Thursday, November 22, 2007
The cult of personality, evolving
Yesterday's "Za Putina" (For Putin) rally at Luzhniki Stadium was disturbing to watch.
On one level, it was little different than an American political rally - all banner waving and adulation for the leader. Except the man they were saluting wasn't some new candidate on the rise, but an outgoing president at the end of his constitutionally mandated eight years in office.
What was most remarkable (other than Putin's attacks on the opposition as "jackals" who beg for money at foreign embassies and desperately want to keep Russia weak) was that this was Putin, actually campaigning.
He spurned such rallies during both the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections, arguing he was too busy handling the affairs of the nation for such silliness. It was an effective tactic that was aided in large part by the Kremlin's control over the media, which reported on his every move so fawningly that he didn't need to stoop to debates and campaign speeches.
So - and I keep coming back to this - why is he doing this now? Because he's concerned that United Russia might not cross the 70 per cent barrier in the Duma elections? (The latest poll from VTsIOM has them at 63.8 per cent, with the Communists the only other party to cross, barely, the 7 per cent barrier needed to win seats in parliament.)
Unlikely. This is still about the presidency and creating the impression that the people are wild about Putin (sadly true) and don't want to see him go. Having him as prime minister won't satiate these Putinmaniacs. They want him, need him as the country's uncontested leader.
Putting aside the niceties of the constitution, how can Vladimir Vladimirovich not answer such rabid public demand? My feeling is that the Kremlin is creating a scenario where he'll seem to have no choice but to give the public what they want. I think Putin's time out of the Kremlin will be measured in days, not years.
As Vladimir Vladimirovich himself obliquely told the crowd at Luzhniki: "If there is a victory in December (the Duma elections), then there will be a victory next March (the presidential vote) as well."
If you want to read more about the rally yesterday, check out Andrey Kolesnikov's coverage in Kommersant. It's laugh-out-loud, sigh-in-despair brilliant.
(There. Since I've linked to Kommersant, I can justify swiping the photo above... gotta love leopard print.)