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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Organized Love

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Confucius said: "No future has he who causes antipathy at the age of 40." Politicians in their 40s who have found themselves in power in Russia seem to take the words of the Chinese wiseman seriously. The only question is how to win love. In the old days, it was believed that popular appreciation has to be earned. But modern Russia has demonstrated how dated such an approach is.

If you don't succeed in earning love, you can organize it.

Vladimir Putin was followed by declamations of popular love from his first day in office. Without having done anything, without making even slightly creative promises, the president was declared a national hero. It was explained to each of us that everybody loves the president. The majority believed.

A graduate student in sociology complained to me recently about a completely confounding experience. She organized a focus group for some research and polled 60 people. Only one of them supported Putin. But each of the remaining 59 was convinced that he or she was the only oppositionist in the group. The biggest success of the Kremlin's propaganda is not that people have come to love the president, but that they have bought into the myth of his all-encompassing popularity.

The liberal intelligentsia split into those who joyfully began to play the Kremlin's game and those who were genuinely scared. Although there are no grounds for joy, the intellectuals' fears are also exaggerated. The striking inefficiency of the Kremlin's team in everything not having to do with propaganda is good news for the country.

Putin's cult is very different from Stalin's "cult of personality." The power of Stalin's system lay in simultaneously stirring both fear and enthusiasm. It was not a regime under which one person was scared to death and another full of joy. The joyful ones were mortally scared, and the scared ones sincerely revered the object of their fear. Thank God, Putin's regime is unable to achieve anything like that.

Putin's cult is more like the ritual paeans to Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev. By the way, the constant evocation of a leader's name and patronymic came from Brezhnev's era. Stalin hated to be addressed as Iosif Vissarionovich. The vozhd, or leader, was to be addressed simply as Comrade Stalin. The reverent form of addressing a leader as one would address a superior or an older person was typical of Brezhnev's time. Whence comes the arsenal of Putin's cult. People who work in the Kremlin today did not live under Stalin. Their formative period was the Brezhnev era. It was then that they joined the Komsomol and the Communist Party and went to serve in the KGB. Now they are unwittingly reproducing the behavioral stereotypes of their youth.

Brezhnev's cult covered up the deepening decay of the Soviet system. Putin's cult, in its turn, covers up the insecurity of the new powers that be. Employing self-glorification, the government attempts to suppress its own fear. Aggressive vocabulary serves as camouflage for helplessness and disorientation. Precisely according to Freud. In the depth of its soul, the government is aware of its incompetence and tries to defend itself with bravado.

But officials have been unable to intimidate anyone but themselves and a small number of Moscow intellectuals. The rest of the country watches the Kremlin's work with an increasing sense of bewilderment, which is turning into irritation. If, sensing that time is running out, the Kremlin turns to another "shock therapy" program currently on Putin's desk, the general apathy may turn into hatred.