Brian Whitmore often says on the Power Vertical podcast that approval ratings in 60 percent range just aren’t good enough for a politician like Vladimir Putin. Given the lack of political alternatives and the dominance of the state’s narrative on television, Putin needs approval ratings in 70 or 80 percent range to have a comfortable political mandate. Thanks to the Sochi Olympics and taking Crimea, Putin is back up to 80 percent according to a recent Levada poll. Putin hasn’t garnered this level of approval since March 2008 when his rating peaked at 85 percent. Putin isn’t the only one basking in the Olympic-annexation surge. Sixty percent of Russians also think the country is going in the right direction, a high, once again, not seen since March 2008. Even the hapless Dmitry Medvedev and his government are riding Putin’s coattails. Medvedev enjoys 62 percent and the government 58 percent approval rating. In January, Medvedev was at an all time low of 48 percent while approval for the government hasn’t been this high since March 2008 when Putin became prime minister.
How to explain this jump in Putin rating? Denis Volkov of the Leveda Center told Slon the following:
“Eighty percent is not the highest result for Putin. During the Georgian War in 2008 his approval rating was 88 percent. But the mechanism driving the numbers is the same. The rise occurred thus: the Olympics added a few percentage points and the rating grew a few more because of the possibility of war and the mobilization of patriotic sentiment. And the joining of Crimea to Russia gave an additional 8-10 percent.”
When 80 percent of the population approves of the president, you have to be determined to express an opposing opinion. I’m not talking now about the internet where there is a sufficient broad range of views which is contrary to what’s on television.”
No, he’s talking about television where there’s only one opinion.
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By Sean — 5 years ago
The Kremlin is ratcheting up its crackdown on opposition and this inevitably conjures up some of the darkest moments in Russia’s. Indeed, the seemingly fabricated case against Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, his aide Konstantin Lebedev, and abduction of Leonid Razvozzhayev in Kiev, the budding case against Alexei Navalny, the sustained harassment and media campaign against the opposition, the laws on protests, NGOs, and treason, Pussy Riot, and the expulsion of USAid suggest repression is on the rise. But what does this repression mean and what can Russia’s past tell us about it? I had the opportunity to talk about this and more with Brian Whitmore and Mark Galeotti on the Power Vertical Podcast.
You can hear the show below:Post Views: 259
By Sean — 6 years ago
The trial and conviction of Pussy Riot has sparked a number of historical analogies. Never wanting for hyperbole, the Washington Post, among others in the West and Russia, argued that the trial echoed “Stalinism” (an analogy nicely rebutted by Mark Adomanis). The Pussy Riot case has also been likened to the 1964 trial of the Soviet poet Joseph Brodsky, not to mention harking back to the trials of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel in 1965. But historical analogies did not end with the Soviet period. Another common refrain was that the accusations and trial of Pussy Riot reflected medieval Russia. This comparison wasn’t hard given that Artem Ranchenkov, one of the case investigators, cited Orthodox canonical rules of proper church dress from the 4th century Council of Laodicea and the 7th century Quinisext Council. Nor was it difficult to call the affair “medieval” since the trial proceedings were often more like an ecclesiastical than a civilian court. The coup de grace for which was when Yelena Pavlova, a lawyer representing nine of Pussy Riot’s “victims,” called feminism a “mortal sin.”
Another common historical analogy making the rounds were excerpts from Article 231 of the Imperial Russian Criminal Code of 1845, which stated that “improper loud cries, laughter, or any other noise or unseemly conduct that causes temptation, averts attention of worshipers from their duty to God” carried a fine of 50 kopeks to a ruble or detention from three to seven days. If the disturbance occurred during church service, the sentence was prison for a period of three weeks to three months. The irony here was that under the “well-ordered police state” of Nicholas I, Pussy Riot’s sentence would have been far lighter. Yet, others listed other possible laws applicable to Pussy Riot from the 1845 code. One blog post listed 24 satutes, Articles 182-205, concerning blasphemy, sacrilege, and other violations of faith. The sentences varied from corporal punishment, forced labor in factories and mines, jail time and exile to Siberia. The only problem is that blasphemy and sacrilege are not in the Russian Criminal Code of 2012. That is unless it’s disguised as “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.”
