STALIN AND PUTIN: HAVE TIMES CHANGED NOW?

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On March 5, it will be 50 years since the day of Stalin’s death.

Half a century has passed since the day when “noble-spirited March” (a phrase coined by Bulat Okudzhava) relieved a sixth of the world’s land surface of the irreplaceable – and, as many seriously believed, immortal – dictator.

The times are different now. As Valeria Novodvorskaya writes in Novoe Vremya: “It is a different era now, different technology, the Internet, around us is a different world.”

But still, as the very same Novodvorskaya claims, nothing has helped Russia – not the memory of the Great Terror, not the “soul-shattering prison camp literature”, not Solzhenitsyn, not free association with the formerly forbidden West – “to diminish the shadowy strongholds of his kingdom”. It seems that the lessons of our own historical experience just have not been drawn.

At the same time, it is not a question of those who today run around with portraits of the “great leader” and write “Stalin was right” on the walls of Russian cities – with these exactly, everything is more or less clear. Even in the most respectable Western countries, they do not go without the luxury of social shock elements. In addition, political radicals, as everyone knows, are one of the most dangerous categories of madmen, and they are treated like this too. But it is far from just radicals who remember the “father of nations” with reverence.

In Novaya Gazeta Pavel Gutionov describes the exhibition which the Museum of Contemporary History (until relatively recently called the “Museum of the Revolution”) in Moscow dedicated to Stalin: “As was said at its opening, the time is coming for an OBJECTIVE assessment of the actions of this person, a time of departure from black-and-white characterizations, when some praise him beyond measure, and others revile him beyond measure.” The exhibition itself, as the author remarks, is organized exactly in this way: “Along one wall – the arguments ‘for’, along the other – ‘against’. With the subtext that the truth, as usual, is in the middle.”

Incidentally, as Gutionov thinks, the problem of Stalin can in no way be reduced to a historical assessment of his personality: “This is the problem of our political choice today.” And it is no coincidence, according to the author’s view, that society is persistently being pushed towards the idea that “regardless of some mistakes”, the path chosen by Stalin was on the whole right and promising historically. “It is perfectly obvious,” the observer of Novaya Gazeta writes, “that somebody is feeling the temptation to try to start down it again. And, why not let’s be honest with ourselves, a quite favorable situation for this is developing.”

The newspaper Izvestia gives fresh figures from a survey by the Public Opinion Foundation: 36% of Russians think that Stalin did more bad than good during the time of his rule; 29% are sure of the opposite. And for another 34% Stalin is simply one of the figures of Russian history, and there is no point in talking about any particular attitude towards him.

It is difficult to imagine that 29% of present-day Germans would say that Hitler did more good than bad for the country, or that the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany would admit some worthy accomplishments of the Fuhrer and remember that the soldiers of the Wehrmacht went into battle in his name, says Izvestia observer Andrei Kolesnikov.

But Russia is a country like no other. It was not for nothing, notes Valeria Novodvorskaya in the abovementioned article, that President Putin found it worth “uttering the watchword about state, glory, greatness”, since stereotypes started to work exactly then: “Dzerzhinsky for Lubyanka Square, returning to its historical name Stalingrad, war to the end in Chechnya, in Russia we will catch all spies” and so on. It is relevant that, “Every second journalist is a spy and every third scientist as well.”

In general, as Novodvorskaya makes the firm conclusion, “Totalitarianism is the triumph of weakness, mediocrity, and lack of talent… And weakness, lack of talent, and mediocrity cannot be eliminated.” So no one should be surprised.

At the same time Novodvorskaya gives President Putin a piece of advice – not to forget: “Totalitarianism is that iron chain, one link in which you grab (the Soviet national anthem, let’s say), to find that you are necessarily pulling out all the others. The most important thing is to say the watchword.”

But the warnings of Novodvorskaya today are like a voice crying in the wilderness. The old commandments of those who these days are derisively called “flake democrats” went out of fashion a long time ago.

In our times, as Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal writes, having dedicated a whole selection of articles to the examination of the theme “power and the intelligentsia”, expressions of love of state power, its symbols, and bearers are in fashion. And above all, of the head of state.

The traditions of the Russian intelligentsia – by definition oppositionist in its inclinations – are dying out. The traditions of Western intellectuals, used to keeping their distance from not only the authorities and the government, but also from society, are not being taken up. The new Russian intelligentsia, as a worthy successor of the Soviet intelligentsia, is capable only of “spasm-like rushes from hate and contempt” for the authorities to unbounded adoration for them.

