Staunton, February 18 – In order to deflect Russian attention from current problems and the Navalny protests, the Kremlin is now doing what it has so often done in the past under Vladimir Putin: it is provoking discussions about controversial figures from the past, Konstantin Eggert says.
This latest episode began with Mikhail Shvydkoy, former culture minister, proposing to put up a statue to Yury Andropov in front of FSB headquarters in the Lubyanka Square because the former KGB and CPSU leader is “a figure capable of uniting society,” the commentator says (dw.com/ru/kommentarij-putin-brosit-dzerzhinskogo-i-andropova-na-borbu-s-navalnym/a-56601439).
Shvydkoy is a full member of the current nomenklatura, but no one expected him as someone with aspirations to be an enlightened intellectual to go so far; and after criticism, he backed away, declaring that he was being “ironic” but that his efforts in that direction were lost in the course of media reporting.
“However that may be,” Eggert continues, “the authorities again decided to offer Russian society the old game known as ‘Let’s return ‘Iron Felix’” or alternatively “Let’s take Lenin out of the mausoleum,’” tactics it has adopted whenever the Kremlin wants to distract attention of society from problems or challenges.
Anger about pandemic restrictions and especially the number of people who have been attracted to Aleksey Navalny on his return to Russia has prompted the powers that be to turn to this tried-and-true public relations scheme. As a result, Muscovites are now to choose for the Lubyanka Square among statues of Dzerzhinsky, Andropov, Aleksandr Nevsky or Ivan III.
Like earlier campaigns about selecting a hero for Russia or names for airports, this one can be expected to dominate state media for some time, with Kremlin propagandists and television show hosts stirring the pot with discussions of all kinds to keep things at the boiling point.
Putin’s press spokesman Dmitry Peskov has announced that Vladimir Putin prefers either of the two Russian princes, something that will give his supporters at home and abroad the opportunity to say that the Kremlin leader has once again shown himself to be “the only European” in Russia and praise him to the skies.
But Putin’s position in this case may not be determinative. Indeed, Eggert argues, there are reasons to think that Dzerzhinsky may still come out on top as “the best variant.” Returning him to the pedestal from which he was removed in August 1991 would symbolize the end of the democratic experiment in Russia.
Moreover, he continues, it would be to declare that “Russia is the officially reformed USSR minus shortages of sausage plus the ability to watch pornography.”
And those who don’t like what the regime is doing can leave because the borders are open. It will even be pointed out by those who back Dzerzhinsky that the Cheka founder showed liberalism and allowed some of the country’s leading intellectuals to move abroad on what is known to history as “the philosophers’ ship.”
Putin’s use of this tactic to deflect attention may not work as well as he hopes, Eggert suggest, because the Kremlin leader faces not just the Navalny supporters but young Russians who don’t want a return to the past or even the partial one the Kremlin is now offering. And that means Russia is heading to what may be a decisive battle between them.
Arrayed against their rising power is a Putin regime living in the past, “in the world of Stalin and Ribbentrop” who “angrily argue with Joseph Pilsudski and Karlis Ulmanis” and otherwise rewrite history in order to protect their own places in the future, a future in which they are “holy and untouchable as the personality of a medieval king.”
It is because of that battle that the Kremlin has made the issue of the statue in the Lubyanka a matter of urgency and is doing so at a time “when from each smartphone Navalny speaks” but when the government, while seeking to control prices, also has found time to seek the return of “shadows of the past.”