Some people I know here in Berlin have been telling me how they believe Vladimir Putin is the right man to lead the Russians. This admiration for the self promoted man of action is also apparently felt in Moscow where Putin adorned T shirts, badges or fridge magnets are all to be found on sale.
There are two main reasons to reject any form of admiration for Putin or acceptance of him as a ´good´ ruler for the Russians.
Firstly his social and political views are reactionary and intolerant, based on stoking people´s prejudices and fears. He speaks casually of the grave and dangerous situation caused by immigration in Western Europe, taking his lead from Angel Merkel and David Cameron´s ill-advised declarations that multiculturalism had ´failed´. He backs up this anti-immigrant stance with financial support for the, arguably fascist, Front National in France (1). And whether its PEGIDA in Dresden or Trump in the United States claiming, without a shred of evidence, that Berlin and London are some kind of chaotic multicultural dystopias, they´re all as it were speaking Putin´s ‘common sense’ language of a failed and decadent liberal West.
In 2013 his government also introduced a law banning the promotion of homosexuality to minors. Very similar in effect to the infamous section 28 in Britain, introduced by Thatcher´s conservatives, since repealed, its effect is to stigmatise gay people and encourage attacks upon gay and transgender men and women.
Secondly, Putin´s recipe for consolidation of his power is dangerous in itself, and in setting an example to governments tempted by authoritarianism all over the world. Expropriate, jail or exile critical business people. Re-shape the constitutional and legal context, in terms of legislation and personnel to suit your needs (2). Preside over a regime where regime critical journalists are killed or disappear with alarming regularity and initimidate Non Governmental Organisations by implying they are agents of foreign powers hostile to Mother Russia (3)
Several governments already seem to be learning from Putin´s example. Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, has already re-written the country´s constitution several times (4). The new Polish government is currently engaged in a blatant attempt to re-shape the constitutional court to suit its needs. And the Israeli government is now seeking to portray NGOs funded from abroad as potentially, when not actually, anti-Israel.
Tolerant, open minded people should have no truck with Putin admiration, to quote Human Rights Watch`s summary statement on Russia on its website.
The human rights situation in Russia continues to deteriorate, with the crackdown intensifying on civil society, media, and the Internet. In 2014, Parliament adopted laws and authorities engaged in practices, that increasingly isolated the country and inflamed a level of anti-Western hysteria unseen since the Soviet era. Authorities arrested and harassed activists, blocked independent online media, adopted new laws, and proposed measures that would further stifle free expression. Anti-LGBT vigilante groups attacked LGBT people across Russia, with little response from the police.
- The Guardian. 4.12.2014. Luke Harding. We should beware Russia´s links with Europe´s right.
- New Left Review. 96. Ivan Szelenyi. The New Prebendalists. p48.
3.Human Rights Watch. World Report. 2014. Russia.
- Szlenyi. p49.