ST. PETERSBURG CELEBRATIONS: A "VANITY FAIR" OR "PARADE OF THE INFLUENCE" OF VLADIMIR PUTIN?

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The reaction of the Press to the jubilee celebrations in St. Petersburg, to the official and semi-official meetings and top-level contacts, to all that was declaimed in speeches (or dropped as chance remarks – as if without any significance, but with emphasis) makes one remember the well-known and currently popular play by Rostand, “Cyrano de Bergerac”. More specifically – the work of poetry by the Gascon poet-musketeer, having become a classic, dedicated to his own nose.

In actual fact, out of the spectrum of possible tones the Press has probably not missed out a single one.

Tone of Statements Given in Amazement: “they are driving the clouds over St. Petersburg away, so that there will definitely not be any rain. Workmen have built a four-kilometer fence starting from Pulkovo Airport in order to hide the city slums behind it from the motorcades of presidents and prime ministers. So what else is new? The suppression of nature for the purpose of it conforming to the ideas and demands of politicians has been a favorite pursuit of the government of Russia for a period of many centuries” (the Canadian newspaper “The Toronto Star”, a translation of an article published in Kommersant-Vlast magazine).

Tone of a Country which is a World Power: “The ten-day celebrations of the three-hundredth anniversary of the northern capital having concluded on Sunday became that dividing line, beyond which it became obvious: now the city has once and for all shaken off the insulting nickname of Leningrad, having stopped being a humble, faceless, and silent regional industrial-manufacturing center of the Soviet empire. The anniversary became a time for taking stock, after which the city finally was rightfully able to call itself ‘Petersburg’, a splendid capital for the country and for Europe. Vladimir Putin’s idea came off in magnificent fashion: after the leaders of more than forty nations applauded Russia and St. Petersburg, the city could remain as it was before no longer” (The newspaper Vremya Novostei).

Skeptical Tone: “All in all the international part of the St. Petersburg anniversary signified a seeming success for Russia, the Kremlin, and the President. However, we should not fall into euphoria. In the final analysis the image of the country always depends on to what degree the government is able to provide for a decent life for its citizens. Not just the leisure at anniversary celebrations of important guests” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta).

Tone of Restrained Exultation: “Vladimir Putin and George Bush parted after the summit in St. Petersburg as best friends, as if there had never been an Iraq crisis in their relationship. Experts note that Putin got off comparatively easily: Bush Jr. still has not forgiven the leaders of Germany and France” (Vedomosti).

Tone of Disappointment: “However, against a background of mutual assurances of sincere friendship. Nevertheless, complete harmony was not achieved. A fault became evident when the Presidents touched on the topic of Russian-Iranian cooperation in the field of nuclear energy” Gazeta).

Tone of Reason: “It remained unclear whether “harmony” had returned in Bush and Putin’s ‘personal relations’, but everything looked as though it had returned. What is unpleasant emotionally is not necessarily bad when looked at under the cold light of reason. Mutual disappointment, if there is not too much of it – is a naturally inevitable companion and sign of mature relations. Did the Presidents stop pretending that it was easy for them to talk to each other? However, it is many times more important that they consider it necessary to talk, regardless of difficulties” (Nezavisimaya Gazeta again).

Tone of Official Statements” “The Iraqi experience did not weaken, but strengthened our relations. For friends can disagree from time to time,” Bush acknowledged. He invited Putin to visit the United States in September and also announced that “he was working with members of Congress on repealing the Jackson-Vanik amendment” already, something which brought a broad smile to the face of the Russian President” (Izvestia).

Uncompromising Tone: “Regardless of the fact that the usual diplomatic politeness was observed during the meeting of Putin and Bush in St. Petersburg, our President did not change his position in relation to Iran. ‘Russia is continuing its cooperation with this country, since it does not go beyond the framework of the peaceful use of atomic energy,’ a well-informed official of the Ministry of Atomic Energy announced” (Vremya MN).

