GIFTS FOR THE PRESIDENT’S BIRTHDAY: THE PEOPLE MAKE UP VERSES AND JOKES, BEREZOVSKY ABANDONS LIBERAL RUSSIA IN FAVOR OF THE COMMUNISTS, AND POLITICAL SCIENTISTS PICK OUT PUTIN’S SUCCESSOR

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The media started discussing President Vladimir Putin’s birthday well in advance. Some media even declared a competition for the best birthday wishes. People have responded to this.

The weekly Sobesednik has published an entire selection of verses devoted to this topic. One of them goes like this:

“Life is hard, and prices are rising,

And the situation around the world is getting worse.

Only Putin is adorning the earth

By the beauty of his soul.”

Some readers wanted Putin to answer the question “Who is Mr. Putin?” Others wished him to get the honor of a wax figure at Madame Tussaud’s.

However, if this happens, Madame Tussaud’s will not be the first. The newspaper Gazeta has reported that there is a statue of Putin on horseback in front of the administrative building of hard labor prison colony No. OYA 22/07 in the Novgorod Region. This statue was carved from a huge aspen log by prisoner Ivan Oleinikov, who is serving nine years for murder. Recently, photos of his statue of the president – wearing armor and riding a horse – have been published in many newspapers. Thus, prisoner Oleinikov has managed to beat famous sculptor Zurab Tsereteli, who has hinted more than once that he would not be averse to sculpting the president, since Putin has “an interesting grace.”

Painters have also tried the Putin theme. The most pompous portrait of the president was painted by Nikas Safonov: the president against the backdrop of Kremlin. Dmitry Vrubel and Viktoria Timofeeva have painted a portrait of Putin against Malevich’s “Black Square”. The explained: “Putin and the ‘Black Square’ and the symbols of Russia.” The magazine Ogonyok has published Putin’s portrait in a naval uniform, by the same artists.

There are some more exotic portraits. For instance, there is a picture of the head of Russia in origami style – made by head of the Moscow club of origami lovers Roman Sviridov.

Komsomolskaya Pravda reports that Turkmenistan produces carpets with Putin’s portraits, which are in great demand among provincial authorities.

Of course, songs about Putin are sung too. The most popular hit is that of the group “Belyi Oryol” (White Eagle): “In the field there is a Grad, we’re backed by Putin and Stalingrad.” Recently, the group “Poyushchie Vmeste” (Singing Together) issued a new song: “I want a man like Putin!”

It is also necessary to mention such a genre of folklore as a joke (in Russia, jokes with a logically developing plot are called “anecdotes” – translator’s note). There is an old series of jokes about Vovochka (the diminutive for Vladimir – translator’s note), which has acquired new piquancy since Putin came to power. Gazeta has published one of the new jokes from this series. In this anecdote Vovochka is reprimanding his teacher: “Maria Ivanovna, when I grow up and become the main one, you’ll be ashamed that you gave me bad marks.” “Don’t clown around, Putin!” Maria Ivanovna retorts. However, this joke sounds too pathetic and thus too unnatural, since Russians have never been too moved by their powers-that-be.

As for presents, Komsomolskaya Pravda tried to explain its readers that the era of court jewelers like Faberge has passed and that Putin prefers simple souvenirs like sailors’ striped vests like those given to him by sailors of all fleets he visits, or conchs like those given to him by ecologists in the Far East. However, these explanations were in vain. The Russian Academy of Jewelry has presented the birthday baby with an exact copy of the Monomakh cap. This news was published by all newspapers. Izvestia has reported that the prime cost of the present is $50,000 and that it has been insured on $10 million. Head of the Jewelry Academy Anatoly Klimin has sworn that he will hand this cap to Putin by all means, however persistently he may refuse to accept this gift. Izvestia notes in this connection, “The only thing that is not clear in this situation is where Putin will wear this cap. Will he wear it at his dacha?”

Olga Romanova, observer of the newspaper Vedomosti, agrees that presents are the most complicated issue connected with the president’s birthday. “What may a person feel when he is given a herd of Akhaltekin horses, a living bear cub, a cast iron statue of a judo wrestler, or an asteroid called President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin?” However, the observer believes that the president has received at least three presents that have made him happy.

The first present was given him in St. Petersburg. Last week, Governor Alexander Yakovlev was forbidden to run for governor of the city for the third time. Putin’s dramatic relations with Yakovlev are well known, and so this even may naturally be called a good present.

Olga Romanova calls the second present “a gift of the fate.” She means the breech between Liberal Russia and Boris Berezovsky, which followed the tycoon’s interview to Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper Zavtra Alexander Prokhanov.

Viktor Pokhmelkin, Co-Chairman of Liberal Russia, has announced in this connection, “Berezovsky has an idee fixe: to oust Putin from his seat. For this purpose he is ready to unite even with the Communists. However, we don’t view Putin’s dismissal as the ultimate goal. His dismissal will prove a great shock for the country.” This announcement of a representative of the “intransigent opposition” sounds surprising and may well be called another birthday present for the president.

