Friday, February 8, 2019

Continuing Repression of Jehovah’s Witnesses Raises Questions about Putin’s System, Sedov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 7 – Given Vladimir Putin’s statement in December that there was no reason to repress the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a statement that gave many people hope, the continuing repression of the followers of that denomination raises broader questions than just about religious rights. It opens questions about the Putin regime itself, Yegor Sedov says. 

            Ever more Russians, including some officials, are outraged by what Russian officials are doing to members of a religious community that scrupulously obeys the law and does not because of its basic principles present any threat to the country. The Kasparov portal offers a remarkable collection of such outrage (

            The Moscow commentator takes the next step and considers not just how the Putin regime is violating basic human rights in this case (as it does in so many others) but what these acts of violation say about the nature of the regime itself, given that its leader has said such actions shouldn’t happen (
                The overarching explanation, of course, Sedov argues, is that “the only means of existence for authoritarian governments” is the need to posit conspiracies that only it can respond to adequately. But that raises the question in each case: why this target rather than some other, especially if the target chosen seems so implausible or even rejected by the leader.

            That suggests that perhaps officials at the lower levels don’t care about the president says: they have their own goals. In that case, there is no “power vertical” however much Putin’s propagandists celebrate it. Or it may be that Moscow doesn’t care about domestic affairs but only wants to send messages to Europe and the West.

            That seems to have been the case with the persecution of LGBTs, Sedov says, where the Kremlin was positioning itself as the defender of “traditional” family values and thus an ally of one part of the political spectrum in the West. And it could be that the attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses reflect some similar project, especially as the latest victim is a Danish citizen.

            However, doing either is not so simple given that “people all the same are not fools.” They can see through such propagandistic methods, and they are certainly more likely to focus on the words of the leader – “there’s no basis for attacking the Jehovah’s Witnesses” – than on any actions by his minions.

            Instead, what appears to be happening in a replay of Stalin’s Doctor’s Plot of early 1953 without the anti-Semitism, a totally absurd conspiracy in both cases that someone threatened the ruler and thus could be used to inspire terror in the population. The parallels of the attacks on Jehovah’s Witnesses now and on “murderers in white coats” then are too close for comfort.

            Both are based on having propaganda create an enemy out of whole cloth, thus demonstrating the power of the state to do anything and the inability to challenge its actions on the basis of facts.  To the extent that the regime can do that, it can plunge the country into the abyss.

            Stalin’s plan to do so was stopped by his death at which point his comrades in arms immediately reversed the doctor’s plot nonsense.  One wonders, Sedov implies, whether Putin’s plan with the Jehovah’s Witnesses will suffer a similar fate or will despite his denials plunge Russia into something equally horrific.

            Of course, Sedov concludes, there is another possible explanation. One should never neglect the role of stupidity. But then the question becomes: whose stupidity? Is Putin part of this or is he incapable of doing anything to enforce his will in this case?  On the answers to these questions depend both the fate of the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Russia and the fate of Russia itself.

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