And so on. Serious analysis, of course, is still ahead of us, but it is already clear today that the foreign policy sphere of the Kremlin’s activity would be interpreted by the Russian Press from all possible positions rather than be subjected to criticism. A critical tone appears, as you could expect, half a year before parliamentary elections, when discussion turns to strictly Russian affairs, to economic and social problems, to the direction of the political development of the country, to dangers for civil freedoms, etc, etc.

The Presidential address, which the Press a long time before its occurrence was calling an event that was a formality, purely ritualistic, and simply had little significance, beyond all expectations provoked a quite tempestuous flow of commentaries of all possible kinds, still not drying up to this day.

It must be said that in these the theme of a nation that is a power, inextricably connected to St. Petersburg and its history, having been resurrected with such a challenge by Putin at the anniversary celebrations, sounds completely differently to the way it sounds in the publications dedicated to the echoing ceremonies.

In part, observer of Novaya Gazeta Andrei Piontkovsky’s irritation was aroused by the section of the presidential address with the greatest pathos, which the author presents in entirety: “Throughout the whole of our history, Russia and its citizens have been carrying out and are carrying out a genuinely historic exploit. The preservation of a nation lying across a vast territory, the maintenance of a unique commonwealth of peoples while the country holds strong positions within the world – this is not just an enormous task. This also signifies enormous sacrifices, deprivations for our people. Such, precisely, is the thousand-year long historical path of Russia. Such is the means for its regeneration as a strong nation. And we do not have the right to forget this.”

If this philosophy is followed, Piontkovsky writes, all Russian history turns out to be trapped in a sort of vicious circle: “the people carries out exploits, makes enormous sacrifices and deprivations for the sake of preserving a territory, the maintaining of which calls for new sacrifices, exploits, and deprivations.”

Contemporary “professional nation-power-patriots”, in Piontkovsky’s view, unexpectedly received from the Head of State something like an official manifesto. In the address they heard “the destiny-bearing voice of a nation-power’s destiny, a kind of secret sign from the mysterious Putin-Stirlitz to his supporters”, who are ready to walk behind him towards “the rebirth of an imperial fatherland of world eminence”.

Thus, the author remarks bitingly, “the chosen people” is given a strictly prescribed role – to carry out exploits, to make sacrifices, and to suffer deprivations, while the patriotic elite is prepared to lead the great power and “the vast territory”.

Such an attitude towards one’s own people “as towards divine cattle, as towards a colonial people, as towards the raw material for the elite’s world-power exercises”, reminds Andrei Piontkovsky, led “both to the catastrophe of 1917 and to the catastrophe of 1991”. It could lead to a third, final catastrophe for the country as well, “if the elite, well-fed and irresponsible as never before, does not renounce its many centuries old pattern directed towards sacrifices and deprivations of the people called to carry out exploits,” the observer of Novaya Gazeta warns.

One of the “professional supporters of the nation-power” mentioned by Piontkovsky, Alexander Dugin, an adherent to the idea of a Eurasian union, set out his point of view for the future of the Russian Federation in detail in the newspaper Izvestia. It has fallen to us to become the first “democratic empire” in the world.

Russia has always been simply an empire: “It united different tribes and peoples, which just did not turn into a homogeneous civilian population. This is the principle of all empires – a united strategic territory, integration at the top and ethnic-cultural variety below”.

However, very recently empires have virtually been doomed – “disintegrating, they form nation-states”, in which their ethnic groups are re-milled into uniform civilians. In this process, governments “sharply or gradually become bourgeois”, transferring the stress “from the principle of the state to the society. But then follows a new stage of unification, accompanied by “total dissolving of the state in the civil society”.

Roughly this kind of fate, writes Dugin, was prepared for Russia as well: “to turn into a nation-state, to lose its ethnic uniqueness, to develop rationality and the economy, and then what is left of it will be integrated into the boundary-less society of “a united world”.

For our country though, in the author’s opinion, as always, a special path of its own has been laid down.