But the historical semblances didn’t stop with references to bygone eras or now defunct imperial codes. Some of the more interesting ones were those that placed Pussy Riot within a broader historical tradition of Russian minstrelsy, where hooliganism, art, and protest collided into a staple of Russian medieval culture.
Indeed, there were two references to Russian medieval minstrels, or skomorokhi, in the trial. When one of the prosecutors asked Stalnisalv Samutsevich, the father of Pussy Rioter Yekaterina, if he believed “it was acceptable to say ‘Holy shit’ in a church”, he compared his daughter’s act to that of the skomorokhi of the sixteenth century. Likewise, in her statement to the court, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said that Pussy Riot were in the tradition of the skomorokhi. “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools. We didn’t mean any harm.”
Skomorokhi were minstrel entertainers in Kievan and Muscovite Russia that performed for public and Tsar alike. They were wildly popular as they performed songs and folktales or acts of trained bears to the delight of onlookers. Despite their entertainment value, like Pussy Riot, they combined entertainment and mockery with unruliness. Unlike the balaclava-clad feminists, however, the lawlessness of the skomorokhi mostly involved theft and pillage. One famous story told of a band of minstrels distracting the peasants of Likovo with their performance, while their comrades were busy rounding up the villagers’ sheep. Other incidents told of skomorokhi ransacking barns, raiding animal pens, and making off with whatever they could grab. According to Russell Zguta, a historian of the minstrels, “The performing minstrels would frequently allude in song and proverb to the mischief their unseen comrades were engaged in, but no one was wiser until it was too late.”
Sometimes minstrel “hooliganism” was sanctioned, especially by Ivan IV, who was known to use them to mock and heap scorn upon his enemies. These acts were sometimes sacrilegious. One story told of Ivan having Archbishop Pimen of Novgorod placed on a white mare which paraded him around Moscow accompanied by a band of minstrels. In fact, Ivan Grozny was no mere observer. Sometimes he was a participant in the revelry. In the later part of his reign, he was known to put on a mask himself and dance and frolic with the skomorokhi.
As Ivan’s unleashing of the skomorokhi on the Archbishop suggests, the minstrels had few friends in the Orthodox Church. Church officials viewed the skomorokhi as disseminators of paganism, purveyors of “shameful performances” on street corners and marketplaces, and disruptors of church rituals. Weddings garnered many priests’ ire as the minstrels’ performance often overshadowed the religious sanctity of the nuptials. Sometimes confrontations between priests and skomorokhi descended in fisticuffs. In his biography, Ivan Neronov, a leader of the Orthodox Zealots of Piety, told of an incident in the mid-1640s where he attacked a group of minstrels, seized their instruments and smashed them. Angered, the skomorokhi severely beat clergyman in return. But the zealot was undaunted. As Zhuta reports:
Henceforth [Neronov] and some of his students patrolled the streets of the town during the major festival periods such as Koliada in order to discourage the skomorokhi from performing. But, says the author, students “received not a few wounds at the hands of the skomorokhi, those servants of the devil, and they bore these bodily wounds with joy as they returned to their homes, bloodied but alive.”
Avvakum too had confrontations with skomorokhi. When a band of minstrels with dancing bears arrived to his village of Lopatishch in 1648, he quickly set to drive them away. “I, a sinner, being zealous in the service of Christ,” he wrote, “drove them out and destroyed their masks and drums, one against many in the open field, and I took two great bears from them—one I killed but he later revived, the other I set free in the open field.”
