the Moscow intelligentsia’s kitchens. The year is 2020. Putin and Medvedev are in a bar, drinking beer. Putin looks up and asks: “Dima, do you remember which one of us is president, and which one is prime minister?” Medvedev thinks for a short while, then replies: “I think you are president, Vladimir Vladimirovich, and I am prime minister.” “Then it’s your turn to pay for the beer,” responds Putin.

Vladimir Putin’s weekend announcement of his return to the Kremlin in 2012 was hardly surprising—except, perhaps, to the wishful thinkers, both in Russia and in the West, who continued, in spite of the facts, to hope for a “Medvedev thaw.” The outgoing president himself, in his speech at the ruling United Russia party’s congress, hinted that the 2012 switchover was planned from the very beginning, ridiculing experts who spent hours of airtime and pages of op-eds debating his future plans for Russia. To be sure, the “Medvedev presidency” was a brilliant public relations move. While the regime further strengthened authoritarian controls (suffice to mention increasing the presidential term from four years to six, and giving a new prison sentence to former oil tycoon turned Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky), Medvedev’s phony reformist rhetoric lulled a large part of potential opposition supporters inside Russia, as well as some of the leading opinion-makers in the West, who would otherwise be more vocal in their criticism of the Kremlin. If there is one positive outcome of last weekend’s announcement, it is that they will finally have to face the reality—though the White House statement that its “reset” with Moscow will continue regardless of who is the president of Russia, already raises some doubts.

Other outcomes are not so positive. With Putin’s return to the Kremlin, analysts are predicting a new “brain drain”—an exodus of Russia’s educated and creative young professionals who will not see a future with a ruler that plans to remain in power longer than Joseph Stalin (on the current timetable, until 2024). Another likely result is a renewed crackdown on what remains of Russia’s independent media and the already-illusive civic freedoms; a new round of repressions against the regime’s political opponents; continuing corruption; and a more confrontational stance toward the West and the ex-Soviet “near abroad,” especially as Russia’s increasingly shaky economic situation will necessitate diverting people’s attention elsewhere (the government recentlyadmitted that the budget would only balance at an elevated oil price of $116 per barrel—with the current price being $104).

The most dangerous result of Putin’s attempt to cement his power, however, is an increased likelihood of upheavals. Popular discontent is rising: the August surveys by the independent Levada polling agency showed that 54 percent of Russians disapprove of the current government, while 64 percent would like to see the composition of the United Russia–dominated Parliament change “significantly” or “totally.” According to the same polling data, most Russians also believe that the upcoming parliamentary elections on December 4 will be a farce. With nine political parties across the spectrum—from the left-wing United Labor Front to the center-right Popular Freedom Party—denied registration and barred from the ballot, and a strict de facto censorship operating on national television, it is difficult to disagree with them. The 2012 presidential vote, meanwhile, is expected to be as predetermined as the “elections” in 2000, 2004, and 2008. With change through the ballot box made all but impossible, Russians’ growing impatience with the regime will likely be manifested in other ways. Recent street protests in Kaliningrad, Irkutsk, and Vladivostok may be an early sign of things to come. Russia’s rulers, who like to accuse opposition leaders and Western countries of preparing a “color revolution,” are doing everything to provoke a Tunisian-style uprising. The responsibility for its consequences will be wholly theirs.

Medvedev, who—just as the joke suggested—will shortly be relegated to the premiership, has faithfully kept to his scripted part. For nearly four years, he had the power—with a stroke of a pen—to dismiss Putin, pardon political prisoners, end censorship, and give the opposition access to elections. After all, history has known such unlikely transitions from authoritarianism to democracy, perhaps the most famous being 1970s Spain. Had Medvedev done this, he would have had the support of the most active and educated part of Russian society, as well as of world opinion. He could have changed Russia’s history. Instead, he chose to remain in it as a sad and inconsequential footnote.

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13 responses to “Kara-Murza on Putin’s Return

  1. I’ve just read a really scary article on W.S Journal by Bret Stephens on this subject.”The Commitee to re-elect Putin”. His members justify that regime saying: “Odorless and radioactive is the justice we have meted to traitors who sought safety abroad. But enough, about London” They are refferring to Livtinenko of course. But what kind of justice is that? Everything but justice, indeed! This is really creepy! Nothing has changed after the collapse of The Soviets.

  2. Oh yes it has – in theory the goal of the communists was to create a better society, in line with the so called laws of history. A lie, but one needed to support the regime. Now this regime is nothing more than a naked power without even the pretext of any moral purpose whatsoever. Oscar Wilde described hypocrisy as the homage vice pays to virtue. Now the rulers doesn’t even know that virtue exists.

    • Well said

    • a naked power without even the pretext of any moral purpose

      What happens when people in the west understand they were fooled for the last 3-5 centuries? That after feudalism, those in power never were honest to them?

      Do you really believe every person in the west now has equal rights and possibilities – really?

      If you don’t, then what’s the moral ground of that society, other than naked power of depersonalized money?

  3. Holy Vladimir, Pray for Us
    A Russian Sect Honors Putin as a Saint
    By Benjamin Bidder in Bolshaya Elnya, Russia

    SPIEGEL ONLINE
    Mother Fotina once led a “Center for Cosmo-Energetic Medicine,” and now she prays to Vladimir Putin. Her sect, in a village east of Moscow, honors Russia’s once and future president as a reincarnation of St. Paul. The group represents a rising trend in Russia, but its origins are surprisingly mundane.

