Revealing the Emptiness
The political regime in Russia seems to have fallen into a deep aesthetic crisis, which also has important political consequences.
This has manifested itself, for example, in Vladimir Putin’s journey with migrating cranes, undertaken in September 2012, in order to draw a parallel between him as a strong leader able to show the way forward for the country and the leader of a flock of birds. Opinion surveys carried out by the Levada Center showed that half of all Russians think that such actions are pure PR by Putin, with less than a quarter saying they felt sympathy towards Putin in this situation.
In order to keep up with the times, many representatives of the Russian authorities, both at federal and regional level, have registered themselves and opened blogs on Twitter and even Facebook, recognising the political importance of being represented on the internet, which has begun to be associated with a space where the Russian “creative class” is being reproduced.
The implementation of this idea, however, has turned out to be more difficult than it first seemed. Official blogs were either blamed for being too formal or conversely too scandalous. Since 2010, many situations have arisen which have left behind the memory of statements made by Russian officials and party leaders via the internet. In November 2010, for instance, Vasily Yakimenko, the head of Russian Youth Agency at that time, called Oleg Kashin, a prominent liberal journalist, names such as “zombie”, “lizard” and “invisible being”, after Kashin was attacked and savagely beaten up on the street close to his home.
And in August 2012, deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin called Madonna a “moralising old bitch”, after she expressed support for Pussy Riot at her concert in Moscow. One of the latest scandals was provoked by Andrei Isayev, one of the leaders of the governing party United Russia, who threatened a journalist who had written an article about female political prostitution in the Russian parliament. He also threatened the editor of the newspaper Moskovskij Komsomolets in which the article was published, that they would “pay the fiddler” and that other “small beasts can relax”.
On the one hand, swearwords are generally accepted and even welcomed by the Russian public; it is enough just to be reminded of Putin’s statement on the necessity to “get terrorists in the toilet”. While on the other, caddish statements from the representatives of the regime perceived as delineated from society fall short of the goal. The authorities are losing their ability to speak a common language with the Russian public: it is either a meagre bureaucratic language or the offensive language of the retrograding political elites.
The crisis the Russian authorities are facing is not only about the failure of governing technology based on “manual guidance”; producing and controlling political meanings within the public discourse is not less important. The problem is not only in the aesthetic delineation of the “intelligentsia”: the failures of Russian officials reveal the substantial emptiness of the official discourse in general, which contributes to the delegitimisation of the existing political regime more than any political opposition. The migration of Dmitry Rogozin away from both Twitter and Facebook has been symbolic in this regard.
Andrey Devyatkov, PhD, is a Senior Lecturer at Tyumen State University, Russia, and between March to May 2013 a visiting fellow at the Department of Global Political Studies of Malmö University, Sweden. He has actively researched and published on issues related to the evolution of Russian internal politics and foreign relations.