With dissidents too disillusioned (or weary) to build on the momentum they gained in the protests of December and February, the election of Vladimir Putin as the returning President of Russia seems to be less a moment for action than one of reflection. . . reflection on the man and his legacy.
One such reflection comes from the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker, on Twitter (courtesy of SB):
“Watching Putin…is a bit like watching a tampon ad. It’s all hearty athletic fun, but you can’t help feeling that behind the scenes a lot of blood is being shed.”
For those who are historically-inclined, I have long sought an appropriate analogue for Putin, a man who has undoubtedly been the most influential Russian of the 21st century.
When he came to power at the end of the 1990s, I was convinced that Vladimir Putin would be Russia’s Ataturk. Both had transcendent popularity and led countries that were emerging from the collapse of empire. For better or worse, Ataturk forged the Turkish nation from the rubble of the Ottoman domain and inculcated the country’s political structure with dual forces of secularism and modernization that, combined with an evolving sense of national identity, have shaped the course of Turkey’s recent history. Ne mutlu türküm diyene.
Putin similarly inherited a Russia that was emerging from the shards of the Soviet state and was faced with many of the same issues: ensuring territorial integrity, defining national identity, and the need for long-term strategic vision. Putin has left most of these things unresolved. His heavy-hand in Chechnya has not led to an end of separatism, and, as Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan argued in The New Nobility, Russia’s ruling elite suffer from an ideological deficit that, for better or worse, has not been the case with Ataturk’s generals. Putin is no Ataturk, but make no mistake, he could have been.
Instead, scenes of the Russian president on a horse with his shirt off or horsing around with Silvio Berlusconi bring to mind a different historical analogue: Vladimir Putin is a lot like Benito Mussolini. Granted, there are major differences – Putin doesn’t have a cool nickname like “Il Duce”, his regime is more thuggish than fascist, and the threat of a World War III seems distant – but I guess what I’m saying is that when I see Putin crying on election day, or hunting whales, or just doing his thing, I have started to see this:
(sorry for the poor photoshop skills and the fuzzy picture of Mussolini).
On a happier note, check out this wicked flash mob at Moscow’s Sparrow Hills: