12.08.2008

Russia's Putin Plays Both Santa & God

by Z*

Just when I thought that Russia could no longer produce any interesting news, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin put on a three-hour-long show. Last week, for the seventh time since he came to power, Putin held his annual open conference, where virtually anyone can ask him a question live. Internet and phone questions are a big part of the Q&A session as well.

"A Conversation with Vladimir Putin" was no different from any other public appearances of Putin. In fact, it got monotonous and boring. By now, everyone is well aware that officially there is no economic crisis, and that even if there was one it was all the fault of greedy Americans. And even if there is a recession, everything will be okay soon. And even if you lost your job, the government will take care of you... at some point. Meanwhile, Happy New Year's Eve! Oh, and, by the way, we might have to cut off gas supply to Ukraine, and we still think that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili should be "hung by his one part" (meaning his balls) and maybe not only by that "one part." So that was Putin's conversation with the people in a nutshell.


The question is then why am I writing about this show? Well first of all, why does Putin still keep the tradition he initiated when he was the president of Russia? While Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is hanging out in India, Putin is taking care of the people, just like he did in good old times. As if it was not enough that Medvedev is not taken seriously as a leader of the nation, Putin reinforced this idea by holding the conference.

Also, the title of the show is worth noting: "A conversation with Vladimir Putin." There is no need to specify Putin's credentials. It's Putin, stupid. On one of the last bastions of free media in Russia, the Echo of Moscow radio station, a guest journalist also noted, "Just Vladimir Putin. Jesus Christ. Leo Tolstoi. There is no need to explain who he is."

Another point of interest — the sequencing. First, you have to ask the harshest questions. It is also logical, of course, that the most important questions, all the crisis-induced problems, have to be addressed in the first place. However, it is easier to forget about them and the answers by the end of the third hour when other important issues come into spotlight: "When is it going to snow? Are you romantic? Where are you going to celebrate New Year's Eve? Why are there no morning exercise shows on TV?"

Putin is all powerful and omnipresent, he has answers any question. Kids are asking for a dress. Done. An old woman needs wood for heating. Done. A young man needs money to erect a grave stone to his father. Done. Beloved Santa Putin might be viewed as a generous saviour, who, despite having to deal with a great number of issues, can take care of any small request. However, these requests are alarmingly indicative of the work, or lack of it, of local governance. If Putin's conference achieved anything, it established that Putin is the sole head of the state. And of course, it also informed people of the whereabouts of Putin's tiger.

I do not dare break the tradition of ending on a good note. The last question to Putin was: "What do you love the most?"

The answer, of course: "Russia."

*Z is from a country that made up the Soviet Union, and her writing on cultural and political matters could have a backlash when she returns home from the U.S., so she writes under a pseudonym.

For other recent posts on political developments in Russia, please see:

(The photo of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is from openDemocracy via Flickr, using a Creative Commons license.)









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