Monday, 12 August 2013

Putin's Fairy Tale

“While welcoming the outrage on gay rights and their suppression in Russia, I just like to remind everybody that this is just part of an ongoing process to suppress all possible centres of opposition to Putin.

“It started with journalism, then the business community, honest politicians and union leaders, feminists (free Pussy Riot!), anti-corruption campaigners, whistle blowers, opposition parties, campaigners for democracy, and anybody else deemed not in the mainstream. Many were murdered, more imprisoned and a vast number terrified into silence.
“So I support the campaign for gay rights in Russia, as I support democracy and human rights campaigners. So should you.”

Putin has finally turned upon the gay communities in Russian and outlawed any literature or broadcasts that support their views or attempts to assert rights. And the uproar in the West has been predictable and sincere, with celebrities like Stephen Fry raising awareness on the issue, Amsterdam city council hanging the rainbow flag of gay pride off every available pole in honour of Putin’s visit to the city and calls to boycott Russian vodka and the Sochi Winter Olympics for 2014.

Very nice, very laudable and every right-minded individual should support human rights wherever they are under attack. But folk, where have you been all these years? The suppression of freedom of expression, debate, to question, protest and the basic right to be “different” in any form has been on-going for years now. It is blatant in today’s Russia. I just offer a few quick examples:

From the media…

Journalism: Mikhail Beketov dies this year after being the subject of a vicious attack in 2008, leaving him with amputations and brain damage. His crime was to raise questions over the conduct of the city council of Khimki and its mayor Vladimir Strelchenko. Strelchenko is able to successfully sue Beketov for slander after the criminal case against the mayor collapses “for lack of evidence.” Following new laws passed by the Duma last year, the mayor would not even have to go to that trouble nowadays. Bringing the reputation of a public official into disrepute is now a criminal offence.

Protest: in 2010 rock star Yuri Shevchuk (Russia’s equivalent of Bono) confronts Putin over dinner about the right to protest. During the exchange (it cannot really be called a debate) Shevchuk asks whether a Dissidents’ Protest, due to go ahead in St. Petersburg will be allowed to go ahead. While saying it is a local matter, Putin hints at liberalisation of freedom of expression. When the demonstration goes ahead, it is supressed with an unusual degree of ferocity with the Guardian reporting 188 arrests being made. The Guardian ( ) tipped its hat to Putin in publishing the entire conversation in English and Russian on the government website but that link has since been taken down. But never fear dear reader, here it is for you again.

And a few personal examples from my own sources…

Vote rigging: Friend of mine votes in the 2011 parliamentary elections. On her way back she is stopped by a young man driving a car, who asks her for directions to the polling station. On the front seat next to him is a stuffed ballot box.

Racism: A family of mixed ethnicity has their son badly beaten in a racist attack and the Armenian mother takes him to the police station to register the crime. The desk officer refuses to take their complaint and threatens them both with arrest unless they leave immediately.

There are many, many more stories that the quickest of trawls through recent Russian history will bring up. Internet freedom is now a thing of the past too. In fact, one state journalist, Vladimir Pozner, claimed in interview that the only place a man can freely express himself is in the privacy of his own toilet. It is worth looking at the interview as a whole because this is not meant to be a criticism of the situation in Russia nowadays, instead it is offered as a world-weary statement of truth. In fact the Pozner interview is a useful summation of the sophistry involved to justify suppression of human rights in today’s Russia. It is the technique of taking truths and half-truths from us in the West and using it to justify the situation in Russia that on one level makes the situation intellectually interesting. For instance, Russian friends looked at me with pity as they asked the question “So you still believe in democracy Martin?” As if I had stated belief in Father Christmas. But it is a digression. The real question is what kind of Russia is Putin building? It has to be asked because while attacking the independence of the courts, parliament and the media (including Internet ) is all in a day’s work for the average one-party state, attacking feminism, gays and ethnic minorities suggests there is more going on.

Friends in St. Petersburg have described Putin the student as not the brightest but methodical, with painstaking attention to detail. I would suggest this is borne out with what he has achieved since then. He has taken Russia from the basket case of the post-communist chaos of the Yeltsin era and bullied it into some kind of shape. This, along with his petty bourgeois taste in nationalism, is the main reasons of his real support in the country. The line is one of clear-eyed, clear-headed realism. Non-conformity is a luxury that Russia cannot afford and in any case is foreign, and thus unwelcome, as are all things foreign are in Russia at the end of the day, whether that is ideas, NGOs or people. Real Russians know their roles in society: mind one’s own business, do not question the state or any of its agents such as police, courts or council officials as they have more information than you and thus know better. Russian men are to work hard, go to the Russian Orthodox Church as their great-grandfathers did, and to be vigorous in their leisure time. Hence the macho pictures of Putin horse riding, fighting, hunting, fishing etc… Women exist to support men and be mothers. A man should not be criticised for having a mistress: look at the dignity that Lyudmila Putina accepted the end of her marriage. Putin is a man’s man, so it is natural for him to take up at the age of 55 with a former gymnast (now MP) 31 years his junior. Personally I think this is the real sin of Pussy Riot was to break the acceptable image of women in the new Russia. Women should dress to please men and not romp and scream, desecrating holy sites in combat boots and knitted balaclavas. Hence Patriarch Kirill’s initial call for the women to have their children taken away and for them to serve seven years in prison. Gay people should not exist at all, and if they do should have the decency to shut up about it.

So what we have here is Putin’s vision of a perfect kingdom. It reminds me of nothing less than the character of Lord Farquaad from the first Shrek movie who, in pursuit of the perfect kingdom, banished all the fairy-tale creatures from it. I believe this is what Putin is attempting to do for Russia; moulding it into his vision of a perfect nation. The only problem is that in doing so he is suppressing human rights, nature, creativity and the potential of more than half the people that make up the Russian Federation.

In the end, while screaming “I will have order, I will have perfection!” Farquaad was swallowed whole by a dragon. Putin too will ultimately fail in his quest to change humanity but at this time his grip on power is so tight it is hard to see from which direction his end will come. One thing is for sure though: humanity has a tendency to be messy when society is overturned. There will be no happy ending to Putin’s fairy-tale.


Anonymous said...

Like Lord Farquaad... 5 ft 5in Boris Yeltsin likes to be seen on a horse to hide his shortcomings. With all that was said about his manly physique, President Obama had to bend down to shake his hand. Perhaps his actions springs from a Napoleonic Complex.

Martin Veart said...

I think you meant Putin and not Yeltsin, but yes, I understand your point.

Napoleon was 5'6".