The third present was Putin’s present to himself. According to the Vedomosti observer, this was Putin’s decree on appointment of Alexander Khloponin acting governor of the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Romanova says, “From now on, it will be possible to question the legitimacy of Khloponin anytime, since he has been hung on a legal hook.” Thus, there is no point to argue about who has won the Krasnoyarsk election: it was won by the president.

In its article devoted to the birthday baby, the journal Novoe Vremya said, “Special services officer Putin must have thought his future to be quite simple before his coming to power.” According to the journal, the plan of his actions two years ago was apparent: to scare local princelings, freeze the press and tycoons a little, and intimidate officials who had stuck in their internecine frays and treasury embezzlements. He intended to “introduce order”, as used to be said in the Andropov period, when Putin started his career of a special services officer. Novoe Vremya says, “Being rather clever and well informed, he thought a series of resolute measures would do to integrate the country that had been scattered under Yeltsin and to set it in motion in the right direction. At first he wanted to scare people and then to make a new country from the flexible clay.” On the first stage his style was noted for “pragmatism combined with authoritarianism”. Besides, he could count for people’s support without any conditions.

However, it turned out that there is no easy solution to this task. “Having swayed sideways, the country is returning to its old pre-Putin state.” Wage arrears is become as serious a problem as it was in the Yeltsin era. Capital flight is still underway. Direct foreign investments are decreasing. Prices are growing as rapidly as disorders on the streets, and people who “cheerfully welcomed Putin’s coming to power and approved of all his initiative” have grown somewhat dull.

The journal notes that this cannot be called disappointment yet, and the birthday baby still appeals to people, “but the time of the people’s fascination is ceasing too.”

To cut it short, the president’s problems in domestic politics are not getting fewer. Besides, his foreign political successes are considered dubious by many observers.

The communists, who first quieted down, are gradually raising their heads. Now, they are also receiving support from Berezovsky, who has openly admitted that his previous confidence that the communists made the main hindrance to Russia’s development to be erroneous.

As it turned out, Berezovsky had formerly been “totally happy in the Soviet Union, in a classical Soviet family.” Berezovsky: “I’ve never been a dissident, never openly opposed to the system; this doesn’t mean, however, that I was a conformist. I was a party member, was actively working and participating in the social life.” This phrase strikingly resembles recommendations, which the district party committees had issued for persons leaving abroad. Berezovsky finally got abroad, but, as he confessed, his party membership card was not terminated and is being kept in a safe (just in case?).

In general, Berezovsky’s interview is fantastic and it’s hard to believe its seriousness.

Here’s a wonderful phrase: “I cannot tell that in 1996 I was an uncompromising enemy of Zyuganov’s coming to power.” In the meantime, 1996 is not a far-off past, and many people could recall those marvelous placards bearing Zyuganov’s sullen portrait and a slogan: “But food for the last time!”

It is well known that Berezovsky was then the focus of the large-scale and efficient anti-communists campaign. However, remembrances don’t seem to disturb him. The times when he struggled against Zyuganov have receded. Nowadays, unification with the communists has been admitted profitable – so, it is necessary to rally. It won’t do to connect hopes with the “liberals” having virtual popularity rating.

In general, Berezovsky, the follower of democracy, is certain that it is not after the electorate to decide whom support in the elections: “This is an illusion that the people are choosing somebody, which is especially strong in Russia. Traditionally, the elite is resolving the issue of power in Russia, as well as in the majority of other countries, for instance America.”

Berezovsky is, thus, is not thinking highly of the only super power which remains: “When America elects a president like George W. Bush is, it is clearly cannot be the choice of people as such. In fact, this choice is imposed on the nation. Being more precise, the capital imposed this option.” In Berezovsky’s opinion, this choice is appropriate, since “the capital is a nation’s concentrated potential.”

In general, the time has come for an “about-face.” The oligarch’s finally come to see the light: “Many people are asking me now: Do you think if Zyuganov won, Russia might go its natural way?” Nowadays, Berezovsky, who has created Yeltsin’s successor “from what was handy” considers necessary to remind that Putin’s victory would mean “the victory of the special services, rather than the victory of ideology. If the special services come to power, this is a tragedy for any individual country. Nothing could be worse than that.” Therefore, it is even allowable to affiliate with the communists to resist this danger.

No wonder that revelation of the former patron have impressed the Liberal Russia members so much. Up to date, Berezovsky’s affiliates have thought that his footsie with the communists was nothing else but a tactical move. However, the oligarch’s recent statements have been recognized as “discrediting the liberal idea.”

In the meantime, Gazeta has reminded its readers that in summer, denying of registration to Liberal Russia, the Justice Ministry cleared out to the party leadership that its co-chairman Berezovsky was the main reason for refusal. On the eve of the recent congress, at which Liberal Russia was approving amendments for its regulations, Justice Minister Yuri Chaika all of a sudden said that his ministry had no complaints about the party. “A natural question arose,” Gazeta noted, “has the party traded registration for Berezovsky’s elimination?”

