Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Putin is the Nicholas II of Russia Today, Akhmetov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 17 – Vladimir Putin’s efforts to exploit “the energy” of Russian nationalism and Orthodoxy to shore up his regime strike many as clever and effective, but Rashit Akhmetov points out that they recall those of Nicholas II and may have the same result, undermining both the current Kremlin ruler’s position and the territorial integrity of the country.

            That is because, the editor of Kazan’s “Zvezda Povolzhya” says in the paper’s current issue (no. 46 (12-18 December 2013)), the current president just like the last tsar not only is alienating many who had been his most loyal supporters but also is driven by the obscurantism of these two groups toward the kind of reactionary actions that will repel even more.

                Moreover, Akhmetov continues, Putin’s strategy is especially dangerous to his position and that of his country because of the rising tide of popular discontent in the Russian Federation, a trend that makes it entirely possible that the current “Ukrainian fashion” will spread to Moscow and other Russian cities within the year.

            As many commentators on Putin’s policies appear to have forgotten, the editor notes, Nicholas II in the troubled last years of his reign turned ever more to the most reactionary elements of the Russian Orthodox Church and surrounded himself with mystics like Rasputin who gave him horrific and and self-destructive advice.

            Now, Putin is doing much the same thing at both the general and specific levels. His support for giving Orthodoxy Constitutional status does not have the overwhelming support many think, Akhmetov says, and  his anti-gay campaign is not only offending rights groups in Russia and the West but costing him support where he has traditionally had it.

            According to Akhmetov, more than three-quarters of the population is against making Orthodoxy a state ideology: most of the 20 percent plus who are not ethnic Russians, an additional 30 percent who are products of ethnically mixed marriages and thus more tolerant, and 30 percent who remain from Soviet times “convinced” atheists.

            Moreover, as Putin appears to have forgotten, ethnic Russians make up only about a third of the owners of major businesses, the oligarchs on whom he has drawn support in the past.  Neither they nor the three broader demographic groups are likely to welcome an additional role for the often obscurantist leadership of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy.

            And finally, while it is certainly true that Russians have a long tradition of wanting to unite on the basis of “truth and justice,” Akhmetov continues, almost all who care about these things see them as being part of an individual’s internal landscape rather than being something blared from loudspeakers on public squares.
                But it is Putin’s anti-gay crusade which is the most obviously self-destructive and the most comparable to some of the missteps Nicholas II made. Launching this effort in advance of the Olympics shows, Akhmetov says, that once again Russia as Chernomyrdin put it “wanted something better but it turned out like always.”

            The Olympic movement both in antiquity and in modern times has many links to homosexuality.  In classical Greece, Akhmetov says, it was a celebration of male beauty; and its modern reviver, Pierre de Coubertin, was a homosexual. That makes the timing of Putin’s move counterproductive internationally, as even Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has suggested.

            But it is also dangerous from the point of view of Putin’s ability to retain the support of many in the Russian security agencies, Akhmetov argues.  The Cheka to which Putin as a former KGB officer looks back with such nostalgia was “very blue” not only in terms of those it sought to recruit but also in terms of its own personnel.

            In addition, there were many homosexuals in the CPSU Central Committee and its apparatus, and there are many in the State Duma and among the business elites. At least five percent of the population of Moscow is gay, Akhmetov says, and that share is increasing as gays flee from other less-open parts of the country.

            If indeed five percent of the population as a whole is homosexual, that can represent a potentially powerful force that Putin as a result of the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church and of his own incaution has unnecessarily offended, especially at a time when members of that stratum can and do maintain ties with the outside world.

            The current Russian president may believe that he can build support by allying with a nebulous conservative Russian majority against minorities ethnic, religious and sexual. Indeed, if he reads his own controlled media, he will be certain of it. But offending so many specific groups when the majority is unhappy as well is not a strategy that worked all that well for Nicholas II – and, according to the Kazan editor, it won’t work for Putin either.



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