In his own time, the very same Stalin made a strong impression on the new Soviet intelligentsia, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal noted: “He captivated and schemed. He did not talk much and had a very intent gaze.” Later, admittedly, the sensation of icy terror was added to these feelings – which did not in any way weaken the impression.

The Russian intelligentsia fell into a lethargy, from which Khrushchev and the unmasking of the “cult of personality” awoke it. (By the way, Andrei Kolesnikov claims that the expression “cult of personality”, like “perestroika” and many others as well, was first used precisely by Stalin).

Later, already in the memory of the current President, the intelligentsia even tried to love Andropov – he certainly appeared very favorably with his education and penchant for poetry against the background of the ridiculous Brezhnev, prone to putting his foot in his mouth.

Today in Russia, a fashion of loyalty has again taken hold. As they say now in good society – these days “it’s no longer done to be in opposition.”

Of course, Russian intellectuals partially “reflect public moods”, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal notes. Indeed, Russian society continues to love the President with all its heart, “and absolutely nothing – not the “Kursk”, not Chechnya – has any impact on the strength of this love”.

On the other hand, in general it is possible to understand the masses, says Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal: “Society loves, in the President, its last hope for changes for the better.”

As far as those who today make up a loud chorus glorifying the authorities are concerned, these people in former years (“under Yeltsin, now cursed”) did not live badly – and are not in poverty now, either. So in their slightly forced exaltation they are far from being led only by mercantile considerations.

Simply “in the last few years it became shameful to be unsuccessful,” says Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal. “While the present authorities turned things in such a way that it is possible to be successful, just to a greater or lesser degree leaning on them for support.”

Again today “we are sick of grumbling and grouching. Being happy and content in life is in fashion.” Which, naturally, in no way can be put together with oppositionist sentiments.

Thus, for a certain sum of reasons the idea of the State is in fashion with the Russian elite. Incidentally, says Novaya Gazeta observer Pavel Voshchanov, it is not correct to speak of a true elite existing in post-totalitarian Russia. Today we have just a semblance of a national elite, so to speak, a surrogate. This pseudo-elite, according to the view of the author, differs in no small number of ways from a genuine elite: for example, intellectually it is totally barren. Apart from that, it never orients itself towards results – only towards outward appearances: “For this reason PR in Russia has become the core of politics.”

And of course, the political pseudo-elite cannot exist without its Proprietor: “Being a lackey is its natural state. It is free only for a very short moment – between the departure of the old patron and the arrival of the new one.”

By the way, there is no reason to reproach either the President, or his circle for the developing orgy of love for the authorities. The authorities themselves do not have to think up or organize anything. “People very well-known in our country with a born sense of the highest gratitude will do everything for them: they themselves think up the cult, they themselves impose it on the nation, they themselves later will suffer from that having been done, and will without complaint be in anguish in the expectation of changes for the better. But when these changes arrive, everything will go round a second time.” Or the thousand and second time.

In the opinion of Pavel Voshchanov, the tragedy for Russia and its society is that the current elite does absolutely no good for the society: “The measure of the tasks which are confronting the country do not correspond to the measure of the personalities which fulfill these tasks.” Hence the not rarely occurring impression of a kind of political carnival in the country – if not to say farce.

Radio Liberty observer Vitaly Portnikov, commenting in Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal on one of the latest publicity events of the United Russia party – giving out party membership cards to famous actors, musicians, and show business personalities, placidly remarked: “The whole essence of political life in Russia is the taking over of money.”

In actual fact, United Russia – the party of power – is not nearly as popular as its supervisors would like, and for that reason it is necessary to “liven it up”. The money for the “livening up” has been found, now it is necessary to “attain mastery”.

A solution understandable for all is being taken: as many well-publicized events as possible. One of these events is the attraction of famous performers, national favorites, into the party.

“Because, what did we have before this? Advertising hoardings on the highway with portraits of Mr. Bespalov,” remarks Vitaly Portnikov. However, portraits of this gentleman would rather scare off the elector, showing the true face of the party, vying for leadership in the Russian political spectrum. It is understandable that the showing on television of the handing out of party membership cards to stars should fix the situation. On top of this, the Russian stars are, of course, “apolitical people, but tied by business interests”. And for this reason they will not refuse to give the pro-presidential party help.

Slava Taroschin says in the Vremya MN newspaper that it is impossible not to notice a substantial rotation in the top circles.

Russian politics needed former “engineers of the human soul” – writers – only once in the past, during the first congress of people’s deputies. Now, “they are not received in decent homes.” If Mark Zakharov used to “herald the elections in the past, now Alexander Buinov plays this role.”

