Totalitarianism and the personality cult: 15 years of Putin’s reign in texts and opinions 



2014/08/16 • Politics

15 years ago, on August 9, 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin appointed the obscure  FSB director Vladimir Putin head of the government, calling him his “heir.”

Vladimir Putin has started his career an undistinguished bureaucrat serving on St. Petersburg city council. Over the next fifteen years he developed into a state leader of worldwide importance – in 2007, Time declared him the Man of the Year. According to Forbes last year, Putin ranked higher for global influence than his American counterpart, Barack Obama.

Novoye Vremya published speeches and quotes from Putin himself, as well as the opinions of people from various backgrounds on him and his policies.

One such  popular video shows Putin’s interview from the time when he headed the Administration of the President of Russian Federation. In that interview Putin described the danger of Russia going back to authoritarianism or even totalitarianism. Ironically many of his predictions came true during his later reign.

His appointment as Prime Minister and Yeltsin’s heir got a cool reception from the political élite who evaluated Putin’s future pessimistically. “If Yeltsin declares someone his heir, this means that he is resigned about their political future. This had already happened many times,” – Gennady Selezniov, then heading the Parliament, said.

Billionaire Boris Berezovsky supported Putin. He expressed this support in various interviews: “He understands reality, the modern world, he has the will, he takes concrete measures and he is not a populist. Putin is definitely the person whose appointment makes me consider returning to live in Russia. We, the oligarchs, will support Putin’s candidacy for the president.”

However, as early as 2001, during Putin’s second year as President, Berezovsky changed his mind. “I would like to stress that although Putin’s support ratings are very high, his ability is non-existent. He could not carry out the needed measures… He is hollow, an empty shell… I was one of the first who noticed this hollowness, since I became close to him. When he came to power, I saw his hollowness, his empty promises”.

The language used in Putin’s inauguration speeches in 2000, 2004 and 2012, as well as his speech in Munich in 2007 and his “Crimean” speech in 2014 show the change in emphasis and key values of the Russian leader.

Back in 2004 famous American political expert Zbigniew Brzeziński made wry comments on Putin’s first term as President: “Mr. Putin’s regime has many similarities with Mussolini’s fascism. The fascist regime speculated on the ideas of national grandeur, discipline and exalted myth about their so-called “glorious past”. Mr. Putin is trying to combine the traditions of the Cheka (Lenin’s Gestapo, where Putin’s grandfather started his career) with the Stalinist style of governance in times of war, with Russian Orthodox Church’s claim  to the status of the Third Rome and with the Slavophile dreams of the great unified Slavic state under Kremlin.”

Putin’s adherents, on their part, are showering him with compliments bordering on earnest sycophancy and common sense lost.

“How can you believe Putin wrong? Preposterous!” – Vladimir Churov, head of the Central Elections Committee, said in his interview to “Kommersant” in 2007.

Political scientist Alexandr Dugin put it even better in his interview to “Izvestiya” in 2008.“There is no more opposition to Putin’s course, and those who disagree are mentally ill and should be institutionalized. Putin is everywhere, Putin is everything, Putin is absolute, Putin is irreplaceable,” – he said.

Film director Fyodor Bondarchuk chimed in. “Vladimir Putin is the reason behind our film industry successes,” – Bondarchuk stated at Putin’s support forum in 2007.

“All the success in cinematography had to do with Vladimir Putin,” stated Fyodor Bondarchuk, a director, at Putin’s support forum in 2007.

“Once  I met Vladimir Vladimirovich, my soul rejoiced, for he was a Godsend, a superhuman… Yeltsin was a destroyer, and the Lord God replaced him with a creator. I saw it immediately… In one of his former incarnations Putin was Paul the Apostle,” – the follower of  the religious cult “Rus Ressurrected” said in the interview to “Moskovsky Komsomolets” in 2007.

Even Putin’s staunchest supporter, Belarus’ President Alexandr Lukashenko, took notice of his personality cult.  In October 2007 he attended the press-conference for russian regional media. After watching several meetings of Putin’s “Yedinaya Rossiya” party during this press conference he became concerned that Russia might be heading back to USSR, “when it was normal to jump and shout “Glory to the Communist Party!” during political meetings.

Years of Putin’s policies polarized public opinion – from undisputed support from his close and controlled officials and the majority of Russians to harsh criticism on part of the opposition and intellectuals.

“I thank God for Putin and respect Yeltsin for two things he did in his life. The first is that he handed in his party ticket. The second is that he brought Putin to power,” – film director Nikita Mikhalkov said in 2008.

“Your democracy knows no bounds!” – Valentina Matviyenko, governor of St. Petersburg, praised Putin in 2008.

“Allah appointed him to this post… Putin is God’s gift, he gave us freedom… Such a person is a true discovery for Russia. While his health permits it, we have to beg him on our knees to  rule the country,” – Ramzan Kadyrov (head of the Chechen Republic) said in 2007.

“The only reason behind Putin’s actions is he himself. His fears and his complexes drive him. There is nothing else. This is someone who is concerned with himself exclusively, his inner state, his wants,  his disorder, his fear. To repeat,  his fears and complexes guide him .” – Yevgeniya Albats, editor in chief of The New Times, said in 2013.