Neronov’s patrols and Avvakum’s clash with the minstrels provide a whole new historical context for the recent call by Ivan Otrakovsky, head of Orthodox Christian movement Holy Rus, for Orthodox activists to form patrol squads to protect worshipers from the “enemies of faith.” “The time has come to remind all apostates and theomachists that it is our land and we forbid blasphemous, offensive actions and statements against the Orthodox religion and our people,” Otrakovsky wrote in his appeal to the faithful. A modern day Zealot of Piety, I’d say.
Though skomorokhi enjoyed the patronage of Tsars Ivan IV, Fedor I, and Mikhail Romanov, the latter’s son, Alexei, took stringent action against minstrelsy. Urged by his confessor and leader of the Zealots of Piety, Stefan Vonifatev, and pushed to reestablish public order in the wake mob violence in Moscow and revolts in Ustiug, Solvychegodsk, Yaroslavl, Tomsk, Novgorod and Pskov, Alexei issued “On the Righting of Morals and the Abolition of Superstition” in December 1648 against the skomorokhi. Aleksei was alarmed by the “drunkenness and devilish amusements” of the skomorokhi, which turned the people away the Orthodox faith and God and to the worship of the minstrels. The 1648 edict unleashed a wave of repression against minstrels, including the confiscation and destruction of their instruments, and penalties such as knouting and exile for performing skomorokhi entertainments, as well as prohibitions on a whole host of pagan rites, festivity, games, and practices. Even priests questioned confessors about their connection to the skomorokhi. They asked penitents: “Did you seek out the games of the skomorokhi? Did you seek out Satanic games, look upon these, or yourself take part in them?” If they answered yes, the penitent was required to recite, “I have sinned, I delighted in hearing the sound of gusli and the organon, of horns, and all manner of skomoroshestvo, of Satanic sayings, and for this I also paid them [that is, the minstrels].”
The skomorokhi hobbled along after 1648, but thanks to Alexei’s crackdown, they never regained their popularity, notoriety, or cultural significance. While the practices of the skomorokhi certainly continued in different forms, according to Zhuta, historical references to them died out after 1768.
But as the Pussy Riot affair shows, the memory of the skomorokhi lives on in Tolokonnikova’s “We are jesters, skomorokhi, maybe even, holy fools.” And perhaps thanks to her, Maria Alyokhina, and Yekaterina Samutsevitch’s “punk prayer” they will live again, in all their former anarchic glory.
All references come from:
Russell Zguta, Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1978.Post Views: 586
By Sean — 7 years ago
I’ve long argued that if Westerners are looking for liberals in Russia, all they need to do is turn to Vladimir Putin and the rest of the cabal that runs the country. True, caveats are in order. They are not the “liberal communist” variety that Slavoj Zizek speaks of. For the most part, the liberals in the Kremlin do not preach the sanctity of the free market while at the same time championing the “liberal values” that have become the market’s ideological correlative: democracy, tolerance, freedom etc., etc. Putin is far more of an old school liberal, though rhetorically he and his people speak the language of their American and European counterparts. Nor are Putin et al. classical laissez-faire liberals who eschew an economic role for the state. In their social-economic cosmology the state plays a fundamental role as initiator, facilitator, and stabilizer of economic development. They are situated on the conservative end of a particularly Russian liberal tradition that accepts capitalism as a fundamental truth, but only as far as it can bolster the Russian state’s transformation into the ever elusive Rechtstaat, or legal state. The Putinists do not pray to Locke or Smith but to the Russian pantheon of great reformers Speransky, Witte, and, I think most importantly, Stolypin.
Nothing confirms Putin being in the tradition of the latter more than his recent chairmanship of the committee tasked with erecting a monument to Stolypin in time for his 150th birthday in 2012. The monument will stand in front of the White House.
