December 15, 2011


Petrushka v. Mr Botox (Peter Pomerantsev 13 December 2011, London Review of Books)

United Russia is known as the 'party of meanies and swindlers', a phrase coined by Alexey Navalny. A suicidally brave anti-corruption activist, Navalny is the darling of Russian liberals, as well as of borderline skinhead nationalists. It's a powerful, broad base, and it means Navalny could develop into a major political player. Under Putin and Vladislav Surkov, the Kremlin puppetmaster, a cheap postmodernism has been in vogue. It's been fashionable to be endlessly ironic and never say anything directly. Navalny is the opposite: he believes in facts, names those who profit from corruption (at great personal risk), and believes zealously in his values. And suddenly that's become very hip.

In the political arena, Navalny's stroke of genius has been to make the pseudo-elections, designed by the Kremlin as a form of puppet-theatre, real. In the past the opposition has always refused to vote, so as not to legitimise the puppet show, but that meant the Kremlin could cook up any figures they wanted. Navalny went for a different approach: 'vote for anyone but United Russia, even though the other parties may be dolls created by the Kremlin at least your vote will have weight'. It worked. The Kremlin is deeply shaken. The protests have been so widespread the Surkov-controlled channels had to put them on the news - though in a typically Surkovian move no mention was made of the anti-Putin chants or that the demonstrations were aimed at United Russia, making them look like general protests against an amorphous system. There's another absurd consequence to Navalny's strategy: while people are demanding their votes be recounted, the pseudo-opposition parties they voted for are generally keeping quiet as they are still loyal to the Kremlin.

So what comes next? How to make the puppet-theatre really real? Political analysts are talking about the possibility for one of the pseudo-opposition leaders suddenly having the balls to become a real opposition leader: Mikhail Prokhorov is the latest candidate. This is known as the Petrushka effect, after the puppet that comes to life in Stravinsky's ballet. In this scenario, the rebellious political Petrushka doll will do battle with the rubbery Putin-puppet Mr Botox. Locked up for a decade in the cellar of Putinism, Russia's Spitting Image dolls have burst out of their imprisonment. The Kremlin puppet-masters are suddenly not so powerful. The Kukli are free. Run, puppet, run!
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Posted by at December 15, 2011 6:26 AM

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