    For reasons of data protection and privacy, your IP address will only be stored if you are a registered user of Facebook and you are currently logged in to the service. For more detailed information, please click on the “i” symbol.
    Haggard women hike up a hill near the Volga, saying they’re following “the Law of Love.” The law brings them to a three-story building made of white brick, with golden turrets and a battered gate. They call it the “Chapel of Russia’s Resurrection.” At the gate they exchange dusty boots for green plastic sandals before spreading out prayer rugs made of foam and pray to their patron saint: Vladimir Putin, Russia’s prime minister and soon-to-be president (again). They believe he’s a reincarnation of St. Paul.

    ANZEIGE
    The followers of this Russian Orthodox sect live in the village of Bolshaya Elnya, near Nizhny Novgorod, a metropolis 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) east of Moscow. Their leader is called “Mother Fotina,” a 62-year-old matron who considers herself the reincarnation of Joan of Arc. “I proclaim what God has revealed to me,” she says. Just as Saul persecuted Christians before his conversion to St. Paul, she believes Putin once beset the faithful as a Soviet KGB officer.

    The Soviets blew up churches, or replaced them with swimming pools, but “when he became president,” she says, “the Holy Ghost came to him.” Since then Putin leads his flock “wisely, just as the Apostle did.”

    ‘We’ve Prayed for Him to Return’

    Across Russia — not just in Bolshaya Elnya — popular affection for Putin has started turning to religious worship. The country’s top rabbi, Berel Lasar, swooned a few months ago that Russians had “every reason to ask God to bless you. Every day and every hour you do good for any number of people, you save hundreds and thousands of worlds.” Vladislav Surkow, the influential deputy chief of the Kremlin administration, sees in Putin “a man whom fate and the Lord sent to Russia.”

    In Putin’s hometown of St. Petersburg, a proliferation of posters once showed the prime minister as an angel, with one hand extended, blessing the city’s inhabitants. Putin’s face was mounted on a photo of the cherubim crowning the city’s Peter and Paul Cathedral. Any departure of Vladimir Putin from the national stage seems about as desirable to bureaucrats, conservative elites and a majority of the Russian people as a speedy advent of the Last Judgement.

    “He has the spirit of a czar in him,” says Mother Fotina, clad in a black robe and a white cap. Golden butterflies and cherubs adorn her homemade altar. Fotina swings a smoking censer before an icon of St. Paul-Putin. “Every day we’ve prayed for him to return to the Kremlin.”

    Their pleas, apparently, were heard. In an act of staged self-sacrifice last weekend, President Dmitry Medvedev recommended to a party congress that Putin should replace him as a presidential candidate — and ultimately as president — in 2012. The 11,000 delegates and party members of “United Russia” cheered like true believers in Moscow’s Ice Palace, at what amounted to a Coronation Mass.

    “The people’s connection to Putin is more emotional than it is to average politicians,” the venerable Russian historian Roy Mevedev (no relation to Dmitry) once said. “He’s seen as a sort of moral leader.” Polls show 57 percent of Russians notice “signs of a Putin cult” in the country; 52 percent believe it’s a positive trend.

    For almost four years, bureaucrats and Russian citizens listened to President Medvedev’s speeches as he campaigned for tough reforms and tried to modernize the country. Privately, though, they seemed to trust that Putin would solve any problems by virtue of his aura — even though government corruption has flowered for years and the country’s dependence on commodity exports has risen.

    Mother Fotina believes the people have no choice anyway. “God has appointed Putin to Russia to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ,” she says.

    In Volgograd — formerly Stalingrad — Putin formed an electoral alliance with the menacing name of “Popular Front,” hoping “to use people with fresh and interesting ideas.” State enterprises like the Russian Post (400,000 employees) and railroads (one million) have declared their membership in the Popular Front. So has the “Russian agrarian movement,” which supposedly unites Russia’s 38 million rural residents, and an unknown number of participants in the “first all-Russian blondes meeting.”

    ‘The New Eve’

    In Bolshaya Elyna, Mother Fotina spreads her arms. Born Svetlana Frolova, she sat for 21 months in jail during the 1990s, because she embezzled money from the state as a civil servant. After that she opened a “Center for Cosmo-Energetic Medicine,” and later the “Temple of the Resurrection of Russia.”

    “Behold, the new Eve has come to earth,” she declares, referring to herself. Her followers believe that Fontinja can heal by the laying-on of hands. They believe she can pray diseases like leukaemia away. For such services they sometimes hand her envelopes, labelled “For the Love.”

    The Orthodox Church accuses her of witchcraft. One reason is that she competes with the local church of “St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker” and alienates pious donors. “A few years ago the Orthodox Church put the state police (or FSB, a successor to the KGB) on her trail,” a retired army officer in her neighborhood said. “After that, she started to praise Putin in public as a saint — to protect herself from investigation.”

    As usual, in Putin’s Russia, the story is mainly about money.

  4. Anna Kushchyenko

    oh well, what’s new?
    “Every nation has the government it deserves (Toute nation a le gouvernement qu’elle mérite”) Joseph de Maistre, Lettres et Opuscules Inédits

    • Anna, in a world run by big business, BRICS are the only space still run by political elites. Bad or good, these are not those dirty corporate pigs that run the US and the UK, that build sweatshops across the world to make sure Brits are not going to raise one day and wipe them all swines from Britain, that Yanks are not going to raise. They make sure people in the US and the UK are going to have as much cheap consumer shit as possible, and that they buy it for much less that it really costs – because the third world workers are underpayed, undereducated, undernourished. This is a bad world that is run by boundless greed.

  5. Je ne suis pas de ton avis, Anna. Ce sont les Yanquis qui méritent un gouvernement génocidaire à l’intérieur; pas les peuples du Tiers Monde.

  6. Anna Kushchyenko

    I thought, perhaps naively, Uncle Sam from the White House IS our global government

  7. Захлебнитесь своей слюной свиньи)))))

  8. Pingback: Challenging the Long Night of Russian Authoritarianism | Global Democracy Struggle

  9. crazy reading this from 3 years ago

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