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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Democratic Personality Cult

UnknownAlexei Pankin
We are seeing a definite "Brezhnevization" of politics. This became obvious after United Russia's recent congress and President Vladimir Putin's elaborate 55th birthday celebration. This phenomenon continues to excite the media and the public. Radio stations Ekho Moskvy and Radio Svoboda have repeatedly commented upon state television's sycophantic coverage of Putin. They continue to receive calls from listeners disturbed by the praises on television that have clearly gone beyond all reasonable boundaries.

The scandal began when Izvestia recently refused to publish a television review by its regular media columnist, Irina Petrovskaya. She had the gall to criticize a program on Rossia state television in which noted filmmaker Nikita Mikhalkov flooded Putin with excessive, overly sentimental words of praise. A storm of protest over the newspaper's censorship broke out on the Internet. In the end, Izvestia did run Petrovskaya's piece a few days later, but only alongside another article by a staff journalist who expressed an opposing opinion.

Two days later, Izvestia ran testimonials by prominent members of the Russian intelligentsia who defended Mikhalkov's inalienable right to openly express his love for the president. And, on Thursday's NTV program "To the Barrier," Mikhalkov got all worked up in his debate with writer Viktor Yerofeyev over the same subject -- whether it is appropriate for a public figure like Mikhalkov to express his admiration for the president in this way over the airwaves.

Even the dog walkers in my neighborhood with whom I chat were talking about Putin's personality cult. In my experience, these conversations with simple Muscovites serve as the most reliable and accurate barometer of the general mood in the country.

Behind the signs of a new Brezhnev era, I understand that Putin's cunning strategy is aimed at pushing the siloviki out of politics and creating a two-party system with a strong opposition. Judge for yourself: Putin's decision to head United Russia's federal ticket by itself marginalized A Just Russia. Many observers believe that A Just Russia was created by Kremlin siloviki as a counterweight to United Russia, the brainchild of Kremlin "liberals." The siloviki ideology calls for a strong hand to correct the injustices caused by Boris Yeltsin's years in office. Considering the siloviki's way of doing things, it is unpleasant to even imagine what might happen if they were to strengthen their position.

Right now, the leaders of A Just Russia's untiringly swear their loyalty to Putin, and this is similar to when a dog, after being punished by his owner, continues to wag its tail and lick its master's face. As a result, the party is losing the respect of its electorate, which could logically switch its allegiance to the Communist Party instead.

On the other hand, today's obvious movement toward Brezhnevism is a genuine cause for alarm among democratic voters. From what I have observed, a significant number of them who would normally vote for the Union of Right Forces or Yabloko for ideological reasons might now vote for the Communists out of expediency.

Thus we see the marginalization of the siloviki and the formation of a solid opposition -- all thanks to the wisdom of Putin, who has developed his own personality cult.

If you think such views are nothing but the ravings of a lunatic, then you have not been watching television lately. The television stations are constantly telling us that Putin is a great leader, that he is wise and all-powerful, that nothing happens without his approval and that he thinks day and night of how to build a democratic society for the motherland. How could we, mere mortals, not believe what we see and hear on television? And after all, how otherwise could democracy be built in our country?

Alexei Pankin is the editor of Strategii i Praktika Izdatelskogo Biznesa, a magazine for publishing business professionals.