Here’s a snippet of Putin’s opening remarks on the Tsarist Prime Minister:
Pyotr Stolypin served his country for a long time and was its prime minister at a very difficult, truly dramatic period in Russia’s history, a time of political and social turmoil. The consequences of the Russian-Japanese war, revolutionary upheavals and economic decline presented a real danger to Russia’s territorial integrity and even sovereignty. Society was searching for answers to questions of fundamental importance to Russia’s development, including the perennial question of land ownership. The prime minister needed not only a will of iron but also personal courage and readiness to assume responsibility for the country at that time. Pyotr Stolypin had all of these qualities in full measure.
A true patriot and a wise politician, he saw that both all kinds of radical sentiment and procrastination, a refusal to launch the necessary reform were dangerous to the country, and that only a strong and effective government relying on business and the civil initiative of millions could ensure progressive development and guarantee tranquillity and stability in a large multinational country and the inviolability of its borders.
Furthermore, he thought that the state and society should not be divided from each other, that the state in the form of government and society in the form of public institutes should be united by a common responsibility for the country. When it served the interests of the state, he always assumed an uncompromising and tough stance and was never afraid of making decisions that were considered unpopular.
Pyotr Stolypin formulated the ideology of reform and also launched large-scale change in nearly all spheres of life in Russia. He believed that the main goal was to remove all obstacles and limitations to the development of productive forces. He thought it was necessary to release the nation’s creative energy and direct it towards creation. He achieved many of the goals he had formulated. He created foundations for social policy in Russia, reformed state institutions and government agencies and ensured the impressive growth of industries and an industrial breakthrough. I’d like to remind you that, at the time, Russia’s economy was growing at the highest pace in the world. It also implemented large development projects in Siberia and the Far East. The last, but not the least of his achievements was agrarian reform, which had a staggering potential. He said, yes, it was Stolypin who said it: “Give Russia 20 years of internal and external peace and quiet and it will change beyond recognition.” These words point to his deep belief in Russia and its people.
Putin could have been talking about himself.
I’m not the only one who thinks so. Olga Kryshtanovskaya told Nezavisimaya gazeta: “Of course it’s no accident that Putin sufficiently and consistently connects his stance to Stolypin.”
But it seems that the committee’s opening meeting was a big ceremony wedding the two Prime Ministers. Andrei Kolesnikov argues in Kommersant that committee’s members in and of itself point to Putin’s desire to drape himself in Stolypin’s legacy. In attendance were Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin, government ministers and representatives, provosts, archimandrites, Duma deputies, and also none other than the head of the Filmmakers Union, Nikita Mikhalkov. Was this a meeting for a monument or a shrine? According to Kolesnikov, Putin’s effort to directly connect himself to Stolypin isn’t just plainly evident from the who’s who at the meeting. It’s all too clear if you merely substitute “Vladimir Vladmirovich” for “Petr Arkadevich” in the Prime Minister’s speech, particularly where he talks about Solypin’s will, patriotism, and commitment to preserving the state’s interests while recognizing the need for reform. In an effort to put his money (or I should say other people’s money) where his mouth is, Putin even demanded that committee members give up a month of their salary to fund the Stolypin monument. “Members of the cabinet, and not only members of the cabinet, will have to direct at least a month’s salary to the Stolypin monument,” Putin said. They should think of it more as a personal tribute to Putin himself.
Pavel Pozhogailo, the head of the Regional Social Fund, got the message, and adjusted history accordingly: “[Stolypin] was a key figure who could lead Russia away from catastrope. His principal quality was that he could unite the divided. And he dealt with the task of bringing peace to society! You see, the moment he entered power he took ahold of the bacchanalia of terrorism! This courageous man could rally the healthy forces of society around himself and showed that the government was not a powerless! He returned moral authority to the government!” For him, Putin’s speech was nothing less than “magnificent.”
The only problem is that it’s hard to figure out who Pozhogailo is talking about here: Stolypin or Putin, or some mutant hybrid of the two.
But I think Mikhailkov summed it up the best with “Stolypin lives!”
Yes, in Putin’s Russia, Stolypin lived, Stolypin lives, Stolypin will always live.Post Views: 479