Staunton, Sept. 6 – “A dictator must inspire fear,” Igor Eidman says, because if he isn’t feared, people begin to tell anecdotes about him and laugh at what he does. Propaganda can help him maintain formal loyalty, but it can’t create “a real cult of personality” that dictators crave. That is something Putin is discovering as he becomes “a laughingstock” much like Brezhnev.
No schoolboy or anyone else would have challenged Stalin, Hitler, Mao or Castro the way one did Vladimir Putin in correcting the Kremlin leader’s mistakes on history, the Russian sociologist and commentator says. Those over whom these leaders ruled were simply too afraid to shout “the kind has no clothes’” (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=6135190F5A068).
A Russian in Stalin’s times knew that he would be destroyed if he didn’t show the proper love and deference to the leader, Eidman continues. And that understanding led to behavior that over time had the effect of convincing many that they did in fact love the tyrant. Having faked an orgasm so often, they began to take that for the real thing.
With the decline in coercion and hence of fear under Khrushchev, the Soviet people changed. They began to laugh over him. And later, “the more active the powers that be tried to develop Brezhnev’s personality cult, the more the population laughed over him” in what became the golden age of Soviet anecdotes.
That is what now awaits Putin, the commentator argues. His propaganda machine will ensure superficial loyalty, “but other more powerful means are required if there is to be formed a genuine cult of his personality.” Those means must produce “fear and awe,” and that isn’t happening now.
“Putin doesn’t arouse unquestioned worship or superstition fear in the population,” Eidman says. “In the eyes of many young Russians, he is just a bald old illiterate man on the throne.” The perfect target of anecdotes like the ones their parents or grandparents told about Brezhnev.
And the regime’s response, exactly like that in Brezhnev’s time, of doubling down “groveling” expressions of support for the national leader, given than they aren’t backed up by real fear, have the effect of leading the population to turn away from him. The clearest sign of this, Eidman concludes, is the way in which Putin is becoming the Brezhnev of today.