Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Two Putins, Imaginary and Real, Increasingly Diverge, Shaburov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 13 – Many have asked “who is Mr. Putin?” but the answer is complicated by the fact that there are at least two Putins, the one many people imagine him to be and the one he really is, and that the longer he remains in power, the greater the gap between the two is becoming, according to Aleksey Shaburov.

            The chief editor of the PolitSovet portal argues that the Kremlin leader “as a media face hardly corresponds with the real human being named Vladimir Putin,” something that is hardly a secret but that has serious consequences for assessing how Russians and others view him (politsovet.ru/53962-voobrazhaemyy-putin.html).

            Putin has been in office so long that “in the minds of Russians their own ‘imagined Putin’ has appeared, a certain higher being who is always right.  This ‘imagined Putin’ can be anything people like. And the main thing,” Shaburov suggests, is that the ability of Russians to read into him what they want means that “he can be almost immortal.”

            A few days ago, the portal editor says, he accidently acquired a recent copy of a newspaper put out by the National-Liberation Movement of Russia, the NOD which advances he theory that Russia has been “occupied” by America and that Putin must be given “extraordinary powers” to reverse this situation.

            There is no reason to read such a paper, Shaburov continues, or to be surprised that a picture of Vladimir Putin is featured on its cover: NOD “always was for Putin” given that its leaders believe that he is almost “the unique fighter” against the Americans and their occupation of Russia.

            Nor is it surprising that the paper should put under Putin’s picture a quotation from the Russian president.  But a close reading of that quotation reveals that it contains words that the Kremlin leader never uttered. Instead, they were words from a Regnum commentator about a Putin speech in 2014. (See regnum.ru/news/polit/1860310.html.)

            “Of course,” one can make fun of Russian propaganda which is so much involved with the production of fakes that “it has already begun to put out fake speeches of Putin. But, Shaburov says, “this is a kind of propagandistic record which it will be extremely difficult to exceed.”

            However, he continues, “if one reflects more deeply about this, one understands that we are dealing with a special political-psychological phenomenon, ‘the imagined Putin,’” a phenomenon in which Putin in the imaginations of NOD “not only could but must have said precisely this phrase.”

            That is because for them, “Putin always says what they want and therefore is always right -- as are they.”

            But “’an imagined Putin’ lives not only in the heads of marginal types like the NOD,” Shaburov says. He or it exists in the heads of opposition political parties like Just Russia which during the recent Duma electoral campaign promised to “tell Putin the truth” with the implicit suggestion that he would listen to them.

            “The real President Putin has devoted a great deal of effort in order to give rise to his imagined double. He has for a long time already tried to be … the final arbiter in all arguments and conflicts.” The real Putin can intervene quite successfully as shown in the recent case where his comments led a court to reverse itself.

            “In these conditions,” however, “when Putin has become the supreme bearer of truth, there is an enormous temptation to use him as the main argument in any ideological dispute,” and that is where the imagination of others comes into play.  Each “forms an image of Putin which shares the very same ideology” as those making the argument.

            For NOD, that means that Putin must “hate the West and America and be ready to fight for Russia.”  It is of course fine if people can find “a precise citation which confirms this. But if there isn’t one, then any will do because [such people] know for sure that Putin thinks just the way they do.”

            And if such people are confronted with an actual Putin remark that appears to contradict what they believe to be true, that is no problem, Shaburov says. They simply ascribe to him incredible cleverness and saying one thing in order to conceal “what in fact we know that he has in mind” because it is exactly what “we do.”

            “By the way,” the editor argues, the Putin people imagine “is not always a hurrah patriot. Sometimes he is even a bit of a liberal.” Thus, in the current controversy over the Yeltsin Center in Yekaterinburg, some have suggested that Putin can’t really be against the center because his administration is a member of its advisory council.

            “The longer the real Putin is in power, the more imagined he will be in the minds of Russians,” Shaburov concludes. One might even write “a fantasy novel in which the real Putin would no longer exist but his imagined image would continue to rule Russia.”  Or perhaps such a novel is not as fantastic as all that.

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