Are there rednecks in Russia
"We saw little Putin"
Navalny against Putin, the people against Putin. It is always about Putin. That is the impression of what is happening in Russia if you follow the German media. Why are so many people taking to the streets there at the moment?
Navalny did two extraordinary things: He destroyed Putin's sacred aura. We suddenly saw the little, ordinary Putin. That has never happened before. We have always been afraid to admit that Putin is an ordinary person. Navalny called it "Father Bunker" (by analogy with Father Frost - mps). These are very simple words that have shown everyone that Putin is an old-fashioned person who does not understand today's world and is afraid. And the second thing he did was for Navalny to make a biblical sacrifice. Russia was forcibly Christianized, including the violent story of Golgotha and the Resurrection. Today it is turned around: first "He" rose from the dead, then "He" walked the Golgotha Way. Now we see "Him" on the mountain of Golgotha, we even hear "His" voice. And "He" speaks to us, "He" is ready to die, to sacrifice himself for us. Wow! We see the tiny Putin and Navalny on Golgotha. This is a new situation. Even if people don't understand it, they feel it. Look how Navalny handles Russian dishes. When there's the next court hearing, we'll wait for it like a theatrical premiere. It's literary, it's entertaining, bold, and astute. Nobody has dared to do that before.
Where does Putin's nimbus come from as the invincible, the doer who led Russia to a new greatness after Yeltsin?
The memoirs of some of the political advisors who helped Putin achieve his breakthrough recently appeared. I was working as a journalist at the time, but it was only through these books that I remembered a few things. In the 1990s, an extensive sociological study was carried out as to which of the great historical heroes the future president was most likely to correspond to. In third place was Stalin, of course, in second place Peter I, in first place surprisingly Stirlitz. (laughs)
Which one has to explain because it is not known in this country.
From the 1970s, a series of films was made about a Soviet agent who made a career in Germany and operated successfully in Hitler's leadership group. Stirlitz is the prototype of all Russian agents, a Soviet James Bond, just a lot cooler. Who didn't just make out with girls like Bond. Stirlitz could be taken really seriously.
An important building block for the Putin myth was his announcement that he wanted to curb the power of the oligarchs.
He actually did that. After the end of the Soviet Union, there was small and medium-sized private entrepreneurship in Russia from which the oligarchy grew. In the first ten years of Putin, this entrepreneurship virtually disappeared. Either the state received a large share of private companies or they were nationalized like almost all large banks. The new oligarchy came from the KGB, it replaced the old one, Putin simply swapped people. Under Yeltsin it was the "Red Directors" who, with the fortunes of the old state-owned companies, became oligarchs. Putin has reversed that, he has handed over the oligarchs' assets to the new, state-appointed "Red Directors". They are of course no longer "Reds", no longer Soviet directors, but "Raspberry Directors". According to the color of the braid on the KGB uniforms.
In the West, the power struggle between the various groups had been personalized, reduced to that between Putin and Khodorkovsky. Khodorkovsky was described as a democratic oligarch who would fight against the undemocratic oligarchs.
I know Khodorkovsky well, he has changed a lot. At that time he was fighting as an old oligarch against the new oligarchs sponsored by Putin. Today he has become a real oppositionist, an important player in the fight against Putin. Twenty years have passed now, everyone is changing.
To outsiders it sounds like a battle of the giants. Were there no civil society actors in Russia?
There was more than enough of it. Independent politicians, journalists, human rights activists, eco-activists.
How have their operating conditions changed in the Putin era?
Boris Nemtsov was killed, as well as Natalja Estemirova and Anna Politkovskaya. Valeria Novodworskaya died of natural causes, some survived. Garry Kasparov has emigrated. There are still many people who are unknown in Germany to be named. Sergei Udaltsov is an important activist, but during his five-year prison term he lost many of his fellow campaigners and what I would call "revolutionary drive".
In Western Europe, the diverse inner-Russian opposition is barely noticed, everything is on the politician Navalny, whose views are quite controversial. But of the people who take to the streets, probably very few are Navalny supporters, right?
For me, I put it this way: I will do everything so that Navalny can vote in the elections. I will even vote for him, and I will call on everyone to vote for him. As soon as he wins, I'll be in opposition to him the next day. I don't have to say more about it.
Not only in Russia but also in many successor states of the Soviet Union, there seems to be a great fear of instability, of the entire political system slipping.