“Putin said: “Magnitskiy (the lawyer, who died a martyr in Matrosskaya Tishina prison), he died of heart failure. I think he died of Putin’s heart failure,” – Yuriy Nornstein, cartoonist, commented.

“Putin is not an average person,  he is a mediocre person. Mediocre, ugly, vengeful, politically short-sighted, not too well-educated, etc. We can go on with this list of unbecoming traits. And many of his deeds, reactions and habits betray this mediocre man, who suddenly found  himself in charge of boundless  resources and influence. Now, when he is there, he is starting to show his true colors,” – Artemiy Troitskiy, musical critic, said in 2011.

Kremlin-controlled media continue working on “Putin’s personality cult” against the backdrop of Crimea annexation and conflict in Donbas. As a result, his support among the population reached inconceivable heights, having overcome the 80% barrier.

Vladimir Putin’s “third” term ends in 2018, when he will have the right to get re-elected for yet another six-year term thanks to a skillful amendment of the Constitution. What new plans Vladimir Putin will hatch and what his last words will be remains a historical intrigue, which will affect the course of world politics.

Due to aggressive policies against Ukraine Putin has already become a pariah in the eyes of the global community – top world publication covers feature Putin as an aging bloodthirsty dictator.

Source: Sprotyv

Translated by Mariya Shcherbinina, edited by Anna Palagina

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  • George

    Why did Yeltsin appoint him, as a KGB officer had Putin collected sufficient information to force this decision? Has anyone investigated this and lived to tell the tale?

    • Milton Devonair

      A lot of people think it happened like this:
      Totalitarian society like soviet russia collapses due to its own corruption and dysfunction. And due to those, the only thing left standing, functional is what ran the whole country? The kgb. So the structure of the kgb remained untouched by political and economic changes. And the kgb knew everything on everyone, so they were there to connect all the people that wanted to make any deals (looting of resources/property). It was a free for all for a while as everyone involved with the kgb got rich, but once things started to destabilize, the kgb stepped in and up and took control of things again.
      It’s always been nkvd/kgb running russia….and it still is, though they’re now called fsb and they use bankers/businessmen/corporations for their work. If their work becomes dirty, they use the russian/chechen/crimean mafias or if larger operations (georgia, crimea, ukraine), they use kadyrov’s private chechen army.

      • George

        Thanks it makes sense, I’ve read that the chechens were involved in Kosovo, and certainly in east Ukraine, plus other groups.

        • Milton Devonair

          Yup. Now you (and others) can see what the good, normal people in Ukraine have been up against, just like the Georgians and Crimeans.

          This site is a great source for non Ukrainians to find out about what’s going on there, so I tell others about it and link it. Those not wanting to be informed, don’t come here, but those seeking more information would. Information is good. 😀

  • Thomas Ferree

    Great question! It needs to be answered. Maybe the answer would shed some additional light on Putlier – the supreme destroyer of everything Russia could have been. Or is it possible that Yeltsin understood the flawed character of Putlier and foresaw the demise of Russia under his leadership?

    • Anna Palagina

      I think Yelstsin had other problems at that time – lawsuits against his “family” that forced him to step down and long-time alcohol problemas. He just appointed the man offered to him by St.Petersburg mafia and resigned in peace.

      • Milton Devonair

        Resigned in peace….and still alive. 😉

  • Milton Devonair

    The world is always a dangerous place when the populace worships a man, a figure rather than their nation. Look at all the dictatorships around the world and you’ll see the same thing:

  • Walter Salmaniw

    Gag! Hard to understand the nonsense spouted by Putin’s worshipers!

  • Dr_Jean_Claud

    As an AmeriKan I find it impossible to talk about “cult of personality,” without bringing Obama into the picture and as a Forensic Psychologist I can’t help but compare these to men and I have to say there are major and monumental differences between these two men, in that:
    Putin’s IQ, not too surprisingly, is approx 30% higher than Obama’s, i.e., Putin is approx 120-130 compared to Obama’s <85. These fact in themselves create their own problems and advantages for the people backing these two as well as sever issues for those over which the "govern."
    The question of dependability and skill in perception and analysis, of course are hugely different, i.e., Putin was chosen precisely because of his ability in these areas, whereas Obama was chose despite his non-existent ability in these same areas. These differences alone make both men problematic but along very different lines. While Putin is driven he, at least, understands that the Russian Government he is nothing and has nothing. This makes Putin both more dependable (his cohorts and victims pretty much understand the rules by which he plays); whereas, Obama has no such dedication to rules and simply put no concern beyond his own immediate financial gain and his predictability is strictly limited to how many zero's his "percentage" has on it.
    Moreover, concerning Obama's general health (physical and mental), the man is a highly additive personality and nearly "organic" is his mental issues as well as multi-adictive and well established personality disorder and coupled with his near psychotic attitude (he doesn't have one) regarding the human population around him make him vastly more unpredictable and, one might say, dangerous.
    Finally, while everyone willing to pay attention knows Putin's origins, behaviors and motives, whereas NO ONE knows ALL of Obama's past (including the man himself) nor do those affected by him have any idea what, literally, he'll do next–consider a rabid dog, e.g., you know you'll get bit playing with him, you just have know idea when.