Russia, Alexander Dugin claims, due to its unique historical experience is perfectly able to teach the civilized European West, which “puffing and panting” was just able to get to the point necessary for it and to construct the European Union, the ABC’s of contemporary state-building: “We can, however, leaving out intermediary stages, make an unexpected leap, and this in the direction in which no roads have yet been laid.”

Indeed, is it worth expending efforts and time on moving forward according to prescribed logic towards a goal unattractive for any genuine Russian person? There is an alternative, you see – a Eurasian union, the key to which is in a “democratic empire” – just as democratic as the European Union, but far more easily achievable, in the author’s point of view.

The number of appearances of this kind in the Press recently has increased markedly. Possibly, some passages of the presidential address were taken by Alexander Dugin and those of the same mind directly as a kind of “message”, as evidence that their ideas find support at the very top.

In the meanwhile, the head of the Effective Policy Foundation, Gleb Pavlovsky, also considers a key aspect of the presidential address the place in which the preservation of Russia is talked about: “Such a country as Russia can live and develop within its existing borders only if it is a strong nation-power. In all periods of weakening, the threat of disintegration always and irresistibly arose before Russia”. Further on follows the already mentioned passage about the “preservation of the state”, and also the “maintaining of the unique commonwealth of peoples, while the country holds strong positions in the world”, and the reference to the enormous task and enormous sacrifices that are necessary for this.

“This part,” writes Pavlovsky in the weekly Konservator, “caused fury among many. All this was while it is a modest reminder about an unarguable priority – not a reason for pathos at all.”

In Pavlovsky’s view, the topic under discussion is Russia’s motives for not taking part in the US action against Iraq – or more precisely, “the first attempt to discuss these motives”.

Pavlovsky agrees with the well-known remark that “Russians are not ambivalent about the world”. Nevertheless, the world for Russians is enclosed strictly within the borders of Russia, in his opinion, “with the nostalgic lumps upon it of Kazakhstan, Belarus, and Ukraine”.

As far as the “lack of humanitarian feeling of Russians for the fate of Iraq” remarked on by the West is concerned, it, according to Pavlovsky, is explained easily: “We have only one global project – Russia itself. We are building Russia here, our world. This world is comparable in complexity of civilization with the world America is building for itself.” And only he, Pavlovsky continues, who does not understand “to what degree Russia in the realities of its size, dimensions, difficulties, threats, and neighbors is of a measure with the world, will worry about Iraq, the UN, or clamor to America’s help, not understanding what Russia is concerned about at all.”

Actually, why should one get upset because America is pretending to the role of “leader of the world”: “Do we want something other than hegemony, only among us at home? And what has the US done in Iraq for the sake of self-preservation that we – for our own sake – have not done in Chechnya?”

Hence also the relatively easy rebuilding of relations with the United States after the spat over Iraq. In Gleb Pavlovsky’s view, we simply do have something to occupy ourselves with and that is besides world problems: “Russia itself is a whole world, not understandable with common sense and disordered.”

As concerns the Americans, they understand well that “war is infectious”, and for this reason they are trying to “cut it off at the distant approaches” – in order not to sort things out with the opponent later “in their own kitchen”.

Incontestably, Gleb Pavlovsky remarks, this kind of point of view has a right to existence: “It is a correct, but completely non-Russian approach to war.” In our country in the last 200 years not one war – “apart from resistance to an invasion – that is a strike let through upon our own lands in the interior, let through by diplomacy” – has received the support of the people. In Russia “society stubbornly holds to the old tradition – to wait for a world war, I order to turn it into a Patriotic War.”

