Recently, I did a presentation about Putin’s Russia. It was split in two parts: the first one was about the rise of Vladimir Putin, the second was about his regime. It starts with hope, it ends in tyranny. That’s how it always starts. We always wake up too late.
My main thesis was nothing extraordinary: he’s an autocratic undermining democratic values and we must recognize him for what he is, not be swayed by his increasingly popular propaganda. I made references to the monsters and heroes of the past. The monsters we willingly voted into office. The heroes who were murdered telling us the truth about who they really were.
Examples were made. How do we recognize the autocrat? When they try to undermine the free press is a good example. Soon enough they’ll start to suppress it. In the free World they call the free press ‘fake news’ and sometimes, they dare call the free press dangerous. But the government, as far as we know, doesn’t hunt them down. And if they are hunted down, they better hope no other journalist finds out.
In Putin’s Russia, journalists are hunted down and if other proves it, Putin’s regime will say that it was the ‘Anti-Russian activists’ who sacrificed this journalist to stoke anti-Russian sentiment. There is the continues fear of disorder, memories a young spy who saw the world turn against his empire.
Watch out for talks about ‘extremism.’ The humanization of groups of people is easy to spot. The Jews have always been the target, even now. But Muslims are the more popular target now. The debate about adaptation to the Western culture or the reformation are ones we should have, but the autocrat doesn’t want an honest debate. They tell us they should adapt or get the fuck out. Soon enough they will tell us that the culture simply does not fit here and that something drastic, has to be done about it.
I told people about my own journalistic ambitions, about the moving and bittersweet sacrifice of Anna Povlitkovskaya. She knew that most of her reports would be not read by the necessary majority of the Russian people. Most minds will continually be hooked on state propaganda. You can’t blame them. They grew up in a world full of loud noises and pretty lights. It takes a keen eye and per haps life experience beyond one’s borders, to see past the facade. The face is beautifully simple. All complications nullified. The enemy is clear. The mission is to protect our culture from liberal invasion. Who doesn’t want to live in a world like that? It’s comfortable, the truth ruins everything. Nobody wants to wake up and realize everything they’ve believed in is a lie. Nobody wants to wake up and realize their God was the devil all along.
I live in an imperfect, yet relatively free world. I can doubt our leaders openly. I can cast dispersions about their character, the nature of their patriotism. If I was an infamous rapper, I can go on stage and rhyme about how the government is an evil entity, bend on destroying the foundations of our culture. A large mass will follow me and think my delusions to be wisdom. This is the free world I live in. In the free world we can share our delusions without being arrested. In Putin’s Russia, a rapper like MC Noize will be hounded by the government, suffer threats, have his career derailed by government agencies. It doesn’t matter if what he says is true or not, he’s talking about the great leader. He’s talking about the idol they indoctrinate to their kids. The kids who admire Putin, like modern-day Hitler Jugend.
In Putin’s Russia, reality is a subjective thing. The pretty lights are there to confuse the people. Some are turned mad. They wander the streets seeking for gay Ukrainians with Obama T-Shirts who are seeking to destroy Russia from within. If they hear about this reporter with a big mouth about their glorious leader, they will shit on his car. Men dress like dead patriots and sing songs about the Soviet Union. Less than Twenty-years ago, Stalin was perceived as the mass-murdering lunatic he was, no suddenly, he’s become misunderstood. In Russia, if you want to tell the truth, you better be prepared to die for it.
Soon enough some guy in the classroom held up his hand. He had a notebook with him- so he could ”watch my lies”, he told me. He told me that my facts were biased, concocted by the West. He told me we couldn’t trust Human Rights watch or Amnesty International. He was confused why I would support NATO. This is a person that lives in a free world and he is basking himself in information which tells him that the Free World isn’t free at all. The democratic institution is doubted upon. Perhaps we need a bold new leader. Perhaps we need a guy like Putin.
There are heroes like Anna Politkovskaya, heard across the world, years after her untimely death. Her death on 7th October 2006 was a birthday present to his glorious leader. On this day I honor her, while her culprit still roams free. Perhaps he’s even running the country she gave her life for.
Political theatrics aside: Putin is an old monster dressed in modern clothing. He’s nothing special, old tricks but written in computer code. A reboot, a remake. The new playing field of information-warfare in a globalized world, where its adherents are addicted to tiny screens and get a jolt of dopamine whenever someone liked their comment. We are in it together but we pretend we are all alone. We have all the means of connecting with each other, yet we decide to isolate ourselves.
All Putin is a series of managed photo-shoots. A good enough photo-shoot can make you the leader of your own religion. Some are highly susceptible to the cult of personality, the nationalistic parasite. Perhaps they’ve always been waiting for that one person that tells them who to hate and who to kill. Perhaps there’s a light at the end of the tunnel for that true believer. Maybe if you give him everything, you just might reach it.
At the end of the presentation, I asked my audience: ”how do we destroy the monsters we have cultivated for so long?”
And I didn’t really have the answer. So I either made one up or stole it from someone smarter than me: ”try to remember the heroes and the monsters. Try to remember the ones who reminded us about the heroes and the monsters. Live the story of the hero.”
I knew one of them wouldn’t listen. To be honest this drives me crazy: the story seems so obvious to me. Why can’t he see it? Why can’t he see the difference between the Free world and Putin’s Russia?
I don’t have an answer to that now. Several come to mind but I want that answer that will convince him. I don’t think I can think of one. And this worries me.