Monday, March 16, 2015

Political Scandal of the Week: Putin by Caleb Wright

Today, something fascinating happened. Russian President Vladmir Putin returned after a ten day absence. During the ten days in which the world managed to survive without constant pictures of shirtless hunting and bear riding, many analysts speculated the reasons for his disappearance, ranging from simple health problems to a secret coup to Putin personally participating in special operations in Ukraine.

In reality, none of these were true, and nor was he holed away somewhere with a new girlfriend and child (as some in the European Union insisted). His personal spokesman said he was in perfect health, and that his handshake could still “break a hand.”

Which brings us to the more interesting take-away: the cult of Putin. Russians, stereotypically, want strong leaders and policies. That’s the idea behind most of their recent foreign policy actions regarding Ukraine, and even their domestic policies regarding Russian homogeneity and the imprisonment of the LGBT community. But, Putin has taken it to another level with the pervasive image of him as the ideal strong man (who actually isn’t even that ripped in the first place). To quote CNN analyst Frida Ghitis,

Does Putin ever catch a cold? Does he ever get sick? The Kremlin doesn't want to allow Putin's image of virility and strength to become tarnished by the weaknesses of mere humans. Putin rules in the old-fashioned style of a personality cult. The system requires propaganda and image control. It needs Putin to be larger than life.
In reality, this damages Russia. Having your entire international position as a country rest on one man is ridiculous. The United States (thankfully or unfortunately, depending on who you ask) is not solely represented by President Obama. The only other country with such faith in one single leader is North Korea, where Kim Jong Un’s recent disappearance caused the same grasping at straws among commentators. A strong Russia is not one where a single leader possesses all of the country’s public image.

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