On the other hand, the hardships of our own life make such a position fully understandable, the head of the Effective Policy Foundation thinks: Russia has remained a “state to whom semi-recognition is given through clenched teeth” since 1991, in the parliament of which to this day a third of the deputies belong to a party, by definition not having recognized the Russian state as being legitimate. “While the leader of this party, proposing to sweep away the rotten constitution and to resurrect the country of childhood dreams, continually comes second at the elections for the head of state.” For this reason the thesis about a European path of development for Russia, forced “to maintain those frightening 18 million square kilometers of inconveniences, the majority of which in Asia”, is met among us with such skepticism. As the author remarked, “Even to construct the utopia of communism in the 20th Century was more believable than in the 21st to reconstruct on 18 million square kilometers a utopia of a half-orthodox Holland.”

And Putin named the only reason for “geographical costs” of this kind, Pavlovsky stresses: “there is no other way for Russians to remain a civilization apart from, in the final analysis – to preserve freedom and to obtain peace, management of property, and a legally regulated way of life.”

It should be said that the particular nature of the address to the Federal Assembly, as also of many other speeches and addresses of Vladimir Putin consists in the fact that practically everyone finds something in them corresponding to their own views.

This nature of the Putin style was noted by observer of the magazine Novoye Vremya Lyubov Tsukanova.

In her opinion, the presidential message was composed according to the only adequate genre for the policy of the current President of the conspiratorial letter. For the task of every representative of the authorities, no matter how they were deluded by the simplicity of the exposition, is to ” analyze the text and to see the threats for themselves emerging from between the lines”.

Not naming anyone directly, the author emphasizes, the President “gave out cards for “incomplete conformity to requirements” to all: the government, the oligarchs, bureaucrats, liberals and communists.

It could be that it is precisely for this reason that the presidential address caused such, quite lasting, resonance – the reaction shows itself according to the extent to which the “secret characters hidden between the lines” (the expression of Lyubov Tsukanova) get through to their intended recipient.

In addition to this, the observer of Novoye Vremya remarks, it is obvious that this presidential coded letter obliges those to whom it is directed to very little: they can certainly, “after wracking their brains, calm down, the way it has always been every time after the latest address”. All this obliges the President to exactly as little as well: the question of whether society is achieving from him the long-awaited “stimuli” for further development probably remains open. This is while politics, the author remarks, as before stays a totally closed sphere for that society.

Incidentally, Novoye Vremya calls the presidential passage about the “preservation of the state” “not banal, but elegant”: “the President can be congratulated – a poet has been found among his speechwriters”.

At the same time, as the magazine thinks, it is “the first attempt in the post-Soviet period of a positive, inoffensive, and even heroic justification of our backwardness”.

Actually, as Lyubov Tsukanova writes, it turns out that “the regeneration of a strong country” objectively presupposes a certain cyclical nature of development: “strength – weakness, strength – weakness…It follows that the President is carrying out the historical task at the present stage; he is recreating a strong state.”

As far as attempts to understand which kind of phraseology (ideology, what is more) is closer to Vladimir Putin himself are concerned – they are doomed to failure: by the definition of the author, the trademark style of the current president is “political eclecticism”.

It must be admitted that this style at least on the outside completely justifies itself – evidence for this being the St. Petersburg celebrations having gone by, which received the most widely varying definitions in the Press – from a “vanity fair” to a “parade of the influence” of Vladimir Putin.

And in conclusion – still one more remark on this theme. Is a different, apart from an eclectic, political style possible in a country where the two most highly respected sources a year before the elections present data from sociological polls, not even remotely conforming with one another on a single point? What is referred to is the polls conducted by the Russian Centre for Public Opinion and Market Research and the Public Opinion Foundation.

So, the May ratings of the political parties (published by the newspaper Vedomosti): –

Data of the Russian Centre for Public Opinion and Market Research: Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF) – 28%, United Russia – 21%, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) – 10%, Yabloko – 8%, Union of Right Forces (URF) – 3%.

Data of the Public Opinion Foundation: United Russia – 21%, CPRF – 19%, LDPR – 7%, Yabloko -5%, URF -3%.

It begs the question: are they really talking about one and the same country? Then, probably, we can be proud of it without the help of the people who do it for a living.

In truth – Russia is not to be measured by the common yardstick…

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