In short, “showmen rather than intelligentsia are shepherding the people now.” There is no reason to worry about it – the authorities are asking for support those who are prominent today. The intelligentsia is left alone with its traditional and sad reflections about the imperfection of the Russian state and the society.

As for former chairman of the United Russia general council Alexander Bespalov, who has been accused of decreasing the party’s popularity rating, last week he resigned from his post.

The Gazeta periodical says they had offered to Bespalov “to become an ambassador to some other country” to make his resignation more honorable. However, he preferred to head the Gazprom information policy department – the position became vacant recently, after Alexander Dybal was appointed general director of Gazprom-Media.

The Kommersant paper writes that Gazprom employees say Bespalov was appointed “suddenly and from very top.” Kommersant reports that last year “Gazprom spent 1.5 billion rubles” on support of advertising and sponsoring projects, including the support of the NTV television network, of which Bespalov will also be in charge. This year, it is planned to spend 2.2 billion rubles on these purposes. At the same time, under Rem Vyakhirev these expenses were much greater, up to 13 billion rubles. Gazprom employees say, “Putin’s protege?” Bespalov is quite likely to increase the sponsoring expenses of the company to this level and even exceed it, “Time is short before the presidential election.” At the same time, it is clear that such innovations will not add to Gazprom’s capitalization growth.

The Vedomosti newspaper estimates Bespalov’s appointment as an exile, connecting it to his awkward actions and statements at the post of the United Russia’s leader. At the same time, the paper makes a reservation, it should be remembered that an exile is not a life-long state for a politician, “Especially if his fault is incompetence rather than disloyalty.”

One way or another, Vedomosti says, it is too early to bury Bespalov politically.

Julia Latynina, a presenter of the “There is an opinion” TVC program, writes in the Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal weekly that the “head transplant” (replacement of Bespalov with Boris Gryzlov) has not helped the United Russia party as yet.

The results of gubernatorial election in the Magadan region are a clear evidence of this – despite a powerful usage of the administrative resource of the presidential envoy and the United Russia party in support of Magadan Mayor Nikolai Karpenko, his rival Nikolai Dudov has won the election.

Of course, Latynina comments, nothing terrible has happened: Dudov will immediately join United Russia, following the example of his Mordovia colleague Nikolai Merkushkin, who won the election in Mordovia “with results close to Saddam’s”.

At the same time, party members like Dudov and Merkushkin cannot be considered the party’s proteges – according to the author, they are “a challenge prize of any party of power”.

Therefore, instead of strengthening the power hierarchy by filling it at different levels with loyal people, United Russia is retrospectively accepting winners into its ranks. Evidently, some of them join the party only due to some situational needs.

However, new leader of United Russia Boris Gryzlov has assured his associates at a press conference on the results of the Magadan election, “We will find levers to influence the poor administrator who will remain the requests of the administration without attention.”

Still, Julia Latynina thinks that such statements – even made by the Interior Minister – are most unlikely to assure a high rating for United Russia at the election.

According to Kommersant-Vlast magazine, United Russia lost the Magadan election due to an “overly aggressive election campaign and stressing the support of Nikolai Karpenko by United Russia and the federal government.” In response to this pressure, the voters voted “on the contrary” as a sign of protest.

These circumstances should be taken into account while developing the party’s election strategy for the federal election. Kommersant-Vlast stresses that numerous regional elections have shown that United Russia follows the Magadan pattern very often. Besides, governors will actively help the party at the federal election, “trying to gain scores in the Kremlin”.

That is why the prospects of the party are less brilliant that its curators would like.

Moreover, the Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal weekly notes, it is not correct to call United Russia a “Kremlin’s party” – it is lead by a certain group: Surkov and Voloshin. There are plenty of other groups in the Kremlin, and the fist objective of any of them is to “trip a rival up”. The magazine says, “For many in the Kremlin it will be a celebaration if United Russia falls: the Family has lost! We will repair everything by the presidential election. If necessary we will cancel the election.”

Overall, Yezhenedelnyi Zhurnal considers that the president has similar problems with United Russia as Roman emperors had with their armies: “If an incompetent general leads the army, he loses the fight. If a talented general leads the army, he will win the fight; but after that, he might set his sights on the throne.” This causes repeated personnel changes in the leadership of the party of power.

At the same time, the Rossiiskie Vesti weekly says, there are more than enough claimants for Putin’s presidential throne – but before the election they are staying in the shade. Nonetheless, the work at the new “Successor” project is already on. The article is titled “The Family wants to repeat.”

