Wednesday, August 23, 2017

If Putin Were Arrested, Russians who Back Him Now would Disown Him Then, Portnikov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 23 – The failure of Russians to see that what is being done to others may soon be done to them and to rise in protest means, Vitaly Portnikov says, that “if tomorrow Putin were to be under arrest at his dacha, it would turn out that 90 percent of those who now back him would disown him.”

            The Ukrainian commentator argues that the Russians and especially those often identified as their cultural leaders thus continue to fall victim to the self-justification for going along if they personally aren’t attacked that Pastor Martin Niemoeller described so classically in Nazi Germany (

            That of course means that no Russian leader, including Putin, can count on unwavering support however much power he appears to have amassed and that no real solidarity can emerge among Russians to oppose the rise of ever more authoritarianism among leaders who simultaneously recognize that reality and fear it.

            Portnikov takes as his point of departure the reactions of Russian intellectuals to the arrest of Serebrennikov. Some support Putin’s decision to detain him; others don’t. But among the latter there are two groups: the small one whose members view it as part of a larger problem, and the far more numerous one consisting of those who don’t connect the dots.

                The latter fail to recognize that Putin’s war against Ukraine and his arrest of independent-minded directors are all of a piece, and they thus hope, as Pastor Niemoeller warned against, that the wave of arrests will somehow not reach them and that they can continue to get money for their activities from the regime. 

            Those who act in this way, the Ukrainian commentator continues, do not reflect “a culture of self-awareness and analysis of their own spirit and life situation.” Indeed, one should not call them representatives of genuine culture at all.

            Thus, “Tatyana Lioznova filmed ’17 Instants of Spring’ about the Soviet apparats but to the end of her life didn’t understand it. Mark Zakharov filmed ‘Kill the Dragon’” but didn’t get it either. And the list goes on and on, an indictment of those who seek to claim the title of independent intellectuals.

            They do not appear to understand what they are about or at least are prepared to “imitate” culture” much as “Putin imitates political activity when his closest friends fill their pockets with billions.”  Ultimately, however, neither imitation will be persuasive because as Pastor Niemoeller implied, there will always be some who will see through it. 

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