In the words of Sergei Yushchenkov, disputes between Berezovsky and other members of Liberal Russia have existed since the very beginning. If Berezovsky has initially been for unification of all anti-Putin forces, Yushchenkov and his affiliates “have always thought that the liberal ideology cannot be made compatible with patriotic slogans.”

Yushchenkov has easily resolved the financial problem: “We are not afraid of funding shortages. The $100 million promised by Berezovsky is an enticing sum, but we don’t trade in ideology.”

As for sponsors, the party has enough of them except for Berezovsky: “He has been the chief sponsor, but his role in the financing of the party is strongly exaggerated.”

Moreover, Yushchenkov stressed in his interview for Nezavisimaya Gazeta, among small-scale businesspeople there are tens of those, willing to finance various programs of Liberal Russia: “When Berezovsky sponsored the party, other business leaders told us: You have your own financier. Why do you need someone else’s money?” Now, some business leaders are calling and asking: “We are ready to fund you now.”

Out of the abovementioned facts, NG arrives at an important conclusion: there are more than enough people dissatisfied with the current regime, and Berezovsky is not unique in this sense.

The print media have responded to the “talk of the two patricians” calmly. The scandalous interview to Zavtra newspaper “is of minor political significance, the same as the Berezovsky’s “liberal party,” his disclosures of conspiracies against Russia,” says Leonid Radzikhovsky, observer of Vremya MN.

Moreover, in the author’s opinion, Berezovsky comprehends that his big game in Russia is finished. His communication with Prokhanov is just natural “art for art’s sake.” One should only listen him debating the Christian principles, his convictions and deeds – it becomes clear, Radzikhovsky says, that we observe a “pure hedonist,” a playboy, a “playing person.” As soon as his game begins to bore him, he takes a new game.

It seems, however, Berezovsky was ready to see that his statements could be found futile. Moreover, taking into account they were done to that odious interlocutor, who has immediately commented on them in the proper manner.

The culprit found it necessary to explain his position to his former affiliates liberals and has made intelligibly, having published his article “About liberals and patriots” in Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

In Berezovsky’s opinion, “the current reality in Russia” (read: Putin’s regime) ought to make the right wing and the left wing to form an alliance immediately and forget their differences – “if they want to stop being politically marginalized.”

Indeed, says Berezovsky, a patriot is simply a person who “loves the fatherland and places its interests above the interests of any other country,” and is also prepared to make voluntary sacrifices for the country’s sake.

A liberal, says Berezovsky, refuses to recognized the priority of the state over the individual, and values civil liberties over state interests.

In Russia, according to Berezovsky, the majority of people consider themselves patriots: “For them Russia is not an empty phrase, both in the sense of instinctive self-identification and the system of values.”

On the other hand, citizens are not willing to lose civil liberties or see an authoritarian regime return. Hence, Berezovsky concludes that ordinary Russians, without realizing it, are simultaneously liberals and patriots.

At the same time, the elite hasn’t yet reached this harmony of views: for players on the political stage, “liberal or patriotic inclination” means belonging to either of two hostile camps. Therefore, Berezovsky explains, both the radical liberals and radical patriots are losing voters. Is this not sufficient reason to revise their positions?

Moreover, Berezovsky continues, the regime’s anti-democratic inclination is quite evident both for the left and the right: “The fact that Putin is not a liberal requires no proof. However, is he a patriot?” Not at all, replies Berezovsky.

Undoubtedly, the president treats the state with respect, but the matter is quite different as far as the people are concerned.

Further on, citing evidence in support of his arguments (the Kursk submarine disaster, the Chechen war), Berezovsky is ready to prove that the regime doesn’t take the people into account. “Therefore,” he concludes, “I’m ready to undersign that the present-day regime is as anti-people as it is authoritarian.”

Hence, the opposition between liberals and patriots should be ended – firstly, “it doesn’t meet the expectations of the people,” and secondly it “contributes to consolidation of the regime, destructive both for Russia and democracy.”

It is also true that Prokhanov has warned everybody in advance: the People’s Patriotic Union of Russia should treat Berezovsky’s money as its own. “We haven’t asked for money yet. Why is money taken from the administration any cleaner than money given by Berezovsky? All the money comes from the people’s treasury.”

In short, it is not ruled out that the parties might happen to be advantageous for one another (at least for a while). Having joined forces, in the near future they are quite capable of presenting many new impressive gifts to the president, who hasn’t expected this outcome.

The myth of Putin as “a young hero defeating Russia’s enemies” is gradually becoming obsolete. A new myth is taking shape – of “a young, efficient anti-crisis manager,” who is “so rich that he doesn’t need to steal.” The latest definition belongs to Andrei Piontkovsky, Director of the Strategic Research Center.

In general, the only fact which could be comforting for a person celebrating his birthday is that the answer to the question “Who is Mr. Putin?” has not been found yet.

However, the answer is not being sought as energetically as it used to be.

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