Every Russian person has a kind of gene that says: Don't go to war. We cannot do anything about this as individuals. This gene keeps telling us to do everything we can to keep it from getting worse than it is now. It is extremely difficult to tackle this gene. Because there is another gene right next to it that tells us it will definitely get worse. Life will never change for the better, always for the worse. I instinctively fear that I will forget how to darn my socks. My grandma sewed bags made of polyethylene on the sewing machine that we always washed, everyone did that. With us everyone knows what people need a dacha for: Not for relaxation. You westerners think the Russian dacha is samovar, apple trees, jam and fishing on a beautiful river. It is not at all. For Russians, going to the dacha means digging up potatoes. Change turns everything into a negative. That is why so many say, better Putin than anyone else. Those who dislike Putin say they prefer him to other figures like Shoigu or Rogozin. Because they are worse. Good point. You don't want Navalny as a present either. But the Russian only ever discusses the person of the tsar, not how to change the system. That's why he looks so blankly at Biden and Trump. For Russians this is the overthrow of the tsars, we don't understand that elections work like that, we don't have that. Even people who live here in Germany can hardly believe that you Germans don't know who will be Chancellor in the fall. Many Russians consider this to be irresponsible. They don't see the system, they only see the person. And I'm afraid Navalny thinks the same way. We only ever replace one tsar with another without changing the mechanisms.
A very pessimistic assessment. Nevertheless, there have always been attempts in Russia to take fate into their own hands, regardless of Moscow or St. Petersburg. Is there really only a fear of a change of tsars present in Russian politics?
At the time of the »Putin glamor«, during the unsuccessful 2011/12 revolution (after the rigged parliamentary elections, there were mass protests - mps), the discussion about the »benefit of small deeds« was very popular.
What do you mean by that?
That means you do big politics there, we do the small ones, we run an old people's home here, an animal shelter there. We have nothing to do with politics. But there is nowhere you can build a small animal shelter without bribery or harassment from the authorities or the police. You go to the state authority and say, help me, you are the state authority. I just want to do something good, completely apolitical. The state always reacts in the same way: Come on, my dear friend, I'll be happy to help you, I'll give you a building, you have funding. But can't you just take the opportunity to go to Donbass and help the orphans? On my behalf, of course. This is how you have it with Dr. Lisa made (Lisa Glinka, known as the Russian mother Theresa, founded an aid organization for sick and homeless children, died on the way to the war zone in Syria - mps). But if you then say: no, I would like to take the building and the subsidies, but would like to remain independent, then you are like Kirill Serebrennikow.
In the West there is a discussion about how the relationship with Russia should be shaped. There was the initiative of the EU foreign representative, who was with Lavrov and came back with an ambiguous result. There are debates about North Stream 2, including voices warning against isolating Russia, calling for it to be much more integrated into the international community. Is this also being discussed in Russian civil society in order to possibly move away from a mere change of tsars to a democratic society?
When Europeans discuss Russia, they do so as if Russia were a European country and ruled by Europeans. There are rednecks everywhere, in Germany, in the USA as well as in Russia. The problem is that our rednecks rule the country. No system can compete with it. Europeans can offer cooperation, try to involve Russia, be friendly and nice. If you look at these attempts by France and Germany from Russia, only one mocking verse comes to mind: We cheated the stupid drip / pulled the stick over his head.
That sounds very drastic.
Russian culture and literature are based on two things: On the one hand, we are a country of prison culture. Among the great Russian writers there were only two who were not in prison or in exile: Chekhov and Turgenev. Turgenev lived in Paris and Chekhov went to Sakhalin voluntarily (where he wrote a study on penal camps and prisons in 1890 - mps). On the other hand, Russia sees the West as either an idol or an enemy. There is nothing in between. We are neither friends nor equal partners or siblings. You are a completely different world. Of course there are Russians who think differently about it; but they emigrate. Like Josef Brodsky, who did not leave voluntarily but was expatriated. After sitting in the penal camp. Like Daniel and Sinjawski (the writers were sentenced to six years in prison in 1965, which sparked violent protests over the feared restalinization of the SU - mps). First prison and then goodbye. Some manage to die young in front of prison.
Nevertheless, there has to be something for which people take to the streets and accept the beatings of the "Kosmonawty", the OMON security police?
Do you know what might be really good? A new generation is taking to the streets that, unlike us, have not yet learned to be afraid. This new generation has freed itself from television, from propaganda, the boys speak at least one foreign language, they are in fact networked citizens of the world. Many want to study abroad or already have one. They do not understand why this is called treason. Either these young people change life in Russia or they will enrich Silicon Valley. Or Berlin or London. My children all live abroad, which they never wanted. And of course I keep thinking that my grandchildren won't be Russians. But while we still weep for the generations that have gone, new ones are born (laughs). Who do not even see why they should leave the country. The Kosmonawty will explain it to you quickly enough. I was one of the leaders of the 2011-12 protests. And since then I've met several generations who don't know anything about it because they were too young. For them, their protest is their first and most important. My generation was still brought up by the party and the Komsomol. This upbringing was much stronger than the propaganda that boys are exposed to today. I know how we always said yes and nodded and thought at the same time, lick me. I am convinced that the generation that still goes to school today will be stronger than us!
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