Staunton, June 7 – Vladimir Putin needs a constantly complaining but one that knows what not to criticize – his person and immediate entourage – and how not to act – by taking part in demonstrations or in politics – so that Russia will appear to be a civilized country and popular anger won’t grow into a threat to his regime, according to Liliya Shevtsova.
That sets his regime apart from the one in Soviet times that demanded public unanimity, was viewed in the West as a repressive outlier, and proved incapable of channeling the anger of the population in ways that would prevent its overthrow, and was simultaneously understood in the West to be repressive but ultimately proved unable to contain the anger of its population.
Forming and maintaining the Putin system in this regard, the Moscow commentator says, is not easy. There are always people on both sides who either go too far in the direction of criticizing the regime or too far in the opposite direction of serving the state, something that does not serve the state’s interests (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/1995062-echo/).
The recent announcement that Moscow Art Theater had agreed to cooperate with the magistracy for “the moral education and support of the patriotic spirit” of that agency’s employees is a case in point. On the one hand, Shevtsova says, such slavish behavior, typical in Soviet times, represents “an attack on the reputation of the creative intelligentsia.”
But on the other, she continues, this situation is “ironic” because “open service by the intelligentsia of the authorities in the form of its protective organ [!] in fact undermines the vitality of the system of autocracy” that Putin has put in place by depriving it of a face-saving measure and a means of channeling anger away from itself.
The Russian intelligentsia is quite prepared to respond given its desire to “soften” the system and also shift into “a transcendental dimension” all discussions “instead of searching for ways for normal earthly life.” That too makes it “an anti-modernist resource” for a regime like Putin’s, Shevtsova says.
As a result of these forces on both sides, “the intelligentsia has been able to preserve its ‘duality,’ at one and the same time serving the powers that be without losing its reputation,” criticizing but not too much the authorities without “entering into a conflict” with them and “even maintaining friendship with its representatives.”
Some within the Putin regime don’t understand this combination of interests, Shevtsova continues, but when it is violated as it was in the Kirill Serebrennikov case, “President Putin himself corrected the mistake,” not only by calling those who raided the artist’s office “’fools’” but also by giving an award to Daniil Granin to make his point.
By so doing, she says, “Putin showed how important for the Kremlin and for himself personally is the preservation of the intelligentsia in the role of moral tuning fork to which the authorities can listen to or not.” Indeed, that is the general goal of Putin: to keep the entire society neither for nor against because “that is the ideal milieu” for a system which “wants to remain in the 16th century but also be a participant of the globalization of the 21st.”