Staunton, February 11 – Rarely have Russian commentators offered such contradictory assessments about what is going on in their country, with some insisting that change is inevitable and soon and others that no change is possible now or even ever, Liliya Shevtsova says. But what is not recognized in this is that both are caught in a web Vladimir Putin has spun.
What looks like confusion or the presence of “mutually exclusive impulses,” the Russian analyst says, in fact is the rise of an intellectual system that Putin very much wants: one in which “the distinction between opposites” has been erased as a result of its “tricks” and in which “we are ready to deceive ourselves” (echo.msk.ru/blog/shevtsova/2788672-echo/).
For some time, Shevtsova continues, “Russia has been exporting its post-modernist ideas to the West;” but polls there show that “the cognitive dissonance of the West about Russia” is coming to an end far more quickly than it is in Russia itself where the Kremlin is “forming its own dialectic,” one in which it often promotes and seeks to destroy the same thing.
Most importantly, she says, “a situation is arising when the system elicits from its citizens a seeking after changes and at the same time blocks them” and in which commentators are playing a special role in “reproducing” autocratic power by “distracting attention from what is most important” and leading people either into unrealizable optimism or despairing apathy.
The fact that even among those who get their information from the Internet, “43 percent suppose that the country is moving ‘in the right direction’ and 64 percent approve President Putin even after the ‘palace’ film” reflects “our inability to explain to society just what this ‘correct path’ is.”
“Intellectual simplifications have consequences,” Shevtsova says; and the obsession with commentators on the issue of cracks in the Kremlin edifice is one of them. That has in fact “become a profession in Russia” and “the most popular diversion now is ‘Putiniana,” a tendency that causes readers to ignore all stories that don’t have Putin in the title.
That works as much for the Kremlin leader as the most impassioned attacks against him, Shevtsova suggests; and so the powers that be are not as displeased by his critics as these same critics assume.