Staunton, December 25 – On the eve of Western Christmas, President Vladimir Putin spoke out against what he called the excessive use of the Latin script instead of Cyrillic in Russian cities and towns, a comment that many Russians are likely to view as a call to do away with the use of an alphabet they associate with the West.
“Sometimes you come into one city or another,” Putin told a joint session of the State Council and the Council on Culture and Art yesterday, “and the level of the culture of the local bureaucracy is immediately evident. If on each corner, all the signs of various institutions and advertising are exclusively presented in Latin letters!” (tass.ru/obschestvo/1670170),
Putin followed this by remarking “everything is fine within limits,” words that probably will affect his listeners rather than his latest Jeremiad against the Latin script, something he has attacked before in passing a law that blocks non-Russian nationalities within the Russian Federation from shifting from Cyrillic-based scripts to Latin-based ones.
In today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Alena Solntseva analyzes Putin’s remarks on this which came in the course of his announcement that he had signed a document entitled “The Foundations of State Cultural Policy” which calls for rethinking the role of culture in Russia and its relations with the rest of the world (ej.ru/?a=note&id=26778).
In his remarks, Putin said that far too often people like about culture and cultural institutions not in terms of “the tasks of the development of the country” but rather only in terms of “services, relaxation, and diversions,” something that he said the current document is intended to change.
According to the Kremlin leader, “the culture of Russia is just as important as its natural wealth,” and it is “a significant resource of social-economic development which allows for guaranteeing a leading position of our country in the world.” Thus, it is necessary to create the conditions “for the development of creative industries … and for the development of the national sector of mass culture.”
The document specifies that the country must seek “the rebirth of the traditions of family education” and “the overcoming of divisions between generations within the family,” replacing that with “dialogue between [them].” And it calls for the creation of a special super-bureaucracy to “coordinate” all this.
Putin also said that “no one and no power has the right to dictate to an artist, writer, director or, generally speaking, any individual its will and its ideas about how creatively gifted people must create.” But he said there is a need to remain “true to historical traditions” and be concerned about the morality of those engaged in cultural activity.
Failure to do that, he said, has sometimes meant that creative freedom has opened the way for “pseudo-cultural surrogates.”
As Solntseva points out, Putin’s approach not only is top-down in its authoritarian pretensions but fails to take into account either the enormous diversity of the country or the amount of resources needed to promote culture. Without a recognition of freedom and diversity and without more resources, there won’t be a flourishing culture.
Indeed, she says, bluntly, it is obvious that “in such conditions, culture cannot give any enlightenment.” Some working in the cultural “industry” as Putin understands it may do so “with great enthusiasm,” but they will inevitably fail to understand “the essence” of culture and thus make a positive contribution to it.
Attempts to resolve cultural issues “’from the head’, to again make the state the chief humanist, will not create demands for the renewal of culture among ordinary people.” It won’t promote a demand for culture, “in exactly the same way as over the last 20 years have not appeared independent civic organizations prepared to struggle for their rights at the local level.”
“And the state, if it acts as a regulator should be concerned not with conceptions” as Putin is “but with the mechanisms of access to independent activity at the local level. But precisely this is what no one is involved with and therefore nothing is ensuring independent cultural activity.”
Given that reality, she concludes with a bitter question, what difference do different slogans make? Those may “in a surprising way be changed, but the situation will remain just as it was before.”