Rossiiskie Vesti reports that the essence of the project is to have Putin follow the example of his predecessor and patron and to hand in the power to some “successor” after the parliamentary election. According to the authors of the plan, “this will logically fit the recently established tradition of the latest history of Russia.”

Moreover, the Family thinks society is gradually changing its opinion concerning “reelecting Putin as president”. The reason is obvious: the president has failed to keep his promises in economic and social sectors. The number of Russians who living below the poverty line has not decreased. Small and medium-sized businesses have not been supported. The Chechen war has not stopped. Putin has quarreled with generals, “The military reform carried out by Sergei Ivanov has raised the army against the president.”

That is why it is presumed that Putin will be unable to seriously “resist to his voluntary resignation”: he does not have a social base of his own. At least, the middle class – a guarantee of social stability that has long been discussed by politicians and officials – has not yet been created.

Rossiiskie Vesti reported the VTsIOM data, according to which approximately 51% of voters are so far unsure who they would like to have as president after Putin’s term expires. At the same time, 13% of respondents would like to see the one whom he calls his successor at the post of president.

Boris Yeltsin’s old guard thinks it is a convenient trend which should be supported and developed. “Moreover, this way of transferring the presidential power will assure the necessary political stability and will reduce the tension and complexity of the presidential election campaign, as it happened with Yeltsin.”

The main thing is not to hurry to announce the choice: it is important to have Putin announce the person he chooses.

Putin’s main opponent Boris Berezovsky has a different approach to the issue. “I think the victory of the opposition at the 2003 parliamentary election is absolutely realistic,” said Berezovsky in his interview with the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. “It is very important for the opposition to participate in the parliamentary election with the name of a new president.”

According to Berezovsky, there are more than enough candidates to this role. Apparently, the casting has not ended yet – Berezovsky does not hurry to reveal names. “It is untimely. Like in 1999 I did not discuss Putin’s name for a long time, although I said that there would be a new president.”

However, today it is most unlikely to use the “dark horse”, Berezovsky thinks. “The state controls the major media and it will be impossible to make an unknown person popular within three months.” Consequently, one of the popular persons is to be promoted.

So far, many of Berezovsky’s plans have been realized. At the same time, the final result not always corresponds to the expected one. The story with Putin’s presidency is a graphic example of this. However, indefatigable Berezovsky thinks everything can be corrected – the main thing is to choose the correct strategy.

Actually it is being realized at present. On Monday, Nezavisimaya Gazeta – owned by Berezovsky – announced: the slight fall of the president’s popularity rating should be considered the main political result of February. It is insignificant – but it is trend that matters.

It is also important that Mikhail Kasianov’s rating keeps growing: his popularity rating has grown by 0.12 in Moscow and by 0.14 in the regions. At the same time, Kasianov has eventually overrun head of the presidential administration Alexander Voloshin from the second place on the list of Russia’s top hundred politicians. The distance between the president and the prime minister is decreasing.

Besides, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes, Kasianov has stopped being a “technical prime minister”. Moreover, the center of political activity in the country has obviously moved to the Cabinet.

Tax, energy, and municipal reforms were heatedly discussed there; the “painful state machine” reform was also launched there. As a result, popularity ratings of many of Kasianov’s colleagues (except for security officers) have grown while the influence of all members of the presidential administration has decreased, the paper says.

The rating of the Family members have also grown: in January Boris Yeltsin returned to the “political Olympus” and in February his popularity rating has grown ten-fold. The rating of Yeltsin’s son-in-law Valentin Yumashev has also increased.

It should not be forgotten that the rating published by the Nezavisimaya Gazeta are made on the basis of appraisals of some expert society – the paper explains it is “experts from 13 Russian cities which represent the most important regions of the country.”

Nonetheless, the paper makes serious conclusions basing on the aforementioned data. It notes that expert appraisals – moreover, of the political elite! – no longer coincide with the appraisals of the population. “In the eyes of the electorate Putin’s rating is still stable; while in the eyes of those who are much better aware of the situation in the top power circles, the stability of the presidential influence is rather questionable.”

It is a very interesting conclusion – especially if remember the warnings of the press about the inadequate and somewhat hysterical “all people’s love for president” and the anticipations of possible revival of totalitarianism.

It seems there are only two options – a new Stalin who will suppress any opposition with an iron hand, or a puppet president who his masters do not like any more and who has to hide behind a dusty curtain at crowd’s whistling.

This seems to be a rather sad alternative. But it is possible to say definitely that the political consultants predictions about “boring elections” and non-alternative presidential campaign in 2004 are turning out to be premature.

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